Gifts and the Gifts Who Give Them

When it comes to giving gifts, I am of many minds. In college, I decided I didn’t like the organized, ritualized giving of gifts at a particular time of year. Giving gifts and deadlines and pressure to conform don’t seem to go well together. I much preferred the idea of giving someone something if you found something that person should have right when you find it (if you can buy it, that is) regardless of time of year. One can always save the thing until Christmas or Chanukah or a birthday, but then one risks someone else getting the same thing for the person. But that is not how most people do holiday shopping, they wait until after Thanksgiving, which is what I do for the most part, mostly out of not wanting to be part of the Holiday Creep phenomenon that makes Christmas appear earlier and earlier every year. If it’s going to be a special time of year, it can’t be all year. I therefore feel the afore mentioned pressure, and sometimes don’t get what I consider to be the perfect thing to get for someone, and am disappointed in my own gift giving prowess. So it is a muddle of problems and there is no solution, except one: everyone just has to acknowledge that there are no bad gifts, everything has a use, and everything given for free should inspire gratitude.

For some who have too much, getting physical gifts may be burdensome. Therefore, another idea we have to do away with is the idea that re-gifting or giving gifts to charity are insults. They’re not, they’re just the best use of the gift by the receiver. And it benefits the charity or the library or the person the gift is re-gifted to, who may be a better match for it. It’s a net positive. There should be no stigma there. But you know, the initial receiver should also give the gift a chance. Open the book, even if it is a romance and you only read science fiction. You may enjoy it. Movies may be trickier, because of the wrapping. If you break the plastic around a movie, it will be more suspicious if you then give it to another individual, unless you want to be honest with the person you are re-gifting to, but baby steps, we can’t expect people to be more honest with each other around the holidays. But you can look up trailers and scenes on the internet, do the equivalent of reading the first chapter or so of a book. Then get rid of it if you must. I was disappointed that my local book dealer didn’t buy more of the books I brought to sell, but the pile I then gave to the local library was part of my charitable giving of the season.

But not all gifts are books and movies. Some are socks. If you don’t know how valuable a gift socks really are, you need to get out more, because your socks don’t get enough action. And we live in a golden age of socks. I was almost through college before I realized that socks can be interesting. I recently received two pairs of socks as part of a thank you for being part of a friend’s important life event, and I know they will not last forever, but they are some of my favourite socks, one with brightly colored polka dots, the other with bright stripes. And the same goes for other kinds of clothes. Nothing lasts forever, and you can’t just keep fixing tears in pajama bottoms and jeans. Sometimes you have to give up, and it is convenient to have back-ups. Certainly you should make use of every resource for as long as you can, but not beyond the point of reason. You’ve already done your part to reduce your carbon footprint. Allow others to help replenish your supply of things to wear, and be grateful to them. And maybe you don’t like how something looks when you first see it. Well, you can always give it away, but try it with a few combinations. Very few items of clothes appeal to me in a clothing store, but if someone gives me something, I can usually find some combination it works with. And lately, I have found that new clothes have crowded out old ones, but if an item of clothing has endured so long and you have something new to replace it, it will do well for someone else.

Gift card to a place you never shop? Give it to someone else or buy something for yourself you never would have thought to buy. Household appliance? They’re useful by definition, even if you already have one or haven’t ever had need for one, the sentiment of the giver is wanting to be helpful around the house. Something decorative? Again, anything can be given away, but why not just try putting it somewhere. Maybe it’s a bowl into which you can put change or keys or something, or a wall hanging, or art specifically created for you by the giver. That you probably shouldn’t give away, but not everything in a living space can be practical. Put it on a shelf and forget about it. Visitors will appreciate it for you, maybe even think more highly of you for your aesthetic tastes. Then there’s that recently ridiculed decorative, useless gift that is the candle. Saturday Night Live did a great little music video making fun of the idea of giving and re-giving candles for Christmas. Maybe you find it tacky, but the great thing about a candle is that you don’t have to give it away to make it disappear. Using it has the same effect. You can do it all in one go, and maybe take a little pleasure in the tiny flicker of light or the smell it gives off if it is scented, or maybe you just let it run its course and then you can at least tell the giver you made use of her gift. If it leaves you will a small glass container, again, change or keys or something, maybe small flowers if someone is thoughtless enough to give you some of those one day.

I don’t recall specifically when I became determined to appreciate everything I received as a gift, regardless of the excitement it inspired in me upon unwrapping it. It may have coincided with the decrease in childish delight at just receiving things en mass. At some point, I decided I was Santa Claus now, that it was my responsibility to bring Holiday Cheer to others, and not only be a beneficiary. Part of growing up, I suppose. But this came with a stubborn twist: I rarely ask people what they want, I decide what I think they should have, something based on my knowledge of them and what they like and what I want to introduce them to. It also has to do with what I have access to. This year I made six golden snitch ornaments, and so five people got them as their gifts. Don’t worry, Harry Potter fans all. I wouldn’t give a snitch to someone who loved Star Trek. I’d give a tribble to that person. But I much prefer to improvise over a theme, like a jazz musician, when I decide on gifts, which gets back to the fact that I’d rather just get the thing for the person and give it when it appears to me. But I held onto one Christmas gift for nearly half a year before giving it to the intended receiver this year, so I’m getting better in that way. There’s a reason people say “It’s the thought that counts” when it comes to gift giving, but I think it goes deeper than the surface reason of just acknowledging that there was an effort to give something meaningful. If you receive something, you know for sure what it is, but cannot know for sure what the person was thinking, even if they tell you. So “It’s the thought that counts” means give the person the benefit of the doubt that they really thought this was the thing to get you, that they really hoped you would appreciate it and find a use for it, and in that spirit, give the gift the benefit of the doubt that there is something for you hidden within, you just have to try it out.