A couple of years ago, I participated in a Secret Santa. We filled out a questionnaire on our interests and wants, including our favorite candy and superhero. I almost wrote, "You better not get me anything superhero-related." We had a $25 price cap. I wanted to further write, "Buy me my favorite DVD or get me a Starbucks gift card and call it a day."
One of my best friends ended up drawing my name. At the Secret Santa, she handed me a gift basket of Three Musketeers and microwave popcorn.
Admittedly, I wrote that Three Musketeers were my favorite candy, but I thought, since she was my best friend, couldn't she do a little better than that? She spent $25 on chocolate and corn kernels? You're supposed to be gracious, but I felt gypped (also, I feel gypped that that word is not spelled "jipped"). I don't even really eat candy. Didn't my friend know that?
As you can see, to this day, I recall the disappointment of a gift that I neither wanted nor felt individually selected. Anyone could have been given a basket of chocolate and popcorn.
Gift giving is a precipitous business. We're expected to buy the perfect present for our friends, our siblings, our parents, our elderly neighbors, maybe even our coworkers who respond to emails in a timely manner. We want to communicate that we appreciate these people, we're thinking of them in the holiday chaos, and they're not just Joe Schmo. Aka the gift can't be generic, seemingly cheap, or the same thing you gave Jane one cube over (unless Jane, Joe, and you are the friendship trifecta).
Just look to me as an example of what happens if you violate these conditions:
I f***ing remember and blog about it.
The solution to all this is to stop giving gifts. Let's be honest: most of us hate gift shopping. Sure, it's easy to shop for ourselves, that part is fun. But suddenly it's December and you have a list of ten people and who knows what the heck they actually want or need this yuletide season? You got them socks last year, or maybe you got them something much cooler, and you're never going to top that, so you might as well call that their lifetime gift.
Maybe you try texting or calling them, but by the time you think to ask what they want, you're already at the store, and they are not going to respond for three hours, and by then you're already home or at the bar where you already spent the money on a Christmas cocktail.
Or, because you haven't heard back from them yet, you start browsing and you see things you want. For example, you like this trinket, it's really cool, it's only $5. Should you buy it? Of course you should. Maybe you should get two so you can give one to Jane. But if you buy two, and she sees you have one too, will she think lesser of you? And it's $5. Are you cheap if you give her only this? What else will you put with it? What about this cool device? Dear God, it's $75. Jane means a lot to you, but not $75 in one sitting. Are you a bad person for thinking that?
You consider taking the cheaper route: baking cookies. Some people get cheaper and craftier than cookies and make their own ornaments or can jams or something, but you're not trying to burn the house down, and what if your arts and craft project comes out with two heads? Then you wasted both money and time and still have to get another gift that only has one head. So you decide on cookies. But when will you see Jane next? Will the cookies be stale by the time you see her? And if you forget them? You tell Jane you forgot her gift, but now, crap, they're definitely going to be stale because you're not seeing Jane until the new year and you can't give her two-week-old hard cookies. Plus, she probably doesn't even believe you that you "forgot" her gift.
I'm constantly telling people I forgot their gift when I actually just never bought it or, worse, was never intending to get them a gift, but "thank you so much for this thoughtful card and fudge. I left yours on my counter, but I'll bring it next time I see you." And when it's not food: "Thank you for this artifact of clothing or decor that I will hold onto for two years and then debate throwing out, wait a year because I feel guilty, and eventually give to the thrift store. There's a slim chance none of that will happen and I'll hold onto it forever, or at least until I break or lose it while moving."
Last week, upon being handed a holiday card, I considered going into the bathroom and emailing my friend a Starbucks gift card and then telling her to check her email. "I told you I got you something," I envisioned saying. I even went so far as to consider backdating my phone so the email wouldn't reveal me as having purchased and sent it two minutes ago five feet away from her. I decided I couldn't be that ridiculous.
If you really insist on gift giving, do what my parents do: let your friend or relative buy it and just reimburse them. That way they get exactly what they want and you don't have to sweat it. It's only one step past a wish list.
My parents' gift giving evolved this way. As a teen, I would ask for a coat. As a college millennial, I would send them the Amazon link for the coat I want. And as an adult millennial with an income, I just buy the damned thing and ask my mom to cut me a check. It even gets delivered to my apartment and I carry it home to my parents for them to wrap. I just don't wear the coat until December 25.
But where's the surprise? Well, who cares about the surprise? The only surprise I was getting in the past was "Oh, thank you so much, you're so kind (but this isn't my style, my size, or what I want so now I have to go return it)." Everyone wins this way.
Of course, now my parents aren't even wrapping my gifts. I came home yesterday to find a pair of shoes I bought myself on my dresser.
"Mom, this is for Christmas," I reminded her.
"The dog was eating the box, so I just took them out," my mom replied. "Plus, you already know what you're getting. Maybe I'll wrap them."
And at least she's not wrapping chocolate.
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