Politics of Christmas
Among the hours of conscious thought that I dedicate to nonsense on a daily basis, I spent about 15 minutes today pondering the unspoken/unwritten language of gift-giving. And here’s what I’ve concluded:
There are basically four types of gifts, each with a certain accompanying message.
1. Cash/Money – this is certainly the safest gift, as it tells the receiver you do not think you know him or her well enough to know exactly how they will spend the money. The disadvantage, of course, is that the receiver now knows exactly how much you spent on him or her, and will probably base your relationship on that value to some extent (at least in this country).
2. Gift Cards – this is pretty safe also, as it has the advantage of leaving the final choice up to the receiver. So you’re probably okay if you know the person wants clothes, or really enjoys board games, or whatever. But there is still the disadvantage that it’s a little more specific; for example, if you give me a gift card to a Chinese Restaurant, you’d better be darn sure that I like Chinese (and I do), and that I like that restaurant (and I do, as long as it’s Chinese), or you just wasted that specific amount of money and blatantly showed me that you don’t know me very well.
3. A specific gift – these can be hit or miss. Some advantages are that they are never exactly sure of how much you spent, meaning you can get something on clearance and the receiver can’t feel cheated. Also, if you hit it right on and they love it, it strengthens your relationship and shows that you are close (or that you’ve been reading in the other person’s journal) or that you, at least, went to the trouble of checking with someone who is close to the receiver. Of course, the disadvantage is that the receiver gets what he or she gets: no choice, and if you’re wrong, awkwardness looms over your head for the rest of your life around that person. But then, there’s the gift receipt – your “get out of jail free” card. If you include the gift receipt with the gift, it doesn’t matter how far off you are, the ball is in their court. And if they return the gift, they now ruined your relationship by placing no sentimental value on your gift. It’s a trap!
4. What my wife calls a “thought gift” – This is something that usually doesn’t cost money, but that you put a lot of thought into that would have a deep, special meaning to the receiver. This is dangerous ground. If you’re dead on, you’ve spent probably several hours working on whatever the gift is, and you make the person cry, and then you hug and all that jazz. If you’re wrong, either you’ve wasted your time, misread the person, and possibly offended him or her, or all of the above.
Yet, we all do this little equation in our heads every single year, don’t we? And somehow, we’ve managed to keep the tradition of gift-giving up and running. Fascinating.