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What do you really want for Christmas? December 18, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been discussing this topic over the past week, for several reasons. First, we have little money to spare this Christmas, and most of it has gone to gifts for others. We want to make sure the gifts we buy each other with what little is left are things we really want. Silence has narrowed her choices to an amber bracelet or new fish and plants for our aquarium plus a bottle of Campari. Our friend Ben admits that all I really want for Christmas this year is a bottle of tawny port and a wonderful Christmas dinner. I hope I can keep Silence from going overboard!

Another reason we’ve been talking about the concept of Christmas gifts is because of my sister and a good friend of Silence’s. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we never open Christmas presents until Christmas day. Blasphemy! We love to let the anticipation build up. (This of course would not apply to live gifts like fish and plants.) But my sister apparently operates under no such restraints. We received an outraged voice mail last week to the effect that one of our nearest and dearest had sent her two nickel-plated bracelets for Christmas. She added that she hoped we fared better.

Meanwhile, Silence’s friend made it more than clear that her choice of Christmas presents would be to not be bothered by us this Christmastide (we’d offered to drop by with their gifts, which we’d collected carefully all year, at their convenience, or to drop them off at their work, or to mail them, though that would have resulted in financial hardship). Silence was devastated to think that anyone would view the most-beloved holiday, not to mention a visit from old and good friends, as an intolerable burden, and our friend Ben, seeing her distress, was apoplectic.

But all of this certainly made us think about the concept of gifts and what they mean and should mean. OFB has an aunt who, for the past few years, has gifted Heifer International in our names as a Christmas gift. Heifer International is an organization that provides livestock (from chickens to cows) to the poorest of the poor worldwide to assist them to become self-sufficient. In our present financial state, we’d be so grateful for a bag of nuts, a box of oranges, or a few dollars for ourselves. Yet what my aunt is giving is the chance for a family to change its entire life, surely the greatest gift one person could give another. We’re so pleased and proud that she is doing this in our name, when we’re not able to do it ourselves.

We (perhaps I should say, Silence) devote a great deal of thought year-round to choosing the perfect gifts for everyone on our list. This year, Silence has added beautiful homemade scarves to the list for people she knows would appreciate and wear them. (I’m hoping that would include me.) But, knowing us, you won’t be surprised to learn that “perfect” doesn’t equate to “trendy” or “expensive.” Nobody’s getting an iPad or Rolex this year (or any year) from us. We comb through antiques stores, flea markets, farmers’ markets, and online sites like Amazon to find the most wonderful gifts. We also patronize local shops and crafts shows for one-of-a-kind treasures. And, yes, we do make our own.

But returning to the topic of this post, we think that it’s always awkward to receive gifts you don’t really want, especially from people you know can’t really afford to give them to you. If you’re not close enough to someone to know what they really want or need, maybe you shouldn’t give them anything but heartfelt good wishes.

We keep reading that giving gifts sets up the expectation that you’ll get gifts in return, which we feel is not just wrong but awful. We give gifts because we love to surprise and delight our friends and family, not because we want something from them. The greatest gift anybody could give us is happiness and delight in the gift we’ve given, not in a feeling of obligation. And if we receive a gift we simply can’t use, we know many thrift stores and secondhand shops that would love it. It makes us joyful to think we’ve brightened the holidays of someone we’ll never meet.

So, please, this holiday season, give some thought to what you’d actually want for Christmas or Hanukkah. Talk it over with your family, and see what they’d really want. Keep your financial constraints in mind. Consider what sorts of gifts you could make this year (fudge, brownies, cookies); you’d be surprised how much everyone appreciates the effort of a yummy homemade gift. Don’t feel bad about enlightening a friend or relative who suggests that they or their family would really like an expensive, out-of-budget gift. And if someone, like Silence’s friend, tells you that the best gift you could give them is to simply stay away, give them the benefit of compassion, not rage. Love them anyway, for that is, ultimately, the greatest gift of all.

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