It’s that time of year when my inner-childlike wonder gets mocked by commercialism and stuffed in a stocking with fear. I love the holidays because I have an inexplicable love of holiday songs, things that are flocked and glittered, people singing together, meals that start and end with cookies, and the fact that it’s okay to kiss a hot stranger just because someone hung a twig. I hate the holidays because they are getting increasingly commercial, expensive, competitive, greedy, and I still have not recovered from the fact that my mother used to try to pass socks and underwear off as stocking stuffers.
For me, all of the unpleasantries have to do with the gift giving. The thing is, I love – LOVE – giving gifts. I do it all the time, for no reason at all. And I love receiving them. But I hate – HATE – it when gift giving becomes nothing more than shopping by proxy. When we somehow believe that we have to give – and are entitled to receive – impersonal and expensive gifts on this one day of the year, in honor of a religion that most of us actually know nothing about and that certainly doesn’t have anything to do with credit card debt and keeping up with the Joneses. At the risk of being – oh, who are we kidding, I totally am – overly judgmental, if your gift-giving involves a list, it’s not gift-giving, it’s greed.
But wait, gift giving is awesome. Done right, it’s totally personal, fun, intimate and wonderful. It is a way to learn about each other, and there is as much artistry to receiving a gift as there is to giving one. Giving and receiving both involve generosity and an open mind.
Some of the best gifts I’ve ever received involved very little money, and were not things that I asked anyone for. Rather, they were perfect examples of how well someone knew me, and appreciated my own quirky “me-ness.”
For my birthday a few years ago, one of my friends gave me a pillow case with an iron-on image of Mick Jagger on it, with a note that said something like, “I wanted to give you the one thing you’ve always wanted, but hadn’t managed to get yourself yet.” Mick Jagger, in my bed! THANK YOU!
Same friend, (the guy is a master gift-giver) gave me an original Golden Ticket, framed with a signed cast photo from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
My wasband gave me the best handbag ever a few years ago. It was a rubber chicken. Totally my sense of humor. (And waterproof, in Seattle!)
My wasband’s parents gave me a gigantic Mr. Whoozit doll, long before we even thought about having children. The thing was big enough for me to climb onto, and totally fit my sense of whimsy and play.
Last week, on a shitty day, a friend sent me a picture of his toothless daughter grinning – exactly what I needed, a sign that I was cared about and understood. Perfect.
The point is that in each of these cases, these were gifts from people who knew me, and showed me how well they knew me, and how much they cared. There was no ad campaign or pressure to perform. But more than that, they trusted me to know what the real gift was, and I did.
Which brings me to something that always gets my stockings stuffed. When someone gives you a gift, they are telling you something about themselves, and it needs to be received as generously as it was given.
I had a conversation the other day with someone who was complaining that her boyfriend gave her a piece of jewelry that she didn’t like. She was offended, took it as a sign that he didn’t listen to her, know her, care enough about her to get the “perfect” gift in her eyes. I asked why he had gotten it, and she reported that he has just seen it and liked it and thought it would look good on her. But it was the wrong kind of metal.
I felt so sad inside. Gift giving is as much about the giver as the receiver. Here is a lovely man, who saw something that he really liked, that he thought would look beautiful on a woman that he loved, and she was pissed about it. It bothered me.
What I heard – and I don’t think it was her intent – was just selfishness. It was a test, and he had failed. In my mind, she’s the one who failed. He trusted her with his taste, with his vision, with his idea of beauty, and he was shot down. He was saying, “it would make me happy to see this on you,” and she said, “no.”
Call me crazy, but I have worn tie-dye lingerie for a boyfriend who gave it to me because he loved it. I hate tie-dye. But I LOVED the look on his face when he saw me in it, and that he trusted me with his fantasy and was willing to share it with me. That’s the gift. That moment of giving and receiving bits of ourselves, no matter what they’re wrapped in.
I love to give gifts. For a few years, I dated a guy who never graduated from high-school. I spent HOURS on the phone with the NY School Board trying to get him an honorary high-school diploma. They wouldn’t do it, but I loved trying, because I knew that this was a gift that no one else would give. That I would give to no one else. That showed that I was paying attention, and willing to do anything. That’s a gift.
As I write this, I am staring at a mountain of fleece and fake fur and craft supplies piled high so that my daughter can make gifts for her cousins. They are things that she designed, just for them, for their personalities, and she gets so excited about making them. That’s gift giving. Showing someone that you pay attention to them, that you think about them, that you are willing to give them bits of yourself to acknowledge what they mean.
So I get all cynical this time of year. It’s not about big-screen TVs or iPods or designer clothes or….. It’s about the connection you have with someone, the understanding, and the desire to show them how much you care. I generally opt out of holiday gift giving. I have for years. But, if you’re in my life, you will get random gifts on random Tuesdays, for no apparent reason at all.
Because the only reason I need to celebrate the people in my life is that I want to. I know how lucky I am, and I am not afraid to tell you how much I appreciate you. People think I’m nuts . Whether it’s a random text message or a fabulous gift, I will make sure you know that I appreciate you. And that in my mind, our relationship is the best gift of all.
Bonus points if you appreciate the creative use of a rubber chicken, and don’t judge me for the fact that I really, really, really want to fuck Mick Jagger.