Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Giving: Its joys and pitfalls

12/19/07 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The age in which we’re living
Is an awful time for giving
Albert Stroud, Coffeyville, Kansas: The Journal Press, 1917

My hairdresser was on a rant about inappropriate and unnecessary gifts. As I listened to him, the above quote from nearly a century ago came to mind.

Waving a comb in the air, J.H. animatedly said, “Betty, you’ve got to write a column on Christmas gift exchanges!” It’s gotten completely out of hand. My sister and mother insist that each of us buy gifts for all 21 members of the family. Ridiculous! I’ve got all the soaps, colognes and candles that I’ll ever need. It’s got to stop!”

Pausing to take a breath, he composed himself. Then, smiling somewhat wickedly, he said that this year would be different. No more family trinkets for him.

“Last week I went over to the Tree of Joy in Springfield and chose 21 ornaments with individual wishes. I happened to choose mentally handicapped individuals. Do you know what most of them want? Backpacks! So I’m buying backpacks for them in my relative’s names. Each one of my relations will get a card stating that a gift has been purchased in their honor. Voila! Mission accomplished.”

Well! I must admit that we ladies in the salon were stunned into silence. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that he was holding the fate of our Christmas hairstyles in his hand. Scissors will silence a woman when nothing else will.

J.H.’s point was well taken. Mindless giving just for the sake of tradition is ridiculous. Giving a bottle of perfume to great aunt Bertha (whom we’ve never met!) is a waste of time, money and effort for both the giver and the receiver.

The gift giving mindset covers a wide range of views. First, there’s the over-the-top, more-is-better, shop ‘till you drop individual. Next, there’s the very selective shopper looking for just one special gift. Then there are the alternative gift givers, seeking alternatives to the traditional. Hand made items, buying “green,” providing a goat or chicken for a micro-enterprise overseas, charitable financial donations, the choices are only limited by one’s imagination.

The non-gift givers are usually pretty blunt in their assessment of the whole Christmas gift scene. One individual summed it up by saying, “Christmas is an abomination! I don’t celebrate it anymore.” Obviously, that attitude reflects the way many people feel. It really doesn’t matter whether they are agnostic, atheist, Christian, Jew, or Buddhist; the whole manic scene disgusts them.

So who should we buy gifts for? And why? Or should we even buy gifts? I say, it’s a matter of personal choice and neither mindset is right nor wrong.

As for me, to give or not to give is a no-brainer. I view gift giving as a tangible expression of my love and affection for special people and special occasions. Plus, I love shopping! At Christmas I can indulge in both my passion for shopping and gifting.

I do, however, have my limitations. I absolutely do not gift distant relatives with whom I have no connection. Nor do I have any qualms about dropping people off previous lists. Times and circumstances change. There are one-time gift giving occasions and there are times to disconnect. For instance, I no longer give to neighbors or best friends from 30 years ago when we were raising kids. They are part of my memory bank but not my shopping list.
Mostly my husband and I buy for our grown kids and grandkids plus a family in the community that can use a little help. I collect things throughout the year and fill in the big gaps on a three-day shopping spree. By the second week in December, I have assembled lists of everyone’s sizes, wishes, needs, likes and dislikes. I am happily prepared to do battle.

First, I scout the territory; then I narrow down my choices and find the best buys. The final challenge is to find those perfect, magical gifts at sale prices and made in the U.S. A.

This latter criteria is becoming nearly impossible. Imported merchandise seems to be the norm. Some of it is good but much of it is just plain junk. Third world factory workers must think that we Americans are really strange, stupid people to buy some of the ugly, quirky stuff that they are sending over here.

This year, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” quickly became “Bah, Humbug!” as I searched for items that were made in the USA. Try buying a UO sweatshirt, cap or football that isn’t made in Haiti, Mexico or El Salvador. A designer Claiborne jacket was made in Vietnam. Children’s games and clothing inevitably came from China. The only things I found manufactured domestically were art supplies! Disgusting!

What to do? Well, in my case, I bought the gifts anyway. So much for having high standards! Bah, Humbug, indeed!

As I write this, I’m laughing at myself for getting huffy. We’ve all got our quirks, don’t we? How silly! ‘Tis the season to be jolly and I’m complaining about one tiny little facet of the blessing of gift giving. Shame on me. Let me paraphrase that quote at the top of the page:
The age in which we’re living
Is a wonderful time for giving

Some things can be given freely whether you’re a shopper or not. If you’re not interested in shopping, forget the store-bought stuff but stock up on the true gifts of the season — love, joy and peace — then freely distribute them to all.

From my heart to yours, Merry Christmas!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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