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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

I love presents. I am not one of those people who is too shy to rip off a bow (after admiring it, of course) or who feels any awkwardness at all being on the receiving end of a pretty box or bag.

I love giving presents, too, but I hate buying them. Buying them involves a lot of stress because I need to find the right thing, the perfect thing, the only thing that could possibly be a present for any given person at any given time.

Sometimes I give up, because who needs another candle or body wash? I am not trying to personally turn the wheel of capitalism. I simply want a present that is exactly the thing that should be given by me to the recipient at that precise moment in time.

I can’t just give someone a random gift because the calendar says Christmas or birthday or Mother’s Day. This has been a problem for me all my life. I can’t even send a greeting card unless it’s the right.. the perfect… the only greeting card that could possibly suit any given person at any given time.

I can remember standing in the Hallmark shop for basically ever, reading every single Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and birthday and anniversary and Easter card.

I always hated rhyming cards. The message is so forced.

I like joke cards but they have to actually be funny and most of them are stupid.

I don’t like ultra-sappy cards or cards that are too basic and boring. I don’t want a card that sounds like a card, just another generic message cranked out by someone’s copywriting department, insert cliché here and use some embellished looping font.

For a long time I made my own cards. It solved a lot of problems except for the fact that it took hours and hours to draw the right perfect only card…

You get the point.

Nowadays, if I send a card at all, it is usually a blank card because then I can say what I want without the hours of drawing involved.

But gifts… those still bedevil me. And the internet has made it exponentially worse. Used to be, you’d go to the mall, walk around and touch everything, dismiss it all and go home. Then you’d try a few little mom-and-pop shops. Maybe go to the other mall. Pick everything up and put it back down again.

Wail, gnash teeth, shake fists, swear at universe, go back to first mall, touch everything a second time, swear you cannot leave without making a purchase, settle on body wash.

Do that three or four times until Christmas Eve when you have to buy-or-die, and finally come up with something that may not be right-perfect-only, but will suffice for the occasion.

Now, though.

Now you browse ten billion websites, all of which take you down another rabbit hole, all of which require vetting to be sure you’re not being scammed or overcharged or maybe Amazon has it cheaper, and wait, it won’t arrive until February??

The sheer volume of options, the decisions, the qualifiers and concerns and comparisons. The reviews that contradict each other. The shipping costs that are more than the item itself.

Do you know what you never had to do when you went to the mall? Read a review about the gingerbread spice body wash. You opened it, stuck your nose in it, and decided if you liked it.

You know how I feel about malls so I am not advocating for those. Believe me, I’ll spend a hundred hours on Amazon if I can avoid one at the mall at any time of the year, let alone during a holiday season.

But there is something to be said for not spending a hundred hours on Amazon. And for having your options limited to whatever exists at the mall or at the other mall, and not the infinite possibilities of everything made and shipped from every country on the planet.

And in the end, there is still no right-perfect-only gift. There is just the one you find on Christmas Eve as you’re down to one last hair on your head, and it won’t be there until February anyway.

One might think that giving me a present would be a difficult and frightening experience. That my expectations would be high, given my obsession with finding presents for other people.

One would be wrong. Give me a pretty box, a sparkly bow, a curly ribbon, a cute tag, and it hardly even matters what’s inside. If it’s a Hello Kitty or a jar of honey, I won’t be mad. But just the act of receiving a present is exciting.

Tearing off the wrapping paper, saving the ribbons for later, maybe for decorating, or for a hair tie or a hat.

Opening a present is a sacred experience. You need to appreciate the little snowmen or holly berries on the paper, see how the tape is stretched across the seams. You need to grin if it’s wrapped in newspaper and duct tape.

You need to read the tag and see who it is TO: and FROM: and you need to appreciate the penmanship written there, whether it’s perfect Catholic-school script or gangly scrawl.

If it’s a little Santa tag, for example, you have to marvel a bit at how it’s been making its way onto your gifts for nearly half a century.

The Santa tag that has been showing up on my presents for decades. By now it’s an antique.

Or maybe it’s just whatever Amazon printed on the outside of the box so you have to imagine the other person sitting at their computer typing in those exact words.

If you’re my father, you have to shake it and squeeze it turn it around a bit and say it’s a sweater or it’s a bag of nuts and 98% of the time you would be right.

It’s a whole process and we haven’t even gotten to what’s inside yet!

One you open the gift, you can oooh and ahhh over the contents. Maybe it is something delicious. Or adorable. Or snuggly. Or pretty. Maybe it’s fun or challenging or weird. Whatever it is, it will be perfect because you will see the giver smile and that will be the real gift.

Knowing that should make buying gifts a bit easier, because I am probably not the only one who doesn’t really care what’s inside. I am probably not the only one who believes it’s the thought that counts. I’m probably not even the only one who likes a good chocolate bar wrapped in a pretty bow. Still. That won’t stop me from obsessing over the right-perfect-only gift, and it won’t stop me from sending Christmas presents in February. But look at it this way. If it’s the thought that counts, you know I’ve thought about it for a really, really long time.

Photo: gifts, glorious gifts! From Christmas with my family a few years ago.