Fleeced Navidad

Okay, so it seems we’ve gotten ourselves into a bit of a situation here.

At some point we, as a family, have decided to “draw names” for Christmas presents this year. I’m not even sure how it happened. I think maybe my wife was the one to suggest it. She doesn’t want Christmas to be all about buying things and getting things, and she wants the focus to be on “the true meaning of Christmas”, especially since our daughter is beginning to get to the age when you can talk about Christmas. And yet, in doing the “name draw” thing, our daughter is going to get just as many things as usual. More, actually, because people will only need to buy for one other adult person, so potentially it could turn ridiculous pretty quick. Is there anyway we could just fast-forward to Boxing Day?

Since my wife and I have been together, we’ve just bought something for everyone. It never had to be a big thing, obviously, and sometimes we’d even go the “couple route”: “To Chris and Alison, from Marla and Trevor and Audrey”. So that cuts the number down. But I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t like giving gifts. I do. It’s just that some people are easier to shop for than others.

Last year, my wife got sick with the flu a couple of weeks before Christmas, during prime “gift buying” season. I decided to take things into my own hands and I headed out to the mall and I am not exaggerating when I say that I visited Zellers and in 45 minutes had completed our 2011 Gift Obligations. I never felt more alive!

And then there’s that terrible thing that can happen when you buy someone (outside your immediate family) a gift and then the other person feels obligated to get YOU something and then everyone feels terrible. I remember a few years ago when I was working in a small department (with just two other people) and I was walking by a movie theatre and I thought “Well, maybe I’ll pick up a couple of gift certificates for the movies for my two coworkers!” and I did and that was something I did just because I felt like it. When I gave each of them their card and gift certificate on Christmas Eve, they were both surprised and I was happy I did that and off I went filling with the Christmas Spirit.

That is, until I got back to work after New Years.

One of my coworkers felt so guilty that he didn’t get me anything that sitting on my desk was a GIANT gift basket filled with nuts/fruit/chocolates/cheese/crackers/you name it and all done up with a nice blue ribbon. I think people were wondering if I had just had a significant birthday or maybe I had cancer or something. That was the last time I got gifts for my coworkers.

So back to our family situation. Part of the thing that kills me about choosing names is that part of the real joy of Christmas for my Mom is getting gifts for people. She’s just that kind of person. She likes to start early and go around to shops and flip through catalogues and click on websites until she can’t stop. She just loves seeing people getting things, I think, and she doesn’t really care a whit about getting stuff herself. It’s just her way.

What’s the problem, you may ask?

The problem is that my mother-in-law, God bless her, feels like she has to keep up with my Mom in the gift department, whether it’s quantity or quality, and so Christmas has bloomed from getting one or two nice things to a full morning marathon of opening gifts and feigning excitement. I am usually exhausted by the end of it all and just needing a nap in the afternoon.

So this year, the proposal of drawing names actually seemed like a good idea to me at the time. I will buy for one adult person and instead of the focus being on what everyone’s getting, we can just visit and eat brunch and experience Christmas through our daughter’s eyes.

My wife’s Mom really took to the idea, and actually drew the matching names by herself (a bit suspect).

“I’ve got some bad news.” was how she started a phone conversation with me last Sunday. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I was expecting to hear that someone died. She went on, “You’ve been drawn by your Mother.”

It took me a second to figure out what she was talking about. I think what she meant was that we often joke around that my Mother-in-Law always asks me to make a good old-fashioned Christmas List and she usually gets me one or two things off of it, and my Mom doesn’t. Before I met Marla, I hadn’t made a Christmas wish list since I was like 12 or something. It’s just not something we did in our family. Our tradition was to mention orally one or two things that you might be interested in and then there was about a 40% chance you would actually get it. I remember many many Christmases opening my last gift and slipping into a slight melancholy when I realized that the one thing I had hoped for was not going to be under the tree.

My Mom’s thing is to get me “an outfit” for Christmas. I think I’ve mentioned the famous “outfits” before in another post. I get them at Christmas and I get them at my birthday and that is why I haven’t really bought a stitch of my own clothing in 20 years. (Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.)

I feel a bit bad for my Mom, because she is one of those people who start their Christmas shopping early and has already bought some stuff. It’s not really fair to change the game so late in the season, but it seems to be what’s going down this year, and we can’t ever seem to make everyone happy.

It didn’t help that I was just thinking aloud and said something about how “it would be nice” if we had a ham on Christmas Day.

My Mom snapped. “Okay, I’m already getting screwed over on the gift giving thing this year, but I have had a turkey for the past SEVENTY Christmases and I am NOT ABOUT to start eating HAM at Christmas!”

I immediately back pedaled. “Sure, sure. Right, of course. I didn’t mean we HAD to have ham! We can do turkey for sure. I love turkey!” I think this sort of appeased her, but I’m not sure. In fact, I would question her memory about having turkey every year, because I remember MANY Christmas Day suppers where we had a very light supper and got together with our extended family in the evening for games, carols and snacks, but I wasn’t about to contradict her. She’s had a lot to adjust to, tradition wise this year. She sounded resigned to the new system. “Well, I guess you’d better give me a list.” This broke my heart, because it was as if the very last vestiges of fun Christmas was being swept away. So I swallowed my pride and said, “Actually, I was hoping to get an outfit.” My dislike of “outfits” has become legend in our family, but my Mom conveniently forgets this every year, and this year was no different. She brightened up immediately. “Well, that sounds lovely, dear! I know you need a new pair of cords!” I do not need a new pair of cords, but I let that lie.

As adults, if we need or want something, we usually just go out and get it throughout the year.  And that’s mostly true for me. But I have to admit there is still a hint of that 12-year-old in me who goes to bed on Christmas Eve excited about the possibilities, the infinite possibilities of what could be in those bright shiny packages under the tree: things I’ve hinted heavily about, or even things that I would love but would be a total surprise. Or the best gifts: the unexpected ones, the ones filled with thought and love, and were not on my “list” but ended up being so great because they were want I wanted, even if I didn’t know I did.

But this Christmas morning, as we eat brunch and sip coffee, and distribute gifts, I will know for certain that under the street somewhere, the only gift waiting for me will be some sort of turtleneck, matching sweater and matching cords, and if I’m REALLY lucky, matching socks.

At least I can take solace in the fact that later on that day the comforting aroma of turkey, not ham, will be wafting from the kitchen.

Any advice, Lucy?


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