December 2009

He Says, She Says: Christmas Presents

Author: Jean Wharton & Keith Kelson

A Woman’s Point of View

My Christmas list, circa 1985: Barbie Dream House, Cabbage Patch Kid, Skateboard, Super Mario Brothers Nintendo game.

Proudly, I tell you that I was a very good girl that year, and Santa made my Christmas dreams come true. That very well may have been my last authentically scripted letter to Santa. Not long after, the jig was up and Santa and I were never the same again.

Christmas as a Wharton kid has left me forever spoiled. Santa was always very generous to us, even when we’d had an “off year.” My family has some traditions that carry over each year and then my mom tries to “create” new ones.

There are always plenty of delicious home cooked goodies, spanning the flavor palate from the savory (sourdough egg casserole and beef tenderloin) to the sweet (Dad’s butter cookies and Mom’s fudge). I have fond memories of sneaking out to the fridge in the garage to pop a few mini cheesecakes into my mouth between meals, then pushing the wrappers deep into the trash to hide the evidence.

I’ve always had the privilege of spending the holidays with my family, even when I’ve lived far away from them. Over the years, gift exchanging in our family has taken a backseat to enjoying the company of each other over a scrumptious meal with tasty vino and lots of laughter.

As our devotion to Santa waned in the late 1980s, we Wharton children started participating in the giving aspect of Christmas more than in previous years. Once the veil was lifted to reveal Santa’s true identity, gifts became more personalized and more practical. My Christmas list was no longer a registry of frivolous items to which my mom would respond, “We don’t always get what we ask for.” In the post-Santa years, I’ve received hiking boots, new tires and a gym membership. Last year, my younger brother got a gift certificate for some dental work for which he was long overdue.

Last Christmas, mom succeeded in creating a new tradition in our family: playing Secret Santa. Now instead of buying gifts for all the members of my family, we have a dollar limit and just one person to shop for.

Now that you have a rundown of what the Wharton Family Christmas is like, you may better understand my perspective. Adults writing a list that their loved ones are expected to follow is RIDICULOUS! A list of wants and desires is an assignment for children to do while sitting down with the F.A.O. Schwartz catalog, not for grownups.

A Christmas gift is not something that one should be expecting or assuming. When you’re dealing with immediate family members, give some thought to who that person is and buy a gift that either meets their needs or exceeds their expectations. In matters of the heart, if you don’t know your significant other well enough to venture a guess as to what they would like for Christmas, either ask them or give a gift certificate. If you feel that your relationship is more intimate than a simple gift card, gift giving should be a joy and not a stress of the holiday season.

Ladies, don’t play the “I don’t want anything for Christmas game” with your beau. That’s dirty pool. If you want him to get you something, tell him. If you’re expecting him to do something out of the ordinary or special, but that is completely out of character for him, then prepare yourself for disappointment. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean that your otherwise clueless partner is suddenly going to spend thousands on the perfect gift or make arrangements for a fancy outing.

The holidays don’t have to be a stressful time, and gift giving should be an exciting part of the season. That being said, I think it’s completely okay to return an unwanted gift or to re-gift a generic one. Our lives are cluttered and complicated enough without a frivolous gift taking up physical space in our homes and emotional energy in our lives. Don’t feel guilty about returning a sweater that you know you’re never going to wear because you have a stack of sweaters in your closet that you already avoid wearing. Stop feeling bad about re-gifting a packet of stationary when you already have a drawer full of cards and writing paper. Hand over unwanted and unusable gifts to a more appreciative recipient or back to the store for an upgrade. If it truly is the thought that counts, then store credit is a wonderful thought.


A Man’s Point of View

Christmas used to be so much fun. When you were young, you could ask for your heart’s desire and no one looked at you like you were a mental patient. In fact, parents encouraged their kids and all the kids in the neighborhood to write out a wish list to Santa, filled with toys and other goodies they wanted to see under the tree on Christmas morning. Sears, the department store where my parents shopped for toys and hardware when I was a kid, had a special catalog called a “Wish Book.” When that catalog arrived in the mail, some kids would place it under their pillows at bedtime to ensure that visions of sugarplums would dance in their heads. It truly was a magical time.

Well, that was then and this is now. As an adult, it’s considered tacky to actually verbalize, hint, point out or even mildly suggest what you actually want for Christmas. It just isn’t done, and unless you want to be treated like Bill Clinton at a Republican Party fundraiser, you’d be wise to not rock the boat.

Somewhere along the line, some kind of informal agreement was reached by which gift giving during the holidays involving adults would be as bland as a bag of rice cakes. Like all informal rules, no one can actually pinpoint the exact date when the rule went into effect. The people responsible for creating the rule are also shrouded in mystery. The rumor is that some relatives of the real life Ebenezer Scrooge got together and had this rule put on the books. From that day on, every adult was obligated to obey it without question. Humbug!—unless, of course, you’re a good looking woman.

If you’re a good looking woman, the world is still your oyster. Not only can you still hand out your wish list just like you did when you were a kid, but now you can add jewelry, automobiles and trips to pretentious European countries to the list. While people may roll their eyes and scoff, they’re not going to make a really big scene. You don’t anger a good looking woman—it just isn’t done—another unwritten rule that you don’t break if you know what’s good for you.

They say that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Quiet as it’s kept, that opposite reaction to the unwritten rule for bland gifts is the phenomenon known as re-gifting. Oh, don’t act all innocent; the guilt is written all over your face. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. I’ve been re-gifting since the late 1980s. EBay, the popular online auction site, exists solely because of re-gifting. Where did y’all think all that stuff came from? The crappy gift fairy?

The chess set featuring the cast of The Brady Bunch that your boss’s ex-wife gave you in 1996. The Chipmunks Greatest Hits CD your wife’s lazy brother gave you last year. The minute you saw those awful “gifts,” your mind went into overdrive trying to find someone worthy of the re-gift. Well, you can always count on your coworkers as patsies… I mean, perfect recipients of re-gifts. You only see them at work, they’re not related to you, and with any luck, the majority of them won’t be around the following year to re-gift you.

Now, the art of the re-gifting gets tricky when dealing with your sweetheart. She’s cuter than a basket filled with puppies and kittens, and you’re so smitten, you’ve even been online looking into surprising her with a trip to some snooty country you’ve never heard of. Unfortunately, her gifts leave much to be desired. You can’t be caught re-gifting one of her gifts, especially if you’re serious about her.

It’s time for drastic measures. EBay, while tempting, is too risky. She’ll be online one day just web surfing and she’ll see that box set of Tim Conway and Don Knotts DVDs she gave you with no bids and a “buy it now” price of five bucks. She won’t be happy. In fact, your circle of friends, coworkers and regular patsies is also a big no-no, because one of them will eventually let it slip how they just love the Jay Leno figurine you gave them last Christmas. Your main squeeze will be heartbroken.

No, my friend, it’s time to take a walk on the dark side. What you’ve got to do is place all your valuables in a temporary storage unit, then mosey on over to the seediest neighborhood in your town. Find some thugs, challenge their manhood and dare them to break into your apartment. They don’t need to know that the only valuables in the place are your sweetie’s gifts to you and a few other crappy gifts you’ve been unable to re-gift.

Sure, it’s dangerous. Odds are that the thugs will keep your address in their Rolodex and try to time a break-in that coincides with getting your real valuables out of storage. But in the end, it’s worth the risk, mainly because the thugs, like all typical “bad boys,” are usually involved with very beautiful women. They will probably be too busy trying to quietly re-gift the crappy gifts their girlfriends gave them during the holidays to bother you again.

Remember: never anger a beautiful woman. It just isn’t done.

Happy Holidays!

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