today is boxing day in various nations around the world. today is also a different kind of boxing day right here in the USA. today is the day that people haul home their xmas loads, grab a big cardboard box, and start sorting out the shit that they’re going to drop off at the goodwill ASAP. (a friend of mine brings 2 bags to her in-law’s house- one for stuff to bring home, one to ditch at the goodwill on her way home).
for example, my boyfriend’s parents have a large extended family. and even though trying to celebrate everyone for xmas is expensive and extremely inconvenient, several family members refuse to give up the tradition. unfortunately, it’s not the family members with large disposable incomes or most intimate insights into their wants and interests doing the gift giving. mostly it’s distant and out of touch (often with reality) relatives without much to spare in the gift giving budget. now, as a person who writes a budget blog, i am certainly not one to poo poo an inexpensive gift. however, any gift not given with care is likely to end up discard bin, and the only thing you’ve really given your friends and relatives is the task of writing an awkward thank you note that won’t reveal the fact that your gift is already donation fodder.
so to you coworkers, extended family, in-laws, acquaintences… my gift to you this year is a cautionary tale of three ceramic polar bears:
so as i was saying, my future in-laws get a lot of crappy relative presents. so much so, that my boyfriend’s mom stacks them all up and tucks them away until the last moment because she just can’t bear the guilt and sadness that they bring with them. this year’s greatest tragedy however, a festive ceramic statuette of 3 polar bears. BROKEN. also, hideous. also, in a priority express box that cost $23 to ship. it was heartbreaking. i’ve never even met them, but i just wanted to run to NY and shake aunt X and uncle Y until they promised to save their money and snap out of their delusional state.
the reality is that nobody should have to deal with such awful moments during the holidays. the desire to be generous is a beautiful thing, but without the proper cautions, it can turn ugly FAST:
1. try to avoid identifying a person with singular hobby or predilection. i never more greatly regret telling people that my favorite color is pink than on christmas. oven mitts, xmas ornaments, figurines…my friend xine had a similar problem with penguins, and my boyfriend’s dad apparently once mentioned he liked polar bears. it’s a trap! i still love pink (shockingly), but people are not one dimensional- they still have styles and tastes and standards! just because it fits one vague criteria does NOT make it a good present. plus, your buddy who loves golf probably gets like 250 golf related calendars, mugs, and bath towels every year. do him or her a favor, and pay for a tee time at a nice course- or at least get a gift card to a sporting goods store (see item #4).
2. if it isn’t thoughtful or useful, it doesn’t matter how much you spent on it. if you’re resorting to fatally flawed tactic #1 to check off your xmas list, your budget becomes magically irrelevant. for example, this is equally as stupid as this. possibly worse, because you paid more for it but the result is the same- the bin of no return! expensive doesn’t necessarily always equal good if the gift is not appropriate for the receiver. if you want to drop cash, give cash. or for the love of god ASK SOMEONE for a little help.
3. nobody wants a tchochke. NOBODY. you may come to my house and see that i have various bits and pieces lining my shelves, and ASSUME that they are tchochkes. in reality, those items are carefully hand selected and edited collections of very specific things that i love. unless i point to one specifically and say “I WANT THIS”, don’t go there. your desire to help me further my collection is sweet but misplaced. misplaced directly into the trash can.
4. when in doubt, gift card, gift card, gift card. if you absolutely can not avoid giving a gift (see #5), cash or a gift card are always welcome. even if you get a crap giftcard to applebees, there’s always someone else out there with questionable taste that will be willing to swap with you. at least a gift card practically guarantees that the receiver will get something that they want.
5. sometimes no gift is the best gift of all. i wrote this funny article a while back about teacher gifts. the punchline is that teachers don’t want anything more than a sweet note from their student telling them that they’re doing a good job. point being, emotional connection trumps a physical gift any day of the week- assuming that the sentiment is from the heart. believe me, if your family knows you’re strapped- it will be a gift to them that you’re not putting yourself in debt to buy them presents (especially crappy ones). don’t have any sentiment to spare? go with the gift card. either that, or just know that if you can’t muster up something sweet to say- why the hell are you giving this person a gift in the first place?
anyway, the broken polar bears ended up being thrown into the woods out back of the old shed. but of course, a sweet and thoughtful thank you note will be dispatched as if the bears were still intact and proudly displayed. WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES? we as a nation create so much wasted stuff and waste so much precious time going through motions that cause us more harm than good. we’ve got a full year to sort it out. next holiday season, let’s all commit to celebrating with a little honesty, a little reality, a little thought, and NO BROKEN POLAR BEARS IN 2011!