Since giving a gift is supposed to show you care, it seems contradictory to want Christmas shopping to require as little time and inconvenience as possible — yet I’m glad that every year it gets easier.
Until a few years ago, everyone in my family gave to everyone else. I used to shop for my parents, three siblings, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, three nieces, one nephew, and a niece’s husband and two sons.
Then someone (okay, I’ll take credit) sensibly suggested that everyone between the age of independence (i.e., finished college) and octogenarian throw his or her name into a hat and pick a name. Now I shop for the person I draw in the gift exchange, my parents, and four kids.
I think I suggested that we just pool the money we'd spend on presents and decide on a charity to which to donate it, but that won no votes. Someone commented, “It’s not as though we don’t give to charity” — and indeed, I know they are all generous to their churches and charities.
Gifts of experiences aren’t popular either. Tangible presents are what my relatives want. Miss Manners wouldn’t approve, but we all make lists of what we’d like. It simplifies shopping, and at least the gifts won’t be put into donation boxes immediately. There aren’t many surprises when we open the packages after our Christmas Eve meal, but people manage to ooh and ah anyway.
Shopping the day after Thanksgiving is a family tradition from way back before the day was called Black Friday. My sisters Pat and Nancy used to go with our mother, but she can’t be on her feet all day anymore. Nancy's teenage daughters Alex and Ashley have replaced her.
It’s a bonding experience for them all, and I sometimes feel left out, even though I choose not to go because I don’t like shopping malls. (My brother-in-law and I put up the Christmas decorations for my parents instead.)
Returning this year with more than enough items of clothing for the kids, Pat and Nancy asked whether I wanted to buy anything from them. Since clothes were the only things on the lists, and teenagers wouldn’t want me choosing their clothes, I took three items. Three fewer gifts to shop for.
For my parents, I think food is the best gift. Ironically, vegetarian me has given them gifts from Omaha Steaks several times. They want Omaha Steaks again this year, and it’s easy to sit at the computer and order a combo to be sent to them. It’s also a good way to spend the Discover or Citi points I seem to forget about the rest of the year.
For the few friends with whom I exchange Christmas gifts, I begin shopping in my closet, where I keep a large box of potential gifts. Throughout the year, any time I see something that looks giftable, I buy it and put it in the box.
Admittedly, it’s not likely that I’ll find the perfect present for a particular person by shopping in the gift box, but gifts that might seem generic become personal when accompanied by notes such as “With that new grandson, I thought you’d make good use of this photo frame,” and “Since you’re spending so much time on your balcony, these citronella candles may keep the mosquitos away.”
The box contains a number of cat-themed items, and many of my friends have cats. There are meatless cookbooks for friends who are vegetarian or just like to cook; blank books for the writers and journal keepers; books of local interest for any Chicagoan. Quirky decorative items would be enjoyed by most everyone, especially those who recently moved.
This year’s Christmas shopping was finished in 48 hours. Now I can think about other aspects of the season. Whether or not we’re religious, surely we all want Christmas to be about something more than shopping.