Oh look, only twelve minutes left of the Christmas shopping season. If you are like me, still staring at your hands when you should be out buying a gift for someone on your list (my list is called a “hit list” —that gives you an idea of how I view the whole gift giving process), you tell yourself you have plenty of time to find other things to do instead of shop. Our kids are older, so the pressure to have a million presents under the tree, each holding the possibility of a pony, is somewhat lessened. Oh they still want presents but what those might be, I don’t really want to know. I like to pretend that the boy will love a box of Legos and the girls will be satisfied with stuffed animals and glitter make up. No one has ever accused me of being unflinchingly honest with myself. I flinch, oh I flinch.
I respect people who can “gift well.” While I may not gift well I do have a knack of changing nouns into verbs. And not just anyone can do that. Do not panic, I am a certified English teacher so you can trust me when I say that I respect people who gift well. Notice I didn’t say, “gift good.” That would be incorrect grammar. Only a certified English teacher or, as my mother would say, “only someone certifiable” should be trusted with mixing disparate grammatical elixirs. I am like a chemist. Words are my chemicals. And sometimes—especially after a few eggnogs— I blow things up.
But I digress. What I really want to say about gift giving is this—if you like giving gifts, if you are good at shopping and don’t find the whole process crazy making—hats off to you. I never learned to shop properly. We have all kinds of poverty in this nation and shopping poverty is somewhere on the list. Sure it is a ways down from financial poverty and still below intellectual, cultural and moral poverty, but it’s there. It won’t kill the afflicted, it just makes them feel skittery and inadequate during the joyous holiday season.
A friend who likes to shop gave me some good advice. She said gift certificates were the way to go if you were stymied by gift giving. I have taken her advice on more than one occasion but have found that gift certificates only come from retail enterprises, and retail enterprises are at the root of my gift giving problem. Why don’t dentists, optometrists, insurance agencies, doctors and lawyers give out gift certificates? Most people I know (except for teenagers) have all the stuff they need but they haven’t seen their eye doctor in ages or could really use a consult for that pesky hernia that keeps popping up over their belt. If you are going to spend twenty bucks on a scented candle and chocolate for your sister-in-law, why not, instead, a gift certificate to the dentist for that cleaning she hasn’t had since her COBRA ran out last year? Instead of Santa gift towels, why not a gift certificate to that clever down-town divorce lawyer for the neighbor whose spouse just appeared on America’s Most Wanted. Or one from Public Health good for this year’s flu shot. The possibilities are truly endless.
Here are some other ideas for you fretting, skittery gift-challenged givers out there. Jump start your local economy by buying tickets to theaters, gift certificates to local restaurants, hardware, clothing stores and coffee shops. If you like your barber, ask him for a gift certificate for your friend who has been cutting his hair with garden shears since college. Given the choice between fruitcake and a classy cut - even though it is a diabolically clever nutritional combo, fruit and candy - I would probably go for the haircut. If you need your tires rotated, you can bet your sister does too so call the tire shop instead of re-gifting her the animated version of “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” someone gave you last year. The list goes on and, yes, the possibilities are truly endless.
Since I have absolved you eleventh hour gift givers with an easy out, let me suggest you use all your saved time this holiday season by spending time doing fun things and being with those you care about. That’s about all the moralizing I can muster this Christmas, but doing fun stuff and being with people you love will create the memories you can later recall when the actual gifts you gave are, in the end, just credit card statements.
Madeleine DeAndreis-Ayres is busy hawking Ankle High and Knee Deep a book of essays edited by Gail Jenner about rural life in the West. It makes a great Christmas gift for those looking for last minute stocking stuffers. Like nearly everything else, it can be purchased on Amazon or better yet, from your local retailer.