Now, I love Christmas. Despite the family drama, the disappointments, the frenetic pace and hemorrhaging of funds from my bank account, it’s still my favorite holiday. Which has just about zero to do with the alleged birth of one Jesus H. Christ, who, even IF you accept him as a historical figure WAS NOT BORN IN DECEMBER do not get me started. It’s all about having a solstice celebration to get us through the darkest part of the year, and celebrating family rituals, and also OMG presents! Presents for EVERYONE! Which really is the awesome part, but also really can be the stressful part, in that I am neither a) Martha Stewart nor b) independently wealthy.
I don’t know if I mentioned in my introduction how many kids there are in my family. There are six of us in total. I’m the oldest, then my two biological siblings, then my three step-siblings. We span a range of 10 years; four girls and two boys. The whole psychotropic Brady Bunch situation we’ve got going not only made for some extremely interesting living arrangements, what with two couples sharing different joint custody arrangements with six kids, it also was a real study in the radically different way members of the same nominal tribe can construe the meaning of the term “family.” Like for example, I personally would say that I have five siblings and four parents, and I typically distinguish between “step” and “bio” family members only when it would confuse other people not to do so. I do not think that all the members of my family feel the same way; each person has their own way of thinking about that grouping, their own sense of who’s in and who’s out, and Christmas is often the time of year when that becomes most apparent. When we were kids it was pretty straightforward: you gave a gift to everyone. As we’ve gotten older and partnered and spawned it’s gotten more complicated. For a while we we came up with an insane gift-giving matrix that supposedly spread the financial and emotional burden evenly around, and didn’t require anyone to give a gift to anyone for whom it might be awkward. This quickly became untenable (for both logistical and sanity reasons) and for the past five-plus years we’ve been in a weird gift-giving limbo, where some of us sometimes get individual gifts for everyone, and some of us do family gifts, and some of the gifts are sort of token/Christmas ornament-type gifts and some do labor-intensive handmade projects and everyone feels vaguely weird about it. Or that could just be me projecting.
Anyway, a few years ago I decided that the only way I could think about the gift-giving thing without losing my ever-loving mind was to figure out what mattered to ME about the gifts. Like, was it important for me to give the same as I was getting? Did I have to give every person their own gift every year or would I be ok rotating? (annually, for example) How critical was it that the gifts I gave be something their recipients specifically asked for? And so on. Which, actually, I think these are pretty good questions for *anyone* to think about at the holidays, and maybe I’m late to the party, but anyway, what I came up with was, 1) I like giving gifts to everyone, every year. 2) This pleasure is not connected to *getting* gifts from everyone, every year. So, you know, I don’t have to have that “well, X didn’t give me a birthday present last year so are we not doing that any more or what?” conversations with myself. I have successfully removed any reciprocity clauses from my gifting platform. 3) I look at gifts as a way of telling the recipient that I’ve spent time thinking about them with affection. And the time and affection are the important things, not crossing items off a list or spending a given amount. 4) Once the gift is given, my part of the ritual is done. Maybe the recipient will cherish it for generations, maybe they’ll throw it in the trash first chance they get. Maybe I’ll get a thank-you note, maybe the person will never refer to the item again. Doesn’t matter. My job is to give with thought and affection, and that’s it.
Which is grand and all, and I really do think it’s the right approach for me and my family, but I tell you what: there are times when I really wish I could just win the fucking lottery already so I could hire a personal assistant to buy impersonal but wildly extravagant loot for my nearest and dearest. (Personal assistant would be third in line, after I hired a full-time, live-in housekeeper and a personal masseuse. Aw, yeah.) BECAUSE IT WOULD BE SO MUCH EASIER. Christ, the time. THE TIME. It flies, and I do not know what I am doing for people! Last year I decided in mid-October that I was going to knit every adult in my family a hat, goddammit, and that’s what I proceeded to do. I think some people probably wear them. I’m sure some don’t. But I make a decent hat, and it was fun picking the colors and patterns to match each person, and amazingly I did not get carpal tunnel from knitting two dozen hats in the space of a month and a half. Mostly that’s the kind of present I like to do: handmade, creative, personal, and functional. One year I did lino-cut prints; one year I made everyone felted things; sometimes I do jewelry.
But this year, I did a show, which just closed. Which means my crafting season got cut down to 1/3 its normal size. And all my siblings have partners. And most of them have at least one kid. Plus parents. And in-laws. Also kids’ teachers. And probably some friends. Plus broke, plus kids to take care of and classes to teach. (At least the holiday cards are done. Thank you Costco for your sweet, sweet cheapiness.)
I mean, it’s the usual stuff, right? Just the usual holiday crap. And of course I’m grateful even to be in the position of fretting about gifts, and not, say, salvaging the remains of my material goods from Superstorm Sandy, or something. So anyway, I’m not looking to get out of giving the gifts this year (attention family and friends: do not, repeat NOT, post comments telling me not to give you anything. I mean it.) But I am wondering what other people do on the gift-giving front, and what good ideas and advice you smart people might have. Also Pinterest. Pinterest will have some ideas…