Gift-giving in my family has always been a strained topic.  (For proof, see here and here and here.)  My brother, with his December 25th birthday, always got shafted anyway for separate birthday/Hanukkah gifts.  He always wanted, yet rarely received, expensive electronica.  My father is impossible to shop for, and as a result, has more neckties and shirts that he can wear in a lifetime, and a stack of dry, “Daddy books” by his bedside, waiting to be read.  Mom, on the other hand, is very specific about what she wants, and does not hesitate to let us know, in writing, as an e-mail or card in the mail.  As she does this about a week before the event, we have to scramble to coordinate the shopping, shipping, and chipping in, lest she become very disappointed. 

Ah, yes, disappointed, that all-too-familiar feeling associated with Hanukkah.  Year after year, I’d make a wish-list, as we were encouraged to do, and time after time, the hopeful expectation has turned to doom and dread as I unwrap The Misunderstood (non) Turtleneck Sweater, The Wrong Birkenstocks, and The Hideous (non) Pea Coat That Looks Like a Men’s Blazer, and The Clothing That Would Not Fit.  And those are just the gifts I wanted.  I also end up with piles upon piles of crap I never wanted, little trinkets and tchotchkes that have always filled out the Hanukkah piles, as we opened one a night for 8 days: piles of socks, weird “gourmet” foods from TJ Maxx, stuffed animals (into my 20s), and clearance merchandise from Ocean State Job Lot with holes, stains, or “ready for crafting”.  My sister tries to keep these things at bay, fighting not to let them cross the threshold of her apartment, while I make trip after trip to Salvation Army, and jump at the chance to make a few choice contributions to other people’s yard sales. 

I’ve heard of large families who all pick names out of a hat and choose one person to shop for.  I’ve heard of the $20 limit.  I’ve heard of the themed gift giving extravaganza.  I’ve read Cathy and “AAaack!”ed my way through well intentioned agreements not to exchange gifts.  I’ve hemmed and hawed over who needs to be on my list.  Yesterday, a coworker revealed that her family actually does not exchange gifts.  As I strive each year to find homes for the piles of acceptable crap that enter my house after birthday and especially Hanukkah, I would genuinely welcome a truce on my family’s gift-giving quagmire.  Mr. Apron is stressing  because he has not started shopping yet for my Hanukkah gifts, and I’ve promised not to get him the full 8 this year.  For our anniversary in October, he was in the throes of play rehearsal, and I’d just emerged from a birthday, so we kept it delightfully low-key.  No fruit, or china, or appliances, or linen, or paper.  Just a bouquet from the florist who did our wedding flowers, a picnic at the township park where we were married, and dinner from Wegman’s.  I bought tickets to go see Peter and the Wolf at the symphony, and he scored seats at a live recording of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”.  That was it.  As soon as we’d accepted our own failures to procure the “perfect gift” for each other, we relaxed and had a great anniversary.

After our wedding, I was so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of “stuff” from our registry, I swore off consumerism for a good, umm, season.  The “Holiday Shopping Season” gives me hives. The endless pop Christmas songs blasting through store speakers, the 80 degree stores that leave me stripping off winter layers from the 40 degree day outside, the snaking cash register lines, the commercials to buy, buy, buy, and the overflowing tables of Isotoner gloves, Dearfoams, plaid pajamas, cashmere sweaters, and keychain/flashlight/iPod speakers, set up by gender, age, and dollar amount so you can blindly pick out a “perfect gift.”  It’s all too much for me.  While I was on my double-boiler pursuit this weekend, I was greeted by packed parking lots, eager shoppers, and early sales.  I wanted to bolt, run home, bury my head under the covers, and stay that way until December 26th

It is so much harder to be a gracious recipient of a crap gift, than it is to give a gift you’ve put any thought into.  It’d be easier, period, if my family could accept that all us kids are “grown” and won’t be crest-fallen not to see the huge pile of gifts again.   Ever.  I think we’d actually be elated to be free of the guilt of fulfilling Mom’s wishes, finding something (anything) for Dad, and shopping merely out of obligation.  Though the Salvation Army might suffer for it.

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