This past Sunday, while enjoying football and appetizers at Texas Steakhouse & Saloon, I asked a friend what he was getting his wife for Christmas.
“I already gave it to her,” he said.
My friend explained that he and his wife have reached that point in their lives where if they want something, they buy it; no need to wait for a birthday or Christmas to ask someone else for it. Gift-giving simply isn’t a big deal in their empty-nest household, he said.
I get that. My wife and I, while not rich by any means, have reached that point in our lives where, financially, if we want to buy something, we buy it. It helps that our consumer desires are modest – books and music mostly, the occasional gadget for me.
But I enjoy giving gifts, at least as much as I enjoy receiving them, perhaps even more so.
It’s not that I’m selfless. To the contrary, I enjoy giving gifts at least partly because doing so makes me feel good.
I enjoy the planning. Over the course of a year, I will make a mental note when my wife, our daughter or a friend mentions something that might make a good gift. A Christmas or two ago, for example, I bought my wife a cement dragon for her library at Wilson’s Mills Elementary School. Some months or weeks before, she had seen one at that yard-ornament place across from the entrance to the State Farmers Market. I didn’t buy that one because it was too expensive, but I made a note and found an affordable one at the flea market on the State Fairgrounds.
I enjoy the hunt, both online and by car. I can literally spend hours scouring the Internet for Christmas gifts. That’s where I found the Bazinga T-shirt; my wife’s a big fan of “Big Band Theory.” It’s where I found the rather large stained-glass piece that has two of my wife’s favorite things – butterflies and a cat that looks very much like our own Tiger Lily.
I also like hopping in the car. That’s how I landed the dragon and many other Christmas gifts over the years, including what has quickly become one of my wife’s favorite gifts, her iPhone, even though it’s an older one.
Sometimes the Internet and the road come together. For my wife, I wanted a St. Jerome necklace, because St. Jerome is the patron saint of librarians. The Internet steered me to In His Name, a Catholic store on Atlantic Avenue in Raleigh.
I enjoy Christmas morning. Last Christmas, my wife and I had our convinced our daughter that neither of us had gotten her Beats headphones. The look on her face when she unwrapped the headphones was worth a great deal more than the pricey headphones themselves. Ditto for the laugh my wife let out when she unwrapped that dragon.
This wasn’t my best gift-giving year. For deadline purposes, I’m writing this piece long before Christmas Day, so maybe the mother-daughter trip to New York City will go over well.
But that was almost an after-thought, a gift idea born of the impending “Wicked” run in Durham. A couple of the ancillary gifts were OK – the “I Love New York” sweatshirt and the New York calendar, both designed to hint at what the big gift might be.
But otherwise, I was disappointed in myself. I could make excuses; I’ve been dealing these past few weeks with my late father’s estate. But mostly, Christmas just sneaked up on me this year, and my notes from the past year were OK but not dazzling. I can and will do better next time.
By the way, an “I Love New York” shirt is impossible to find in Johnston County; the lady behind the counter at Soffe, the T-shirt outlet in Selma, told me, in good cheer, that I was in the wrong state. I joked that both New York and North Carolina begin with an “N” so I thought I would give it a try.
Good cheer, it seems to me, is the best way to Christmas shop. At every stop on my fruitless search for that “I Love New York” shirt, I greeted every overworked clerk with a smile and ended our conversations with a “thank you.” All seemed to appreciate seeing a smiling shopper.
Which brings me to my last point about gift giving: I suspect the harried and unhappy are shopping because they feel they must give gifts. That can’t be fun or uplifting or meaningful. So perhaps it’s time to give less; I know of many extended families that were relieved when one family member had the courage to suggest scaling back.
Gift-giving should be enjoyable. If not, don’t do it.
Two things: You might have noticed that I spend a lot of time thinking about Christmas gifts for my wife; that’s because I love her. As for that “I Love New York” sweatshirt, my daughter made that, buying a plain sweatshirt and then applying an iron-on transfer that she found somewhere. My daughter loves her mom too.
Merry Christmas, all, and Happy New Year.