Cynical Christmas gift buying guidance

In an ideal world, we would give gifts in the true spirit of Christmas. We would give from our hearts, not from our guilt reservoir or obligatory recesses. And certainly not from our re-gifting stash of disliked gifts past. Unless we can go undetected.

Living in holiday Utopia, we would give gifts meaningful, not just the sale-priced or the convenient. We would give items apropos, not the advertised du jour. And we would surprise one another with spontaneous thoughtfulness as opposed to filling sundry laundry lists of seasonal demands.

But since we can’t be wise about it, we might as well be wily.

Christmas provides the perfect opportunity to editorialize on the lives of those around you, like your grandmother was subtly catty with a gift of a Chatty Cathy (doll) to your mother: A means of saying what you mean without appearing overtly mean.

For instance, if your daughter-in-law is inept in the kitchen, give her an old, learn-the-basics cookbook under the guise that you’re handing down a family heirloom. I know. It happened to me. In case she misses the point, it’s far less expensive than purchasing pots and pans and spices that will never get used.

Similarly, buy books for those you think spend too much time watching TV, viewing movies, or staring at computer screens. If they already read, use Christmas as an opportunity to dictate what you think they SHOULD be reading. I like to give targeted self-help volumes to the screwed up and non-fiction biographies to readers of romance novels. You get the idea.

If you think a book would be too easily ignored, get magazine prescriptions, I mean SUBSCRIPTIONS. A magazine has the power to remind someone 12 times per year they ought to be living their lives differently. Well, unless the magazine you get is Soap Opera Digest. I recommend Success magazine for the loser in your life, Hairstyle Makeovers for the unkempt, and The Tightwad Gazette for the spendthrift. You get my drift.

Nuts are the ultimate metaphoric gift. Tool gifts are terrific for telling someone to get off their dead butt and take care of things around the house. Plus, you can use them, yourself, to make the repairs if your ploy fails, as ploys often do.

The giving of baby toys and clothing to childless adult children green lights them to make you a grandparent. And nothing says “it’s time to move out” louder to freeloading young adults than a set of luggage, especially when accompanied by a stack of large boxes from other gifts.

If another family member has put on a few pounds, buy him or her the size pants you think he/she should be wearing and demure, “I couldn’t find the receipt when I went to wrap them, but I’m sure they’ll fit.” You can do the reverse for anorexic family members, except it might backfire, with them thinking you’re saying they’re already too fat. But I’ll leave you to work around the idiosyncrasies of your own family.

If you merely want to frustrate the bejeezus out of someone on your Christmas gift giving radar, I recommend giving them a “throw,” which in my mind is short for “should be thrown away.” You know, one of those 40- x 60-inch worthless blankets that are really meant for decoration or bathroom hand towels and are barely large enough to cover a baby. There’s nothing worse than trying to get cozy on a couch with a glorified scrap of fluff that comes up only to your armpits, and that’s if you’re lucky.

I’d like to find and hold accountable whoever came up with the goofy throw idea. I would feed them a stale biscuit (aka “cracker”) with spicy mustard or marmalade that come in those cheesy gift baskets no one wants but everyone buys in the desperation alleys near the department store checkout lanes. Nothing declares, “drop back and punt present” quite as articulately as a gift basket.

Face it: Christmas is not about gifts, it’s about Christ. So once your train derails from that premise, it matters not into which canyon it careens. Better hang on tight for the next two weeks. Choo, choo!

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