To my dismay, family is gift that keeps on giving

Note: This column appears in the 12/16 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/17 issue of the Peoria Times

Our entire family recently became involved in a long, drawn-out email discussion regarding Christmas gifts.

I started it. For the seventh consecutive year I attempted to, with the help of my courageous wife, steer the rest of the family away from an all-encompassing gift exchange and relegate things to a one-gift grab bag. For the seventh consecutive year, it did not work. Last year, before our own valiant attempts, my sister had taken the reins and suggested that donations be made in lieu of gifts, and she was excommunicated from the family for three days.

I realize that my attempts to shun gifts are sometimes viewed as self-righteous, but they are really not. If anything they’re a result of selfish laziness. You see, gifts are things, and things bother me. Especially now that we live far away from everyone else, and each gift is a package—a package that arrives at the front door while the dog barks like a maniac, and that I must first check for scorpions before opening. Then I open it and Styrofoam thingees go everywhere, and I discover that the gift is neither a thing I can eat or use as currency, so I must find a place to store it. That place will be the kitchen table for six months until I figure things out. Then I must remove our address label from the box and shred it—those labels are difficult to remove—and then break the box down for recycling, so as to make for a green and identity theft-free Christmas. The joy.

That’s just the burden of receiving gifts. Nevermind the hassle of purchasing gifts for others. This became an interesting aspect of family discussions for Christmas gifts in the year of 2010.

Compromise was in order, and we did just that, agreeing to a grab bag but also to traditional gift exchanges for those who wanted to take part. With regards to the grab bag, we struggled to decide whether the gift-getter should let it be known what he or she wants, or if it should be left to the gift-giver to determine.

I argued for the latter. I never really grasped the whole, “Get me this, and I’ll get you that,” aspect of a holiday gift-exchange. What’s the point? Why should Christmas be the middleman? I believe that if we really know and love that person, we should be able to figure out what to get. As part of the compromise, it was decided we do things my way.

For the grab bag, I drew a person who is obviously very near and dear to me, and who I know extremely well. And…I had no idea what to get. Foiled by my own mentality, I realized that knowing a person well does not necessarily mean that you know what that person wants or needs at a particular moment in time. In arguing my point, I ironically paved the way for the pointless gifts that I annually rally against. I now look forward to watching this person open their gift over video-chat on Christmas, as Styrofoam thingees go everywhere and they pretend to be excited. I will do the same.

This will all change next year. I’ve got some new ideas, and I think everyone should hear me out.