Friday, December 10, 2010

Revealing Gifts

So last night the DH and I snuggled on the couch and watched 30 Rock and The Office, while the boys drew comic books. (this is their PASSION right now. They are each averaging 2-3 3 page comics a day! The subject matter is widely varied, but always humorous, often violent and just a leetle twisted. Very amusing stuff.) It was nice to just sit together quietly after another action packed day.

On The Office, Jim & Pam exchanged Christmas gifts. Jim surprised her with a diamond bracelet (she cried), and Pam lovingly and laboriously drew him a comic book, and presented it with much hope and nervousness (he was speechless with joy). Cute? Kinda? Meh. It left me with a squirmy feeling inside.

I am actually not good at the gift thing, neither giving nor receiving. I didn't grow up in a gift giving culture. We didn't celebrate Christmas or birthdays, and taking pleasure from or putting emphasis on material possessions was most certainly frowned upon. Giving a gift is generally not on my radar screen when I think of ways to show appreciation or affection. I think there are better ways.

Receiving gifts comes with this whole dance of expectation, and ritual of responses. Maybe it's my inherent Aspieness, but I don't much like surprises, and I am not particularly astute at picking up on the more subtle social cues or acting out the required niceties. Don't get me wrong, I like pressies as much as the next guy (did I mention the 10th doctor sonic screwdriver and Tardis cookie jar sitting on my desk right now? Spoils of the HP birthday party.), but the actual receiving of the gifts often leaves me feeling awkward and embarrassed. Did I smile big enough? Say thank you with the correct tone and enthusiasm? Did the giver leave feeling that their effort was appreciated and knowing how much I value them? And sometimes I just get overwhelmed, especially at Christmas or birthdays when I am receiving multiple gifts. It all just feels like too much, and I start to think of little kids in Africa, and the camps in Haiti and the families right here in my own city who are suffering and don't have enough, and here I am like Dudley Dursley with a stack of presents so big I can't see over the top.

If the DH presented me with a diamond bracelet, I would probably throw up.

(wet blanket, I know.  No one likes that person, snuffing out the festivities with a cold splash of guilt on Xmas morning.)

Pam's gift was handmade. I love the handmade gifts best of all. I feel my happiest, and like I am giving of my best when I give them, and of course, love, love, love to receive them, but not everyone gets or loves receiving the homemade there is the suspense. I loathe the suspense. You spend hours meticulously crafting something, sweat of your brow, love in every step, and then you get the wave of panic. It's not perfect. It's actually pretty flawed. Will they like it? Will they get it? Would they rather have just had a gift certificate to Amazon?

There's also the pressure that TV shows, commercials and every flyer and billboard all contribute to. Have you gotten your loved one something spectacular this year? We see cars with giant bows on them. Jewelery galore. Electronics, vacations, big ticket, big money, must equal BIG joy items. On the other side of the coin soppy movies and commercials (still selling us stuff but more subtly), telling us that if every gift giving moment with your family this Christmas, whether the gift is big or small, boughten or made, is not as warm and fuzzy as a Coca Cola polar bear and as sentimental as a Hallmark card you have failed. Big red rubber stamp across your forehead. CHRISTMAS FAIL. Your children didn't squeal with glee as they ripped off the paper. Your wife didn't well with tears and throw herself into your arms. Grampa didn't have a tender moment of finally understanding how much he means to you, as he looked at his new sweater and pipe. FAIL. FAIL. FAIL.

I watched that show last night and had a moment of doubt. You know what I bought the DH this year? First of all, something we can afford on our modest Christmas budget. Second of all, something he wants. He knows exactly what he's getting. There's no big surprise. It is something fun. Something he wouldn't spend the money on for himself. He will open it, and feign surprise to please the boys, and give me a kiss and say thank you. He'll enjoy it, but it is not going to be some big revelation of my love for him. He won't be rendered speechless or get all verklempt. It's just a nice thing to have, nothing more. Does this mean I get the fail stamp on my forehead?

Obviously I've been ruminating about gifts and their meaning, and the whole societal culture around gift giving, and thinking hard about what I would give the DH if I could give him absolutely anything. What kind of gift would be a revelation of my love to him? And I keep coming back to exactly where I started, there are better ways to show love and appreciation than giving gifts.

Back BK (before kids), we lived in an old yellow farmhouse in the country. It had a glassed in porch on the front of the house where we left our coats, shoes etc. This was unheated. One particularly cold winter, each afternoon as I was rushing out the door to work, I could not find my boots. It was maddening. They were never where I'd left them the night before. I would scramble around the house searching and eventually locate them somewhere on the main floor, and tear off for work in a huff. I came up with a theory that it must have been the dogs (we had two), although I could never figure out how (they would've had to open the door to the porch somehow) or catch them at it. One night in quizzical frustration I shared all this with the DH, and he said, half shamefaced, half amused, "It was me. I didn't want your feet to be cold, so every morning before I go to work, I move your boots to a heat register to warm up."

And that my friends, is a gift.

A revelation of love far better than any diamond or iphone or flat screen TV. He didn't want my feet to be cold. He thought of my comfort with no prompting from a holiday or a TV commercial, and no expectation of anything in return. In that moment I felt surprised and valued, and as warm and fuzzy and sentimental as can be.

Chocolate Spicy Love Cookie, the DH's favourite kind

Only 14 more sleeps until Christmas! I hope your holidays are filled with gifts, filled to bursting! And that they are the kind of gifts that come "...without ribbons! [That come] without tags! [That come] without packages, boxes, or bags!" ...the kind that reveal love.


  1. Awww, that was a wonderful gift of true love. And that was a wonderful post. I grew up in a very Christmasy family, but our holidays were punctuated by my mom's grief at losing her parents from before we were teenagers. Being a compulsive shopper and an emotional gift giver, she always had to watch us open each gift, and there was SUCH pressure to be the right amount of surprised and happy, as if we could make her happy. (She was seriously depressed for years, and just recently admitted suicide was a constant thought - we figured as much but nobody talked about it - God forbid we made her cry any more than she already was)
    Anyway, since I moved away AND had the only grandkids, her gift giving went into overdrive overcompensation and I still have HUGE issues with the whole gift thing. I cry in a random store almost every year at the pressure and fulitily and greed of it all. It seems silly and pointless to me. We have everything we need. Everyone we know does. Presents never make anyone but kids happy, and only for a short while until the buzz wears off. So.
    But you made me think about what my DH would love as a gift, and what I would love. He would probably like the house clean (sad testament) and he would probably just like me to be happy.
    I never know what I want, that's a problem in itself. Maybe unlimited backrubs, or a quiet dinner once in a while. Things that do not come in boxes with bows!
    Thanks for yet another thought provoking, wonderful post. I'm happy your boys are so happy drawing comics! Mine went through that phase too, wish they still did, even if it was copies of pokemon or Capt. Underpants!
    I think your cookies ooze love all over the place. I'm going to try and make some of those this week. And your wonderful tea cakes, yum!

  2. i woke up today to Nat King Cole singing Nature Boy.

    The greatest thing you'll ever learn
    Is just to love and be loved in return.

    and it sounds waaaaay better when he's singing it. and not as cheesy...

    i find myself buying up the stuff i want on my own as much as possible because everyone close to me already gives an abundance. i don't want anyone thinking i need anything more than love and support. and physical therapy when all my stuff crushes me.

  3. I don't know what touched me more - the cold feet story or the chocolate spice cookie. And I love your homemade gifts!

  4. I grew up in a different culture and celebrated Christmas in a different way than it is celebrated in the US. For us gifts were homemade, the ones that were bought were age related toys, and that's about it. And never more than a toy per child.

    Loved this post, Evangeline. It speaks to my heart.

  5. it's funny, but gifts mean a lot to me, mostly cause i never know if i will even get any on christmas and b-days. and i adore homemade gifts. my artists friends who ask me what i want for my b-day always end up with me absconding with their art xD for me, i treasure these little remembrances, for that is how i think of them. i mean i can only think of one arty thing i got that i didn't like, but that was only cause when asked what i wanted i said a painting or drawing, and got a collage, so i was disappointed that she hadn't done what she said she would, and collages are one of the few arty things that rarely speak to me. and even then i kept it for years, sine she had made if for me, until the moths decided it was moth food (there were feathers on it) other than that, unless it's edible, i keep them. i suppose i hoard these little signs of affection.

    as for the gift givings, i don't have a lot of dosh to spend, so it's made or small, and that's kinda that. and if a friend isn't ok with know what i just don't have friends who aren't ok with that. i guess i am lucky that way =)

    that said, i hear that not everyone has that experience, and i know the media has a whole bunch of weird ideas about a whole bunch of things. sad but true facts. but for me christmas is still about the magic of santa, and believing that anything is possible, that magic exists, and that love is out there for me.

    i think the hardest thing for me is the not knowing if i will have anyone to spend it with thing. i guess that is where the media et al gets me. if you are alone on christmas and b-days, does that mean no one loves you? i know it's more like folks are busy and with families and stuff, but it still creeps up on me, like the flu lol.

    well i hope christmas turns out lovely for you mel and E, everyone out there in blogverse, and that gifts end up being about funness!


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