Sunday, December 15, 2013


For many, the twelve days of Christmas often mean too much shopping with too little money and time, rather than the gracious acceptance of leaping lords, gold rings, French hens and other assorted birds. The law of the jingle prevails. As New Yorker essayist E B White put it, to perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every year.

The wrapping can be the best part of a present. When my aged aunt died, her dresser revealed a hoard of gaudy parcels, carefully re-wrapped, containing bath cubes and handkerchiefs which must have destroyed auntie's faith in Santa. The family got the whole lot back, and she is probably still chuckling somewhere out there with the herald angels.

It is not easy to find the right present, especially for a non-shopper like me who makes hasty decisions when the sleigh bells are already tinkling in the sky. Although even planning goes awry at times. I once gave AJ a fancy tool-bench contraption when he really wanted a saw horse. There was the oddly-shaped sweater I spent months knitting. Another time I bought him the green leather jacket which he kept going into a Wellington department store to try on, but it turned out to be unwearable. It felt clammy, he said, and slippery.

No matter how grubby the crayoned card or how cobbled the beaded purse, home-made presents usually win hands down. However it is safest to give these to people who can be trusted to receive them graciously. And you can forgive almost anything while bathed, or preferably soaked, in Christmas spirits. Unfortunately I was sober when given salt and pepper shakers in the form of wooden dolls with holes in their heads kissing on a matchwood bench. The donor said "I think they’re revolting but I hope you like them" and I had to decide quickly whether to exhibit taste or grace.

For he or she who has everything, the choice is hardest of all. There is nothing which can be given to fill a void, nothing which doesn't duplicate what is already possessed. There are two solutions, for couples anyway. One is to agree not to bother (big sigh of relief from both parties). The other is for each to buy the other what s/he wants.  He can give her a train set and she can give him a hefty chunk of bling.

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