A few tales from the gift-giving season:
My friend Bernadette's gay brother gave her a pair of those high-heeled, lace-up Timberland boots, which, given that she's more the Birkenstock-ed Buddhist type, are about as far as you can get from being "her style." It turned out to be an instance of re-gifting, sort of: he'd originally bought them on EBay for $20-- for himself, to wear in one of his drag queen performances, but they didn't fit!
I myself got the usual assortment of odds and ends from extended family members with whom I exchange token gifts. One present that seemed odd was from my aunt Maud: a "Yo-Yo Gift Set." Now if this had been a boxed set of CDs by the rapper Yo-Yo, I would have been psyched, but no, it was an actual toy yo-yo, with a book of yo-yo tricks. When I opened it, I thought, ummmm, I guess that's kinda fun, whatever, but it looks like it's for a 10-year old! I thought she might have tagged it with my name by mistake. This notion was reinforced when I was later handed another gift labeled to me from Aunt Maud. It was a book of poetry, which I think will actually turn out to be one of my favorite Christmas gifts-- it's something I have an interest in, and by a poet I'd never read before, and based on the first couple of poems I read, I think I'm really going to enjoy it. So I wanted to let Maud know how much I appreciated it, but wondered what to do about the yo-yo set-- it would be a bit embarrassing to say "uh, I think there was a mistake," so I decided not to mention it. I went over to Aunt Maud and enthusiastically thanked her for the book, saying I'd heard of the writer but never had a chance to read him, and was so glad, etc. etc. Aunt Maud talked about how much she enjoyed his work too, etc. etc. and then she said "Oh, did you get the yo-yo thing too? I just thought that was perfect for you!" I'm still scratching my head over that one.
Here's the most embarrassing gift I gave this year:
The Orgasm Keychain has a little lip-shaped button, which, when pressed, causes the key chain to emit loud sighing, moaning sounds of a woman having an orgasm, which go on for about a minute with no way to turn it off. If a minute doesn't seem like a very long time, it will when you have this keychain accidentally go off because your shopping bag gets jostled while you're in your office, or on a semi-crowded subway car. But the laugh I got out of the friend I bought it for was worth the $8.67 it cost me, and all the embarrassment of delivering it!
In closing, I wanted to share this passage from Bridget Jones's Diary, which I re-read for about the 4th time this weekend:
Dread the exchange of presents with friends as, unlike with the family, there is no way of knowing who is and isn't going to give and whether gifts should be tokens of affection or proper presents, so all becomes like hideous exchange of sealed bids. Two years ago I bought Magda lovely Dinny Hall earrings, rendering her embarrassed and miserable because she hadn't bought me anything. Last year, therefore, I didn't get her anything and she bought me an expensive bottle of Coco Chanel. This year I bought her a big bottle of Saffron Oil with Champagne and a distressed wire soapdish, and she went into a complete grump muttering obvious lies about not having done her Christmas shopping yet. Last year Sharon gave me bubble bath shaped like Santa, so last night I just gave her Body Shop Algae and Polyp Oil shower gel at which point she presented me with a handbag. I had wrapped up a spare bottle of posh olive oil as a generalized emergency gift which fell out of my coat and broke on Magda's Conran Shop rug.
Ugh. Would that Christmas could just be, without presents. It is just so stupid, everyone exhausting themselves, miserably hemorrhaging money on pointless items nobody wants: no longer tokens of love but angst-ridden solutions to problems. (Hmmm. Though must admit, pretty bloody pleased to have new handbag.) What is the point of entire nation rushing round for six weeks in a bad mood preparing for utterly pointless Taste-of-Others exam which entire nation then fails and gets stuck with hideous unwanted merchandise as fallout? If gifts and cards were completely eradicated, then Christmas as pagan-style twinkly festival to distract from lengthy winter gloom would be lovely. But if government, religious bodies, parents, tradition, etc., insist on Christmas Gift Tax to ruin everything why not make it that everyone must go out and spend L500 on themselves then distribute the items among their relatives and friends to wrap up and give to them instead of this psychic-failure torment?
Not a bad idea, if you ask me!