Friday, November 09, 2012

From the archives: Great Holiday Expectations

First posted November 2007

Meredith posted on Frugal Hacks about the disappointing discovery that many of her creative-but-frugal gifts had been shoved into someone's back closet or were on their way to the thrift shop. She took this as a learning experience for herself and says she has therefore decided to focus more on what people say they really want or need.

I say rats. (To them.)

Now if Meredith was a stingy person or lacked taste; if she was in the habit of giving "jars filled with potpourri and Christmas lights," as one of the commenters said; or of regifting something awful or of giving made-in-you-know-where ornaments from the dollar store, then that would make sense.

But those of us who read Like Merchant Ships regularly know what a talented, thoughtful and creative person Meredith is. This is a lady who actually notices what her back porch looks like before company comes, and someone who can put a cake-and-flowers gift together on short notice as easily as she caters an office party. If I were within Meredith's gift-giving circle and she made me a gift such as she described, I hope I'd be smart enough to appreciate it.

In other words, Meredith, I don't think the problem is all on your end.

However, I have noticed the same issue here more than once. There is an agenda to a lot of peoples' expectations of gift giving and gift getting, and it revolves around this: not that you took the time to knit them something, or found them one of those super-cool frugal-friend presents like a 25-cent used book they've always wanted, but that you Showed It With Cash. And with an exchangeable receipt, preferably.

And then there are the people whose "wants and/or needs" will never be met in this lifetime because whatever it is, it isn't the right thing.
Debbie Jellinsky: All I ever wanted was a Ballerina Barbie. In her pretty pink tutu. [Here's] my Birthday, I was 10, and do you know what they got me? MALIBU. Barbie.
Morticia: Malibu Barbie.
Gomez: The nightmare.
Morticia: The nerve.
You cannot make up for all the Malibu Barbie post-traumatic stress disorder out there, and it's not up to you to try.

Like the homeschooling or gentle parenting or green sub-cultures (which often cross over with this one), the dollar-Christmas or simple-holiday movements can become our norm, and we sometimes forget what else is out there. We may think we're focusing nicely on the spiritual aspects of a holiday, chatting it up on the simplicity/crafty/SAHM blogs, and not realize that people outside this mindset can actually feel insulted by a handmade or inexpensive gift. I've notice that same thing at wedding and baby showers, those parties that used to be for-the-fun-of-it and where you got pickled eggs, potholders, receiving blankets, booties that wouldn't stay on, from your mother's old friends who came because they remember you when you were a little girl...now the shower presents are bigger than the wedding presents used to be. And you sit there with your little homemade potholder and feel like a schmuck.

Call me cynical, but again, whose problem is that? Does that mean that you are, from now on, obligated to bring shower gifts only from big-box stores, and that each and every holiday on the calendar shall be represented not only by a card-store card (definitely not the dollar store kind) but also an appropriate Thing from a store flyer?

I agree with Meredith that, if you're in a position to ask what someone would really prefer, then go for it, and that's between you and them, even if they want something strange. You never know, maybe they do like your cookie-mix-in-a-jar. Or maybe, as somebody pointed out, the most appreciated gift would be drive-through gift certificates, or a roll of stamps. Sometimes, though, it's not possible to ask, and you're in the position of juggling your budget, your principles, and your desire to make someone happy or at least not make them resent you for giving them another Thing that they will now have to display or store or that their kids will use to destroy the house.

We don't live in a Fraggle Pebble society. But emotion-charged holidays aren't the time to attempt to re-educate people either. My sole piece of advice to anyone facing this holiday disconnect is to live as honestly as you can the rest of the year (within sight of your gift-givees); and even (if possible) to give them other small things through the year, on other occasions or just because you're thinking of them. Like something you saw at a yard sale that you KNOW they would like. Then, even if they don't fully appreciate your version of holiday gifts, they'll just figure it's another well-meant attempt from their crackpot cousin.

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