Coastal Commuter

Give ’til it hurts

O.K., who’s the one who gets the Star Wars-themed bear mugs? Photo: Jill Wellington/Pixabay

Pardon me while I state the obvious. It’s the season of giving. At least, that’s the common perception. Thanksgiving starts the ball rolling. Seriously, “giving” is part of the holiday’s name. And the generosity, rewards, and gratitude continue to be central to the Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa celebrations that mark the end of the calendar year.

That classic moral mandate about it being better to give than to receive may have been conceived by someone on the receiving end rather than by a genuinely charitable individual, but it has been woven into the winter holiday narrative. As a result, many face triple conundrums: Who gets a gift? What should it be? And how the hell can I afford it, considering the often-daunting cost of everything?

We’ll have to assume that cogent, socially adept people with family members and friends have a pretty good idea about which folks merit a token of affection and which should be blown off. For those unsure how to differentiate between the deserving and the dismissible, I recommend making a list and checking it twice to, you know, clarify who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Santa was clearly onto something.


So your chosen ones are lined up, and the budget will accommodate whatever purchase is in store. But you’re not home free — even with a customized, hand-made trinket or the promise of certain unquantifiable services to be rendered. Gifting has always been a dicey proposition on both sides of the act, especially when it comes to navigating the recipient’s ratio of gratification to disappointment. It brings to mind the cliché of the bright-eyed child whose toy-filled dreams are dashed on Christmas Day by the gift of . . . socks. (Worse than coal in your Christmas stocking? Debatable.)

Parental density or expedience aside, when you seek out that special item for someone special, the fear of failing to choose the right thing can weigh heavy. Furthermore, no one wants a situation straight out of author O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi.” For the less literary among us, that would be the Christmastime tale wherein husband Jim sells his prized pocket watch to afford to buy a fancy comb for his wife Della’s lustrous locks, while she sells her hair to be able to purchase a gold watch chain for her husband. It’s a lose-lose that would test any couple’s equilibrium.

A dear friend of mine just revealed that she spent considerable time over the course of 10 years looking for one specific item to surprise and delight her significant other — and finally found it. Although she was cagey about what it is because she’d rather not jeopardize the surprise, she seems content that he will be pleased with her thoughtfulness — not to mention her persistence. I guess his reaction on the morning of Dec. 25 will tell that tale. I just hope he gets her a comparable present.


Other issues crop up if one’s gift is of the material variety: Are you wrapping or bagging it? Or are you just handing it over naked and unadorned? And by naked and unadorned, I mean the gift, not you — although showing up in nothing but a strategically placed bow might actually be welcome by the target of your largesse.

Christmas parties with guests expected to BYOB and participate in the Secret Santa tradition can exacerbate the giving conundrum. Above and beyond the question of what alcoholic beverage to bring, you need to decide whether to booze or not to booze at one of these gatherings (and that would include the consumption of eggnog and mulled wine). Speaking of giving, you could be giving yourself a hangover.

As for Secret Santa games, how in the name of St. Nick is anyone able to know what’s proper to bring and throw into the pile of presents? I suppose there are price limits established by the hosts. Still, should your addition to the Secret Santa stash be silly or serious? Should you procure what you yourself would want and then hope you end up with it at the completion of the gifting ritual? For something that’s meant to bring joy, the whole deal starts to seem oppressive.

The easiest way to counter any distress brought on by the challenge of gift-giving is to go for the intangible . . . the ephemeral. In other words, give those who are worthy the greatest gifts of all: friendship, love, kindness, and support. You’d be offering them blessings far more meaningful than the most lavish bauble, and you won’t have to spend a penny to do so. Save the socks for birthdays.

Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on “The Mark Thompson Show,” via YouTube, iTunes and I Heart Radio and on “Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast,” via and Roku. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster.

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