Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Presence

I hate to sound curmudgeonly in the run-up to Christmas, but it’s a pretty well established maxim that up to a third of all money spent at Christmas is wasted. The recipient either doesn’t like it or doesn’t want it or would not have paid as much as you did for it. Even gift cards aren’t a true solution. The get lost or forgotten, or they expire or aren’t good with other discounts. I have a real problem with this. At some point, someone used real money to buy the gift card and why should money be less useful because it is on a card instead of a piece of paper with a picture of a president.

On the other hand, gifts have value more than the price of the item. A recent Washington Post article told of a study that determined people (well, college students, but they are close enough) thought something they were given was worth more than the same item if they had to buy it. A coffee mug was worth up to four more dollars more in their minds if it had been a gift. I think it just reflects the buyer/owner divide. A quick glance through Craigslist will reveal people think their used stuff is way more valuable than it really is.

Sentimental value goes to the heart of the real purpose of presents. My parents visited recently and we had a discussion about gifts. My dad and I thought you should give people something you think they would like. My mother insisted that you gave a present because it was something you want the person to have. That is a really, really, big difference and explains a lot of gifts over the years.

Some presents just scream that there was no thought whatsoever. The lamest present I ever got was from my brother. Still wrapped in the paper bag it came in, he gave me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita he had clearly picked up from a Hare Krishna in the airport on his way home. Nothing like last minute shopping from religious fanatics with shaved heads.

My wife has a lot of experience with useless gifts. She is a teacher and every Christmas she is bombarded with tacky crap. There are just so many cliché teacher gifts. You only need so many Christmas tree ornaments featuring apples. She finally had to institute a no-candles policy because she got tired of hauling an entire bag of them to Goodwill every year. She is very appreciative of gift cards for places where she shops, which is about everywhere. Even that is subject to some horse-mouth checking. She tells her students she likes books, so they get her a gift card from OtherBigBoxOfBooks which is near where her students live but not as convenient as the OriginalBigBoxOfBooks near us. At least the kids' parents were thinking of her.

If you do subscribe to the silly useless presents school of throwing money away, nothing is better than the Dave Barry's Desparation Gift Giving Guide. My favorite on this list it the Electronic Message Brassiere. This $500 light-up lingerie lets a woman display a message across her chest right where men will most notice it most. My wife’s suggestion was to write “TAKE OUT THE TRASH”. She figures she might as well as ask me do something useful while she has my undivided attention.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is the worse present you ever got or gave? Start here to read some answers from the Achenblog.


Anonymous said...

I once got a re-gifted bottle of perfume from the dollar-store that had already been opened!
I kept it with the intention of giving it back to the gift-giver at my next opportunity!
Here via Michele's...thanks for stopping by my blog

Anonymous said...

My ex-husband gave me some pretty thoughtless gifts during our marriage, which may be part of the reason he is an ex husband. I think the worst was a bag of Milk Duds.

Have a great Christmas, yello!!

Impetua said...

My Dad gave me a realistically bumpy and greenish frog, extra huge, that you put by your door and when someone walks past it, it croaks. It was in a paper bag. This was for Christmas a number of years ago.

This year I drove 3 hours to his house with a 2-year-old, brought him two homemade ready-to-bake apple pies (which his evil Brazilian wife nearly burned) and the evil wife a couple of smelly jar-candles, and in return? Nothing. They did give the baby some presents (which almost makes up for missing her birthday, but not quite).

I'm sure I'll be blogging about this as I'm still pretty heated up about it but I'm too tired to think about it clearly as of yet.

Impetua said...

I should elaborate that it's not about not getting any gifts from them, it's about a different issue.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

My worst give was actually a "joint" gift for me and my wife (no, not the smokable kind). My sister gave "us" an ornamental fruit bowl - which, of course, my wife loved. Me, eh - not so much.

Anonymous said...

Off the top of my head I can think of two gifts that clearly indicated that the giver put no thought whatsoever into their effort. I won't say more because I'm pretty sure at least one of them reads my blog and could, by extension, read yours.

The New Yorker magazine ran an article this week about the gap between what is spent on presents vs. the value the recipient attaches to them. They cite an economist who calls it "The deadweight loss of Christmas." There are other examples in this article which demonstrate how poor we really are at giving gifts.

yellojkt said...

On the radio we heard a story about the longer you have known someone, the worse you are at picking a present for them. Finally, an excuse I can use.