Personally, I’m not a big fan of gifts. I neither like to give nor to receive. I feel inept at selecting gifts, and I feel awkward about receiving them. Gifts feel like an obligation, and also like we’re putting a value on a relationship. I was raised by parents who were not big on gifts either. Having grown up in the depression, I think they felt that gifts were a luxury, not a necessity. I married into a family that by constrast is extravagant in gift giving. However, I discovered that it’s no easier for any of them. They are just better at it because of high effort over time to meet high expectation.
Pres. Uchtdorf, in the recent First Presidency Christmas broadcast, gave an excellent talk about being gracious at receiving gifts, and he talked about it becoming increasingly difficult the older we got. I thought it was great that he never actually tied it back to the gift of the atonement, instead focusing on our real human relationships in this life. How refreshing!
A few years ago I read the book 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (a gift from my mother-in-law). Here’s a link to the site (including a quiz you can take to determine your own preferred “love language.” The 5 languages are: acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch, and words of affirmation. For me, I’d much rather spend quality time together or hear words of appreciation than receive a gift which seems like a substitute for actual time spent on the relationship. This is probably why we spent last Christmas Day on the Great Barrier Reef eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snorkeling rather than exchanging gifts. Gifts make me skeptical. Of course, I’m aware that one day my own kids will say, “Remember that year we didn’t even exchange gifts? What was that all about?”
I read an article in Time that talked about the worst gifts people give. As a person who doesn’t love gift-giving, here are the worst gifts to give or get from my perspective:
- A gift designed to change your behavior. To me, lingerie is a gift for the giver, not the receiver. But consider other types of behavior changing gifts: clothing that isn’t your style, books that are aspirational, or from the article in Time – clothing that you can only use if you lose 20 pounds! I know I have been guilty of giving this type of gift. The worst gift I gave was buying my sister some shampoo when I was a child. I didn’t have much money, and the shampoo was very popular at the time, but secretly I also thought my sister’s hair could use a good scrubbing. Bear in mind, though, that all gifts touch on the space between two people: their mutual interest, or the place where they are aware of the other person’s interest. Giving a gift where there is nothing in common is extremely difficult.
- Obligatory gifts. These are things that you have to give for social reasons or because it’s a holiday or birthday, but not because you really want to. To me, the classic “obligatory” gift is boss’s day. I must confess also to having been a very bad gift-giver on this front. I once gave my assistant the exact same family game two years in a row. It might have actually been three years. Yes, I suck. On another level, though, all gifts are obligatory. This is why I enjoy giving someone a completely unexpected gift out of the blue. I was thinking about one of my childhood friends, and I decided to send her an oil painting I had done just because I was thinking of her. Whether that was great or not for her, the thought counts more when it’s unexpected from my perspective.
Really, the underlying problem with a gift is when it points out that the person doesn’t really know you or that the relationship isn’t as intimate as you thought. Perhaps I had disappointed hopes around gifts I received as a child which has resulted in how gun shy I am. Maybe I just don’t like reducing a relationship to economic symbols.
A few months after my mission, I was in a very zen place, despite feeling like a weirdo with no sense of style and having just suffered an incredibly painful break-up. When I went home for Christmas, we sat down to open presents. My mother delightedly opened present after present that she had bought and wrapped for herself (“Oh, lookie! A salad shooter!”). Finally she asked why I wasn’t opening any presents, when it dawned on her that they had forgotten to buy me anything that year. Strangely, I felt pretty okay about that at the time. I was just in a good place gratitude-wise, and it didn’t really matter to me. If it had happened five years earlier I’m sure I would have been devastated.
On the upside, I’ll share my best family Christmas memory. For my 8th Christmas, the new Malibu Barbie had just been released. I was so excited that I might possible get one. She was so cool with her removable sunglasses, and you could put stickers on her, leave her in the sun, and the place where the sticker was would still be light but the rest of the doll would be tan and gorgeous. One of the packages under the tree felt like the same box from the local store – I could run my finger over the front and feel Barbie’s pert little nose pushing against the plastic of the box. When Christmas Eve arrived and we opened our presents, not only did I have one Malibu Barbie, but the entire Malibu clan, in all their suntanned, bikini’d glory! There were even two Malibu Kens for confusing double dates. That was a Christmas that completely surpassed my expectations. *sigh*
What about you?
- What are the best and worst gifts you’ve received?
- What are the best and worst gifts you’ve given?
- Do you like giving and receiving gifts or do you feel inept like me?