Monday, 30 November 2015

Vol #1, Col #13: Bah Humbug!

giving1I’m pretty darn conflicted about Christmas. Some may even claim I’m a bit “grinchy”. While I agree with its sentiments, its modern day practise frankly makes me feel like removing myself from all associated celebrations of it entirely. For that matter, come on, Halloween isn’t even allowed its moment in the spotlight, without battling interference from wreaths, bows and whathaveyou just down the aisle in any retail outlet.

I guess you could say I feel the same way about a lot of things. Take communism, for example. In theory, the eradication of the class system sounds wonderful – equal treatment for all - yes mam! In application, well I think it goes without saying that humanity has a funny way of buggering things up when they’re put into effect. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion. Today my friends, we are here to speak on the art of sincere gift giving and in this circumstance, sincere can be taken as synonymous with “mature”.

As all dislikes originate from some sort of negative experience or trauma, it’s only fair of me to explain how I came to possess such a repugnant disposition in accordance with what is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year”.

Back in sixth grade, right before the Xmas holidays, I was sitting in class anxiously awaiting the final dismissal bell. For no apparent reason, my teacher, who we nicknamed “The Slaydriver” due to her rather forceful means of discipline, announced loudly to the entire class, “I’m sure all of you know by now there is no Santa Claus.” Yes, there I was feeling ashamed to admit I still thought the jolly bearded man in red was real. I was further mortified to discover I was the ONLY kid in class under this misconception, but moreover angry with my parents for having “lied” to me for so long.

I remember crying all the way home and confronting my mother about the topic. As much as she tried to explain it was “just tradition” and “every parent” apparently puts their children through this ruse, I felt deceived and made her promise she’d never lie to me again. That however is only part one of the story…

My dislike for the celebration in question was further enhanced when one year I was working retail on Boxing Day and my cash register, debit machine and credit card swiper went out of commission simultaneously. Accordingly, I was left with no choice but to do all the calculations by hand. Math’s never been my forte and having an insane amount of shoppers yelling at me to work quicker certainly didn’t help.

Finally, my “bah humbug” attitude was solidified as I got older and everything started to feel “obligatory”. When you’re a member of a family characterized by several broken marriages, remarriages and stepsiblings, trying to include everyone in the gift giving escapades adds up real fast. Since when is a holiday associated with “glee” supposed to make you broke? There’s nothing very fun about that.

If the above wasn’t bad enough, I started to find myself in a situation with a certain unnamed relative wherein anytime they’d purchase me a gift, there’d be an additional unseen price tag attached; something I refer to as the “Trojan horse of gift giving.” Somehow just because I accepted something I thought was given out of generosity, I was manipulated into doing this or that for said individual…and if I failed to comply, I was reminded how much money was spent on me and how my non-compliance was apparently indicative of a lack of appreciation. Coined by psychologists in the 1960s as “the guilt trip”, this is by far the WORST of the gift giving practises and is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to psychologically control and abuse someone.

When it comes to the art of sincere gift giving, I believe Sean Connery’s character in the movie, Finding Forrester summed it up perfectly, “the way to a [person’s] heart is an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.” After all, doing so indicates that you were obtaining a gift for this individual purely because they happened to be on your mind and you wanted to do something to brighten their day. In this context, please note that the term “gift” does NOT simply refer to a commodity purchased at a store, but rather can include sending a note to someone you’ve fallen out of touch with recently just to remind them that even though you do not speak often, they still are very important to you or preparing someone their favourite dish after they’ve had an extra long day at work. Genuine acts of kindness toward complete strangers, such as helping an elderly woman or man carry their groceries to the car, are by far the most meaningful as you have no direct relation to said individuals.

What I’m trying to get at is this: REAL gifts are given from the HEART to the recipient “just cause” and with NO strings attached or expectations of reciprocation. NO holiday – whether we’re talking Xmas, a birthday or Valentine’s - should ever make you feel obligated to do something for someone you wouldn’t normally do. On the other side of the equation, a mature recipient acknowledges and appreciates the “effort” put forth and never maintains a price limit of what should be spent on him/her nor compares gifts from different givers. As the old saying goes, “it IS the thought that counts.”

As all of you go out and spend far more than you can afford this year just to participate in a practise of an annual celebration that has lost all relation to its genesis, I ask you to remember what I’ve written above and perhaps try to see that the TRUE gift of Christmas is the ability to spend time with your loved ones. They may drive you crazy and have ridiculous habits, but not everyone has a family or friends to share wonderful moments with. In sum, gift giving should NEVER define a relationship. A relationship should be defined by the gifts we do for each other WITHOUT obligation.