It’s the Thought That Counts – Or Is It?

I have a confession: I’m no good at things related to Christmas. The Christmas spirit usually kicks into gear only just before Christmas Eve which is too late for many Christmas preparations. Each year I forget to send Christmas cards on time and I swear I’ll do it properly the following year – it never happens. Each year have big hopes and dreams about putting some effort into getting everyone the perfect gift, only to realise that – once again – it’s mid-December and I haven’t got a clue. This year is of course no exception. However, this year I have been pleasantly surprised to find out that I’m not alone. Just like my family, many others with only grown-ups have tried to start a new tradition and rule out the getting gifts part. At first, everyone seems to agree: gifts are silly among adults, especially when no-one really needs anything, and if they do, it’s too much to ask for. But come December and everyone’s back at the drawing board, whacking their brains trying to think of at least one small gift each. No-one dares to give it a miss just in case others won’t stick to the agreement.

And anyway, everyone loves receiving gifts. One might almost say that Christmas is all about the gifts. If you don’t believe me, just ask any 5-year-old. We try to give an impression that we’re not too bothered but there’s something about Christmas Eve that makes even the most serious adult at least a little bit giddy.

Photo by Susan Huotari

Now, one way of getting around the problem is to just ask what the other person would like. This is a very popular option in our family. Admittedly it takes the edge of Christmas Eve’s excitement, but at least you can be sure not to spend time and money on something completely useless. So what happens next? Well, you find you’re back in square one. If everyone knows what they’re getting, it’s the equivalent of having no gifts in the first place. There has to be some element of surprise, preferably a nice one.

This is where it starts to get dangerous. Surprises, no matter how well intended, may go really wrong. TIME magazine published last year a hilarious list of the worst Christmas gifts ever. They presented four categories of crappy gifts, most of which I was effortlessly able to recognise (sorry everyone!).

For me, ‘The All-About-Me Gift’ was the most difficult to relate to. This category includes such items as kitchen appliances (especially from husbands) and framed pictures of in-laws (from the in-laws). I have luckily escaped all of them, but would like to propose an extension to the range: gifts that are sentimentally important to the giver, for example ornaments or art meant to be put on display in your house. No matter how much you hate them, you must reserve some spot for them in case the giver shows up for a visit.

Next there’s ‘The Passive-Aggressive (aka Mother-in-Law) Gift ‘. I actually have a pretty good relationship with my mother-in-law and usually gifts from her are more or less harmless things, such as fluffy socks or chocolate. Then one year, I got a set of white towels. I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a hidden message attached, since in Finnish the meaning of ‘to receive towels’ something along the line of being told off. Also, white linen is absolutely impossible to keep white and requires an enormous effort.

Next is ‘The Well-Meant Misfire.’ Maybe it’s the generation gap or what not, but senior citizens are notorious for getting stuff (horribly) wrong. My grandmother usually keeps my sock inventory in check but one year she thought it wise to venture into the underwear department. Need I say more? Well, the really sad thing about it was that I honestly thought that she had mixed up the name tags and that I had just opened my mum’s gift – and said it out loud. I guess it’s safe to say that she got the point.

Last but not least: ‘The Super Cheap Gift’. Gifts should not be measured by their monetary value, but there’s cheap and then there’s “cheap”. Nowadays companies no longer hand out gifts to their employees. Instead, they have noble policies about assigning the amount to a charity or some good cause. No-one really knows how much is given or where it ends up, neither do they really care. Back in the day when old-fashioned gifts were still the norm, they were so crappy that receiving them was mostly embarrassing. One year it was an ugly candle-lighter (no charger fluid included), the next it was a small jar of mustard (tasted hideous), and ultimately it was a tin of biscuits (also inedible).

Knowing what not to get is the easy part, but a couple of definite no-no's don't really help with the task at hand. By the time Christmas gets so close that you're able to count the remaining time in hours instead of days, there comes a moment when all the advertisement shoved through our letter box since early November, suddenly begin to make a lot of sense. That's when you catch yourself thinking “it’s the thought that counts.” And anyway, it wouldn't be Christmas without fluffy socks and a box (or two) of assorted chocolates.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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