Some People Just Cannot Do Presents

Look, Christmas is long over and all of the associated accoutrements have been put away. Yet, I feel like I am only just getting going with some of my presents (The ones I received, that is; the ones I gave have long since been eaten / subsumed / broken). And that is because a big chunk of what I got for Christmas was well thought out. It tapped in to a need I didn’t know I had, and it enthused me.

For reference, it was a set of leatherworking tools and a few books on how to get started in leather crafts in general and bookbinding in particular. I have always looked at leather bound journals and found myself coveting them. Then putting them down and walking away because they looked very shoddy, and were massively over-priced. I now have the opportunity to make my own, and it’s good.

The acid test which this gift has passed, which others often fail to approach, is the ability to keep me thinking about it long after the Festive Season has drawn to a shivering close. Some presents do not quite elicit this level of response, and that means that they have not quite succeeded. They are good for a day, but poor for a lifetime. Marie Kondo would most certainly advise their instant removal.

Worse than that are the gifts which have no bearing on who we are whatsoever, and have only been purchased to fulfil the societal need for gift giving. “Here, have some socks bearing imagery which has no relevance to you; do you not wear socks?” is a ridiculous summation of this attitude. I also imagine a Christmas tie, replete with flashing lights. It will be landfill before New Year comes to us.

I have been guilty of this myself: I have bought alcoholic gifts for people, only to be offered the self same beverages moments later, so unrequired were my offerings. Not knowing a person makes us buy crap presents; not choosing to pay any attention to the people we supposedly know makes us make inadequate choices. This is existential, and it has been discussed many times before.

My wider family have an oddly mixed attitude to this. I feel that we know each other in general well enough to get everyone else decent gifts. And yet and yet and yet. So, for the avoidance of excessive expenditure, obscene consumption and the acquisition of more stuff in our lives which don’t bring us JOY we collectively decided to rationalise our gifting obligations to one another. Good plans, eh?

I had the feeling that two presents were always better than one, so we initiated a two phase gift giving regime: One Secret Santa, where names were pulled out of a hat and so every person bought one person – not themselves – a gift for them; One bran tub, where every person bought a present which everyone could pick out of the bag (travel cot, as it happens). Every person buys two presents.

Except that some people just cannot do presents. In the run up to Christmas Day, from our Autumn commencement three problems became apparent in the gifting plan we had all agreed to hatching.

1 – Some people cannot see beyond gender. Apparently a man cannot wrap his head around a gift which would be suitable for a woman, either giving or receiving. It just cannot be done. Bollocks.

2 – Some people think that the “secret” part of Secret Santa is optional: one of our party came in with a slip of paper bearing their recipients name, asking for present suggestions for them. No, no.

3 – Some people (little boys) cannot be bothered to do any present shopping for themselves and will outsource such tasks to the nearest woman in their household. This is pathetic behaviour; get a grip.

I’m not sure what makes people refuse to think. In the first case it was the idea that gender is such a barrier to thought that they would rather tear the whole system down than engage with the idea that someone not of their gender can like the presents that they do. Just buy them a bloody plant.

In the second case it was the idea that they thought it was a normal thing to share with others the fact that they were having difficulties finding a suitable present. Only it was so soon after us finding out who we were buying for that we had only had 36 hours to put our minds in to soak. In actual fact, a man had outsourced the problem to his partner, not that we realised this at the time.

The present exchange itself was far more fun than it had been in years, and the new format made that the case. We all got just the right amount of stuff, and our houses were not overburdened. Yes, there were a few unforeseen missteps, but we can learn from them. Collective blind eyes were turned from the ridiculous man-children (15, 41 and 64 years of age respectively) who refused to take part, but were happy to receive. We may need to take firmer hands with them next year.

My partner did not refuse to think. She had seen me in countless National Trust and English Heritage gift shops picking up so many of these shoddily made journals and knew exactly what to do. I bought her desert wine and biscuits, and made her some earrings. Her presents to me were much better.

As it happens, I am going to crawl before I can walk, so I am making a reusable leather cover for a generic A5 notebook. I have drawn out a design which I feel confident in being able to actually have a chance of completing. Which, given my complete lack of experience and over-estimation of my own ability, means nothing. I have made sure it is as simple as humanly possible, however. I digress.

By opting out of so many of the presenting opportunities of the extended family this year we felt a lot better after Christmas: We had less clutter in our homes; we had spent most of our thinking time on a few specific presents, which were better as a result; we had fewer disappointing presents of the type which left us feeling utterly invisible (not so Christmas cards, however); we were able to have a far less stressed run up. Some people just cannot do presents; let’s get fewer presents from them.

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