Of all the comments I got on the gifts I gave for Christmas, the most memorable has to be the one from my brother-in-law. I picked out The Half-Life of Gregor Samsa for him. Well, actually I intended it for my mom, who loves Metamorphosis, but on reading the blurb I decided it was more suitable for my brother-in-law. He told my husband he preferred the book to Jasper Fforde and added that since he started reading it, two cockroaches have approached him.
Well, I'll take that as a thank you. I'm gratified to know I gave the book to the right person. My mom could not have borne becoming a roach magnet. But my husband and I feel certain it makes my brother-in-law feel macho, in an Indiana Jones kind of way.
Second most memorable comment to that would have to be my daughter's exclamations over a Disney Princess puzzle cube I put in her stocking. "It's the bestest gift ever!" she exclaimed. The cube was used so much in the days following Christmas that the picture tore. Guess I'll have to repair it. I also cherish the fact that a secondhand dinosaur that I bought her has been adopted into her family of favorite stuffed animal. She's as delighted with these simple gifts as with the fancier stuff from her other relatives, like two huge Disney story treasuries that we've been reading from constantly (I set my own book gifts aside first as she had gotten so many already). She loved the smaller books from her grandma just as much as these, and simple drawing books and coloring sets pleased her as much as the play kitchen from Grammy. This may seem absurd to many adults, but I'm glad to see she stays focused on what counts--not price or size but the giver's choice of something that suits her interests.
I'm also pleased that my husband was delighted over the Jasper Fforde books I gave him, one a very beautiful hardcover edition. "And to think I got it for less than fifty pesos [a little more than a dollar]!" I exclaimed. Oops. But he didn't mind, because he's as much a bargain hunter as I am and all he cares about is having a nice book.
I think I am allowed to give myself an extra pat on the back for being able to choose so many gifts so well considering I hardly get to go out shopping, what with looking after the baby and all. I guess this is because of late I have become more aware that gifts, as Gary Chapman says, are a love language that have a variety of dialects.
When my mother shops for a gift she worries about so many things that are mysterious to my husband. He doesn't worry about whether a person will be bothered by the fact that it is not a new item, or bought very cheaply on sale (my mother has been known to combine a gift she got a considerable markdown with another item so that her present will cost about what she budgeted for that person's gift). I agree with my husband that one shouldn't worry about these things, at least not for everyone. Not for little kids, for instance, or people who shop at secondhand bookstores themselves. Ideally it shouldn't matter at all. It really is the thought that counts. The reality is, though, some people attach a price tag to self-worth and will feel you think less of them if your gift is cheap or old. So you do have to be aware which of your friends care about receiving something shiny and new and expensive. I'd like to think most of my friends don't. And I hope my daughter continues in this vein.
My daughter can be extremely fussy and picky, but give her something related to her interests and she's happy. She's focused on what counts the most. That, I think, is a good way to get through life.
Expressing gratitude is more than just about good manners. Taking the effort of finding something to appreciate in every gift you receive is a habit that can make you a happier person, I think.
You have to also accept that for some people, gifts are not a primary love language. My mother has trouble with this. She will still buy gifts for people who say that they would rather not be given gifts. I usually take these people at their word. I can see how gifts might burden some people. Of course it shouldn't, if they cultivated the attitude of gratitude as I mentioned above. But not everyone lives by that philosophy. And so maybe no gift really is the best gift for such people. You could always take them out for a nice dessert or a movie.
Stressing about social protocol shouldn't be what Christmas is about. If you just see people as they really are and choose gifts for them accordingly, I think you will get it right. Of course, if your gift is one chosen to influence the receiver's behavior, you have to be prepared for some frustration. The person I gave the book The Happiness Purpose doesn't seem to be purposely pursuing happiness, though he seems less depressed so maybe he has read it and its message is seeping into his subconscious. I manage my irritation with such people by remembering I myself am guilty. Our moms keep giving us plastic containers so that we can tidy up our house. Frankly, the tidy-up operation is nearly impossible to complete without that gift that is so hard to give: time. Plus the absence of kids who sabotage your clean-up efforts as soon as you've begun. Well, I do get the hint and will make use of the gift, it's just that the gift doesn't address the main problem.
Perhaps it is best not to focus on such things in choosing gifts. I usually try to give gifts that attempt to fulfill the receiver's needs and at the same time are attractive and tie into the person's interests. I guess the more bases you try to cover, the more likely you are to please the person on some level. And if you're thinking that so much thought makes it more difficult to choose a gift for someone, you're right. But I guess that's what's meant by "It's the thought that counts."
Let me add that too often gifts can become self-serving, a matter of one thinking more of what one wants that what the receiver does. My husband says the best gifts are the ones you'd like to have yourself, but this can only be true if you have the same needs, taste, and priorities as the one you're giving these to. My mother-in-law wanted to buy us a TV this year. Certainly I would like to have a better TV, but the reality is we watch mostly videos and our old set is good for that; its main problem is channel reception. We were more in need of a new monitor as our old one had to be whacked to work well. Plus it wasn't color-coordinated to our other components. So she chipped in with my mom for a monitor, but they thought we should go with them to choose it. That's how they would want it themselves; they like having a hand in choosing things for the home all the time. I don't when it comes to these things, though. I told them that all I do when I buy technology is ask the salesman what's a good deal and it would just wear me out to go, so it would be more of a gift to take the work of selecting the monitor out of my hands. Well, I'm happy with the one they got, many thanks. I got the gifts I needed--not just the monitor, but time to rest. I'm very grateful for that.
In the end, it's the thought that focuses on the person you give the gift to that really counts. Happy Three Kings' Day.