The Grinch Had It Right: Presents Ruin the Holidays

Not to brag, but I was something of a step-aerobics queen in the 1990s. (Don’t remember step classes? Think Zumba but with a plastic riser, here it comes, to step on.) Perhaps that’s why my mother-in-law — who otherwise had unerring style — gave me an all-in-one, boldly floral Spandex leotard-and-capri-leggings get-up designed specifically for “steppers.” I know this because “Steppers!” was written across the butt. It even came with a matching headband. There is a photo of me wearing it, dutifully, while standing in front of a Christmas tree, wrapping paper strewn about my ankles.  

That was my moment of clarity: holiday gift-giving is not great because of the gift-giving. The December holidays, birthdays and Valentine’s Day are all preceded by a mad scramble to find “something special,” or in my family, increasingly irate texts: “What do you want?” “You haven’t told me what you want!”

What I want is to not exchange gifts. 

And this year, engaging in activities guaranteed to deepen our debt and increase our stress seems almost masochistic. That’s COVID’s job! But be forewarned, if you do decide to forgo gift-giving, you will miss out on the following rituals:

That was my moment of clarity: holiday gift-giving is not great because of the gift-giving.

1. The differential-cost dilemma

You give me Naked Cashmere sweatpants and pullover and I give you this scented candle. Yes, I know it’s the thought that counts but that Marshall’s candle required neither careful consideration nor an outlay of cash exceeding $6.99. 

2. “The Little Drummer Boy” moment

You know the lyric: “I have no gift to bring, pah-rum-pah-pum-pum?” Exactly. You give me something and I give you nothing.  

3. The link exchange

You send me a link to exactly what you want; I send you a link to exactly what I want. Two clicks later, both gifts are paid for, wrapped ($3 extra) and on a truck. This super-speedy scenario promises zero margin for error. But aren’t we really just swapping credit card charges?  

4. The “you can take it back if you don’t like it” gift

Thank you! So what you’ve given me is a… task! 

5. The cash-only Christmas  

I’m Italian. We love giving cash. But the cost differentials (see #1) are that much more obvious  (obviously). And being remote means, well, Venmo. For a nephew’s birthday this year, I sent him $50 via Venmo. To be, you know, thoughtful, I added a little birthday emoji. And felt like a monster. 

6. The gag gift

Help me out here: How should one react to receiving a stuffed frog in Santa drag that sings “Jingle Bells Rock?” Anyone? 

7. The workplace Secret Santa

This ritual is fun because you get to drink at the office while giving gag gifts (see #6) to your colleagues. To be hyper-clear, the drinking is the fun part. Collectively, the gifts are a pile of crap.  And this year it’s virtual? Have so, so much fun without me.  

The bottom line is this: Unless the gift recipient is 10 years old or younger, you really can’t win. 

At best, you’re following orders. At worst, you’re handing over something that says, “the thing in this box is a proxy for what and how much you mean to me while reflecting what I believe to be your taste and style.” Put that way, it’s no wonder I found those step-aerobics togs deflating. And why you promptly pitched that Marshall’s candle I gave you into your office’s Secret Santa pile. 

So if I’m on your list for a holiday gift (any holiday!), let’s skip all of the above and go out to dinner at a local restaurant. Or order in… Either way, let’s tip extravagantly as our way of ensuring happy holidays to all, and to all a good night. Deal?

Still want to give gifts? Checkout TueNight Gift Guides from years past: Gifts Under $25, $10 for Office Secret Santas, Yankee Swaps
5 Foodie Picks for Gifts with Good Taste
13 Homemade Gifts that Don’t Suck

You might also like:
Comfort and Oy! Raising Kids in a Mixed-Faith Household

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