(this is in no way a disclaimer if I get you an awful Christmas or birthday present. No way)
Me and my friends are running a Secret Santa amongst ourselves, and I bought another friend of mine a present for their birthday this week, and I’ve realised – in buying and attempting to buy presents – that I’m really not very good at it. It’s not an issue of not knowing the to-be recipients well enough, or that I’m just a twat who doesn’t like being charitable or the concept of ‘giving’ (honestly), it’s that I’m uncomfortable with this idea of surprise gifts.
Essentially, this model – giving a gift to someone that they didn’t ask for specifically – puts the emphasis on the giver; in this system, the giver must come up with the gift, which means that the receiver is able, and indeed likely, to take an interest in the thought process behind the gift, as much as in the gift itself. For instance, if I buy a friend a necklace because they like necklaces, I’ll probably be grilled on ‘Why a necklace?’, Why this colour?’, Why this shape?’, Why this material?’, Where’d you get it from?’, How much did it cost?’, and the much more difficult to answer ‘Why not earrings?’, ‘Why not a shirt?’ and so forth (and, of course, my use of a piece of jewellery as an example does not mean this is an exclusively female characteristic, but one appropriately exemplified through a necklace. Dick).
And these questions are always barked with the best of intentions, and are usually followed with sentiments such as ‘You shouldn’t have’, or ‘You spent too much!’ or whatever, all of which makes it hard to hate the question-asking, gift-receiving folks in this equation. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the system of giving gifts to focus on the gift itself, and the receiver of the gifts; this is your party, you’re getting a thing, so don’t put me on the spot by asking for a frakking mindmap about how I decided on a messenger bag instead of a rucksack.
This works both ways too: if I’m giving a gift, I want you (the receiver) to be the focus of the day, but if I’m the one getting the present, I’m happy to have my reaction judged and noted, and my usage of said present monitored for the next six months to make sure I really meant it when I said ‘it’s just what I always wanted’ to my family’s annual offers of misogynistically-advertised aftershave and polo shirts. The whole surprise present model just leads to more faffing and intrusive psychoanalysis than I’m prepared for when I should be ignoring the birth of our saviour from damnation by playing Ratchet and Clank.
I’d prefer a more transparent system, the sort that my parents used when getting me birthday and Christmas presents when I was younger: I’d submit a list of things I wanted – specific games, toys, clothes or whatever – and they would dutifully buy as few of them as possible to save money, but just enough so my eight year-old mind couldn’t doubt whether they actually cared about me (as a sidenote I’d like to congratulate my parents for successfully walking this tightrope for eighteen consecutive years).
So I’m happy to buy you things; I’m happy to find obscure items from the four corners of the Earth and pay extortionate shipping fees to bring in fragrances from Vietnam or whatever garbage people want these days; but I’m much less comfortable thinking of your presents for you – you know what you want far better than I do, and I’ll just get moaned at when I can’t guess your deepest darkest desires accurately enough.
Honestly, this Christmas malarkey’s more confusing than Game of Thrones, but with less nudity (subtle hint to whoever got me for Secret Santa).