‘Tis the season to obsess . . . about gifts. For someone like me, who gets overwhelmed by choices, and–even when the options are narrowed to two–can’t decide, this can be a hard time of year.
So I resort to creative gift-giving, like ice cream sodas for the third night of Hanukkah. Making placemats for a homeless shelter for the fourth night. And saving polar bears for the fifth.
I guess that’s why so many Jewish kids envy their friends who celebrate Christmas.
I think I’ve passed along to my kids the notion of non-traditional gift-giving.
For her birthday, Christmas day, my oldest daughter Eliza requested that I find and supervise someone to hang the curtains and rods she bought two months ago for the apartment she has lived in for two years.
Presents on the “day of” are not expected in our endlessly mobile, sometimes indecisive, family.
Our Christmakkah gift shopping goes like this: My three daughters and I start out with $60 to spend, half provided by me. Then we each spend $20 on the other three: one “big” present for around $15, and one small for $5.
This year one of the shopping-spree presents I gave Eliza was a $6.99 “as advertised on TV” pair of foot scrubbers, consisting of two plastic sandals with brushes that suction to the bathtub. The selling point here is “Wash your feet without bending.”
I bought it, even though the foot bath I’d bought her years ago sits in a corner of her room, having never experienced so much as a toe.
But everyone knows I feel good about clean feet.
Eliza and I have a history of foot baths. We used to bond, sitting on the edge of the tub, soaking our feet in bubble bath and then applying scrubs, oils and toenail polishes.
Two days after I gave Eliza the foot scrubber, she gave me a present on my birthday: a foot scrubber, just like the one I’d given her; great minds think alike!
Then I realized it was the one I’d given her. I loved the re-gift and the creativity it took to think of giving me this. Plus, it would be one less thing for her to New York with all her other presents and her dog.
“I love it,” I said. “The gifts a person gives are always a clue to a gift they themselves will like.”
The following day, I went to New York with my other two daughters and brought the foot scrubbers so Eliza and I could try it out together. I’ve decided to leave one for her and take one back home with me, re-gifting her re-gift to me.
Not every gift has such re-gifting qualities. On my birthday, Sabrina and Emily, the two other sisters, and I found ourselves in a holiday market. I loved a pair of earrings and was about to buy them when Emily said she wanted to buy them for me.
Aww, they were expensive–$56—so I said I’d split the price with her. But she wanted to give me $40 for them.
As Henry Higgins similarly pointed out when flower girl Eliza Dolittle offered to pay him a shilling for an elocution lesson, Emily’s $40 is the equivalent of my thousands of dollars, based on our relative net worths.
Sabrina bought me–from a vendor of old books and prints–a book I adored from my childhood, Five Little Peppers at School, with a cover so charming it doubles as an object of art.
Though in recent years planning gifts ahead of time has not been part of the script, the first December after my ex and I separated, Emily, who was 7, knew I loved Charlotte Church singing Christmas songs whenever the commercial appeared on cable TV.
That year, before the kids went to Tortola with their dad and I went to Sun Valley alone, Emily gave me the Charlotte Church CD.
I was so touched by this gift from my daughter, at a time that I was feeling so keenly the loss of holidays with my children, that I could barely listen to it as my plane flew over the Rockies.
[cheesy alert!] It can still bring a teardrop to my heart.
As for gifts I received from my parents, I can see my mom and dad in the light of the menorah, glowing in anticipation of my pleasure as I opened the angora sweater set I secretly wished had been a Villager brand wool cardigan, like all the tweedy girls at school wore, from a real store, and with the authentic label still attached to the sweater, rather than having been cut out the way the discount stores we shopped at removed the labels.
And, oy, I can still feel the guilt whenever my mother pointed out, “Susie, you haven’t worn your new sweater set.”
The gifts I gave my parents were not much better. They took us each year so we could shop at our Uncle Ben’s pharmacy. I remember buying my dad a carton of Camel cigarettes and for my mom, a bottle of toilet water. I now realize she wore Chanel No. 5 all her life. I wonder how she felt every time she looked at the bottle I assume was unused.
Happy, Merry Christmakwaanzakah, a time to celebrate that soon we’ll have 7 whole weeks until Valentine’s Day, 50 days we won’t have to think about giving or receiving any gifts.
What are some of your gift-giving traditions, horror stories, etc.?
See my articles about gift ideas, recipes, relationships, ugly sweater parties and more on Home Goes Strong.