Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Season of Gifting


"When you stop believing in Santa Claus is when you start getting clothes for Christmas."

 I never stopped believing in Santa. I can remember sitting at the bedroom window (whichever of my cousin's bedrooms my sister and I were sharing that year), after everyone else was fast asleep, looking for Rudolph's flashing nose in the sky. As I write this, I have finally put together why I sometimes saw that light with the proximity of an international airport. 

Later, I was one of Santa's helpers, putting out the stockings that my cousins, sisters and I filled for our parents. After all, why should we (the kids) get all the fun Christmas morning. I knew for years that Santa didn't fill the stockings himself. He delegated that task to Mum, Auntie Yang, Nana and possibly my Dad and Uncle D. It wasn't tough to figure out when the adults kicked us out of the living room and told us that even if we didn't want to go to bed, they did. 

Believing in Santa Claus didn't stop me from getting clothes as presents. My children, by the way, don't believe in Santa and they love clothes as gifts. They especially love gift cards they can take out to buy their own clothes. Santa has smartened up that way. With the exception of hand knitted sweaters, Santa's taste in clothes can be questionable to say the least. That's why I developed an allergy to acrylic and polyester.

My Nana was the biggest culprit. The sweaters she bought me were always a size too small and more often than not sported horizontal stripes. You do not put a teenage girl, who is self-conscious about her weight, in horizontal stripes. Add the itchiness of early acrylic yarns and garish colours, you have a recipe for gift that will never be worn past Christmas day. 

So I told Nana I was allergic to acrylic. Polyester shirts also made me itch. I then quickly pointed out that hand-knit sweaters were different because they were meant to be worn over tops. At the time, 100% cotton tops were either relatively plain or Indian muslin. I was happy with either. My "allergy" later kept me out of stretch polyester uniforms. 

Nana also taught me about re-gifting. All her grandchildren learned the cardinal rule: Never give Nana a gift you wouldn't be able to use yourself. Those presents were like boomerangs, inevitably (and sometimes immediately) returning to the presenter.

My father taught me another important lesson. Don't give magazine subscriptions as gifts unless you are sure the recipients want them.

For decades, my uncle and my father gifted each other National Geographic. This was the perfect gift because they both enjoyed the magazine and it isn't a cheap subscription. Of course, I really appreciated the tradition because I loved stealing the maps and pouring over them, imagining epic trips to places near and far.

No one was nearly as enthusiastic about being given a subscription to Readers Digest. Yet, sure that this would increase his chances of winning the big prize, my father gifted subscriptions to practically everyone. His sister had to tell him to stop... several times. She was the only one to be that direct. Not that Readers Digest is a terrible magazine, but each subscription came with incessant mailings urging readers to buy more because "You could already be a winner."

I told Dad that I'd rather have a subscription to Writer Magazine. For a couple of years he bought me that. But I still got Readers Digest.
“One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
 Socks are safe, but some of the best gifts I've given and received have been books. However, like bath products, you do have to know the tastes of your recipient or, as with my Nana, you can expect the present to come back to you.

My mother and father were usually easy. I knew what they liked because I grew up surrounded by their books. I took great delight in introducing my mother to the mysteries of Charlotte McLeod and Sue Grafton. It got a little problematic when she'd buy the latest release before I had a chance to give it to her for Christmas or her birthday.

Giving my father books was like taking coals to Newcastle. He was constantly ordering books for himself and subscribed to two Western Romance book of the month clubs. Fortunately, like Dumbledore, he believed one couldn't have enough socks.



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