Even if I weren’t still fuming over losing the bald-eagle-imprinted fuzzy blanket in a conniving game of white elephant, I would say that this whole gift exchange thing doesn’t do much for me. I am no Scrooge. I love the holidays. I celebrate as hard as anyone — blacking out at the company party, getting fatter and jollier by 15-20 percent over four weeks, and pumping my fist when TBS airs the Saved by the Bell Christmas episode when Zack tries to bang the homeless girl.
I just don’t like presents. If there is something I want, I will buy it myself because I am an employed adult. If I can’t afford it, then I certainly wouldn’t feel right accepting it from someone else. Gifts should stop at the same time the charade of Santa Claus does. Because at that point, their origin changes from an infinite North Pole to a zero-sum game in which a loved one has to pay for it.
First-generation Asian immigrants generally do not bother going through the motions of Santa for very long. If it weren’t for sweet Aunt Jane, the one who read me The Ugly Duckling and taught me compassion, my extended family might not have made an effort in the first place. Aunt Jane kept up a valiant fight against her Communist in-laws but could not stop the inevitable transition from Christmas presents to red packets of cash while the kids were still in elementary school. Sometimes my parents ran out of red packets and just slipped us twenties like we were miniature drug dealers.
It sounds cheerless and lame, but I prefer neither cash nor gifts. If you feel the need to show that you care, the best way to do that is with a hug, an email, or most sensibly, how you treat me the other 364 days of the year. If you want me to make a Christmas list, it’s the same one every year: food, water, shelter, sex and health. For everyone I care about and really humanity in general.
In other words, I am the easiest person to shop for if you just believe me when I say that I truly do not want anything from you. Whatever you give only serves to stress me out because two seconds after unwrapping it, I am already fretting about how to get you something equally nice next time to even the score. Christmas shopping sucks. That’s why everyone waits until the last minute. If it didn’t suck, we wouldn’t procrastinate. But it does suck, and like anything that sucks — taxes, homework, rent— there needs to be a deadline or it would never get done.
Of course I ended up with a girl who loves nothing more than to give presents for birthdays, housewarmings, Christmas, Hanukkah, and no special occasion whatsoever. She sent a mug to a friend in Boston the other day because it’s cold. If any buddy of mine ever receives a mug from me at any point in his life, it will contain the ashes of a loved one, a bodily fluid as a practical joke, or both under extenuating circumstances. A gift because it’s cold? Jesus Christ. (No offense Christians, not that this seems much like a Christian holiday when Walmart hosts brawls on Black Friday.)
As you can imagine, my girlfriend’s passion for giving made for a lopsided Christmas exchange this year. I got her a urine-colored Polaroid camera because she likes pictures and the color yellow. She assembled a spectacular five-part gift including a jacket that probably cost more than all of my previous ones combined. In fairness, she did force the early retirement of my 14-year-old Nautica jacket that made me look homeless. Zack Morris should have given me a buzz on that sweet cell phone of his. He would talk about how the homeless girl taught him ’tis better to give than receive, and I would agree, but only because it’s the lesser of two nuisances.