NICE GIRL: Gift Girl

The Trojan Horse should've tipped us all off. Gifts are not what they seem. They are rarely uncomplicated or pure. It ain't the thought that counts. In short, gifts may not always come in a box, but they always come with baggage.Think back. Has there been a single holiday season where you didn't get at least one gift that was either:a. several sizes too large/smallb. something you wouldn't be caught dead inc. indicative of a complete lack of respect for you and your value system (a copy of Howard Stern's Private Parts; a fur-lined coat; a subscription to Glamour, etc.)d. so much more expensive than the gift you got them, it made you feel like a freakin' cheapskateConversely, has there been a single holiday season where you didn't give at least one gift that either:a. the person already hadb. the person pretended to happy about; but you could see right through his or her strained smilec. the person promptly exchanged for a new size and color and, uh, styled. eventually ended up in a pile marked "Salvation Army"And 'fess up. Haven't we all, at least once, suffered from that most ugly and uncharitable of feelings, the dirty little secret of the holiday season: gift envy.(To be said in your most pitiful and mopey voice): "That's a real nice gift that Mom and Dad got you. I sure wish I could have nice things like that."So why do we even bother? Seriously, why do we put ourselves through this torture year after year? Why do we continue the charade -- pretending that gifts are an expression of love and respect, instead of admitting what they truly are: a giant pain in the ass.Okay, when you buy a birthday present, it's a little different. Usually then you have some time to think about it, to make it special, to personalize it.But during the holiday season, it's like you're filling some sort of quota. I have this list of people. Then I run around the mall like a chicken with its head cut off, mechanically crossing names off my list. And oh, you can imagine the surprise and excitement when my relatives see that thoughtful, creative Banana Republic box for the fourth year in a row! How does she do it?Now, ask yourself. Who's on your holiday list? People you love? Well, okay, sure. But more importantly, it's people who you think are going to get you a gift. Don't even bother denying it. We're all slaves to the consumer juggernaut. If you buy a gift for someone and they weren't expecting it (the gift-giving version of the sneak attack) one of two things will occur. Either, in a state of elevated panic, they will run out to get you a last-minute gift. Or, you will cross them off next year's list.Because of this -- and a few other things too complicated and spiritual to get into -- my boyfriend Wil doesn't celebrate Christmas. It's funny, people can handle the fact that he doesn't want to publicly celebrate the birth of Christ; they can handle the fact that he doesn't want to spend the day drinking eggnog with his family. What they can't handle is that he doesn't believe in the exchange of gifts."Wait -- you mean you're not going to buy him a Christmas gift?" one friend asked me, dumbfounded."Uh, check.""And -- let me make sure I've got this straight--he's not going to be buying you a gift?""Exactly."My friend stared at me -- speechless. Finally a flicker of recognition flashed across her face."I get it. It's one of those things where you say you're not going to buy each other gifts, but then you really do."There was no arguing with her. I shrugged. "Yeah, probably something like that."Perhaps the fact that Wil doesn't accept gifts will make our relationship stronger. My last boyfriend was always complaining that I bought him gifts that were actually for me -- clothing mostly (as opposed to, say, the new Jesus Lizard CD which would make him happy and give me a throbbing headache.)Call us cynical, but my family has come to the point where we pretty much spell out what we want for the holidays. I make a list -- sometimes I cross reference it with page numbers in corresponding catalogues. Then I pass on the list to the appropriate family members. This eliminates the element of surprise, yes. But remind me again, what was so good about the element of surprise?

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