Friday, November 5, 2010

I’m a re-gifter, but I still don’t want your junk.

As the holidays are approaching, my husband and I are once again confronted with the challenge of gift-giving. It starts early, when you have out of town family to consider. It is always amusing to plan gifts with my husband; I have some values about gift giving that have been both refreshing and challenging to him through the years, because they differ so significantly from his family of origin. I remember when we were dating how he saw a Star Wars cap he liked and made the purchase, then dropped it off at his parents for them to give him for Christmas. They nonchalantly pulled the cash out and made the trade. I almost fell on the floor.

In my family, the importance of surprise in gift giving far outweighed the importance of the gift’s perfection or actual monetary value. There was almost no point in giving my parents a gift list, because we never got something we actually asked for. Instead we got crazy stuff that sometimes confused, but always entertained. Most of it was socks and chapstick, but at the end of the morning we’d end up seated back-to-back to tear the paper open on three sets of matching roller skates, or a complete family set of lazar-tag equipment. Sometimes it was a perfect match, sometimes it wasn’t, but it taught me a valuable lesson about gifts that has served me well: don’t expect anything.

In my opinion, the minute you start thinking you’re entitled to something you really want or need, something that has a specific use or value to you, gift giving becomes a perfunctory exchange of commodities. If you need a particular perfume, go buy what you like. If you want a gift from me, expect something that has a little flavor of me, and a little flavor of you. Something that reflects the joy I feel in having a relationship with you.

That, to me, is the essence of gift giving. It honors the relationship. The gifts we give are derived from those first gifts, brought to Jesus by the Magi. Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh: gifts no infant would enjoy. But they were meant to demonstrate the meaning of his Advent; that divinity had come to Earth to reach out to humanity in sacrifice. It honored the new relationship God was forming with us.

So, I am not ashamed to say that I regift. I’m not crazy or independently wealthy. If I get something lovely, that I’m just not in love with (especially if it is a commodity offered to me out of obligation, instead of a reflection of relationship), and I know of someone for whom it might just be a match, I will more than gladly turn it out in lavish new paper and bow for someone else to enjoy. But when I get stuck with one-off kitchen towels with a mushroom motif, I draw the line and put them in the rag bin.

I try to pay attention to budget, but not cost, in gift giving. What I try to pay the most attention to, though, is my friends and loved ones, so I won’t be at a loss when the time comes to give them something. I might give the occasional lame duck (not sure my sister-in-law was as excited about the first season of Big Love as we were), but now and then I really hit the nail on the head – and isn’t that fun for both of us? Best of all, no one ever has to wonder whether I just pulled something off the shelf and passed it off on them. I’d sooner give you a gag gift of fake barf I think will make you laugh, as a set of diamond earrings that I don’t think you’ll really love. I’m out for one thing – to let you know you matter to me.  The real gift is my affection - some people accept it with joy, others would prefer a gift card.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

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