Friday, December 15, 2006

Christmas Gift Angst

Yeah, yeah, I'm still here. I just haven't had anything to write about in the last week-and-a-half, especially now that college football season is over, and I really don't have anything to say that hasn't already been said by other local bloggers about Vince Young single-handedly defeating the same Texans team that decided not to draft him, or the Astros not re-signing Andy Pettite, or the push by local brewer St. Arnolds to change the state's laws regarding microbreweries (but if I did write about these things, my responses would be: who really gives a crap about the pathetic Texans, Andy Pettite is inconsistent and not worth $32 million for two years, and more power to the state's microbrewers!).

Anyway, this morning I turn my attention to Christmas. It's less than two weeks away, and Lori and I are woefully unprepared. We haven't even put up a tree yet (and at this point, we aren't likely to) and the chore of putting lights up around the house is only half-finished.

Worse yet, I've barely even begun Christmas shopping.

Of course, part of the reason is because I was waiting until today, i.e. payday - if I'm going to buy presents for people, it would probably help to have money in the bank to do it with. But there's also the more pressing problem: what in the name of St. Nicholas am I going to get for everyone?

Or, for that matter, what do I even want for myself? Every year, I get asked the same question: "what do you want for Christmas?" And every year, I rack my brains to come up with a wish list of items that I think people will get for me. It's not easy.

To be sure, there are a lot of things I'd really like or need, for example money to pay off what's left of my student loans, or a nice plasma-screen HDTV, or a new roof for the sun porch, or a new computer, or implants for my missing front teeth (which I broke while falling off my bike when I was a kid and, after many years and many thousands of dollars' worth of caps, root canals, and posts-and-cores, were finally pulled a few years ago and replaced with a partial). But these items are very expensive and are not things that I would expect anybody to give me as Christmas gifts. So, instead, every year I come up with a list of smaller, less-expensive items that people can easily get for me, such as clothes, books, small electronics and appliances (an iPod, a new toaster oven, a new scanner for my computer, etc.), hardware from Lowes, booze from Specs, etc. Every year, it seems, this annual wish-list becomes more difficult for me to create as the number of these "small-ticket" gifts I receive accumulates. I'm almost at the point where really I want to tell people just to give me money instead of a gift, because the money will come in handy as I go about purchasing the "big-ticket" items I really need.

But back to the other dilemma: what do I get for other people? Some people have an amazing knack for coming up with the perfect Christmas gift without even asking people what they'd like. I possess no such talent, so I have to ask people what they want. Oftentimes I discover that other people have just as hard a time coming up with a wish list as I do. And once I get peoples' Christmas gift lists, I have to enter into intense negotiations with others ("okay, mom, how about I get dad the new fishing rod and you get him the new set of drill bits? What? You say you're uncomfortable shopping at a hardware store?") to make sure that gifts are not duplicated. Then, as I go about shopping, I continually worry in the back of my mind that my gift will be sufficiently equal to what they will give me. If I get somebody a $30 gift, and they give me a $50 gift in return, I feel bad. If I get somebody one present, and they give me two or three presents in return, I feel bad.

Of course, I am continually told that I shouldn't focus on the quantity or quality of gifts; that Christmas is about more important things such as the birth of Christ (which has only limited resonsance with me because I am not a particularly religious person) or being with friends and family, or celebrating the end of another successful year.

Yeah, right.

Ours is a consumer-oriented society, and Christmas, for everything else we'd ideally like it to be, is still a consumer-oriented holiday. It's about the gifts, stupid!

Oh yeah, and then once I finally do my shopping I have to wrap all my gifts. Did I mention that I am horrible at wrapping presents?

Anyway, I'll be spending a lot of time at the stores over the next week. Joy...

Christmas plans are coming into focus. Lori, Kirby and I are driving up to Dallas this afternoon to visit my aunt and uncle and to get my cousin's old bunk bed out of storage so Kirby can use it. We won't be able to stay long, though; one of Lori's co-workers is getting married tomorrow and we need to be back in time for the wedding. Christmas Eve will most likely be spent with my side of the family, as has been the tradition, while Christmas Day will probably be spent with Lori's family. And a couple of days after Christmas Lori, my brother and I are making our way up to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl. I've already got my tickets and hotel reservations.

(Speaking of which [and in spite of the fact that I said that I wouldn't talk about college football again until after the Liberty Bowl], I notice that the UH athletics department is, once again, concerned about ticket sales. Apparently, Coog fans are not yet doing their part in buying tickets to the Liberty Bowl; I've gotten two separate fretful e-mails from UH Athletics Director Dave Maggard on the subject this week alone [even though I've already purchased my tickets], and even people who aren't UH fans are getting robo-calls from coach Art Briles asking them to buy tickets. I really wish Maggard would quit panicking about ticket sales all the time. We had no problem selling out the conference championship game a couple of weeks ago in spite of the gloom-and-doom forecasts of some sportswriters in the days leading up to the game, and Houston fans were well-represented at the Fort Worth Bowl last year as well as at the Coogs' last Liberty Bowl appearance ten years ago. I have no doubt that the UH faithful will adequately represent themselves this time around as well. Relax, Dave, the game is still two weeks away...)

While we're on the subject of Christmas gifts, I need to vent about a gift-giving practice that has become a real peeve of mine. Every year, it seems, somebody - be it a co-worker via the office gift exchange, or a relative on Lori's side of the family, or whomever - gives me a Christmas ornament or a cheap ceramic snowman or a wooden nutcracker as a Christmas gift. "Oh, look! Somebody gave me a talking reindeer for Christmas! It's cute, but what the heck am I supposed to do with it, especially NOW THAT CHRISTMAS IS OVER? Maybe I'll save it for next Christmas and put it out with all the other otherwise useless decorations I've received over the past several years! Oh, boy!" Ugh.

Look, folks: there is not a word in the English language to describe just how annoying, just how uncreative, just how senseless (think about it for a moment) and just how useless I find the practice of giving Christmas decorations as Christmas gifts to be. I beg of everyone: if you can't figure out what to get somebody for Christmas, just get them something that anybody can use, like a gift card to a major retailer or even a $10 bill rolled up and wrapped with a little red ribbon. Unlike the poinsetta plant or the laughing santa doll you're thinking about getting, these will be appreciated and will be useful even after Christmas is over.

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