Friday, December 16th, 2011

Against Gift Giving

I would like to make a proposal: Let’s all stop giving presents to anyone over the age of 12.

We can consider this a new front in the laughably famous and obviously fictitious “war against Christmas” that people like Glenn Beck and Rick Perry always talk about. Because I’m really only proposing this for the holiday season. (So the following all goes for Chanukah, too. Oh, and birthdays. No presents on birthdays, either.) Presents at other times of the year, random days on the calendar, are fine. Like, if you’re going over to someone’s house, you should bring a bottle of wine. Or if you’re browsing in a bookstore and you find a book you think a friend would like, by all means, buy it for her or him.

But not on Christmas! Jesus, please! Enough with the gifts at Christmas, already. This time of year is hard enough to get through as it is.

I won’t be the first person you’ve heard say that the holiday season sucks. Because it does. Suicide statistics and the smoked salmon inside Dan Akroyd’s Santa costume and the music being piped into the fluorescent-bright aisles of Rite Aids all around the nation at this very moment say it better than words ever could anyway. It’s definitely the least wonderful time of year for a lot of people, full of all sorts of pressure and accounting and reminders of how we’re not doing as well at the job of being a human being as we’d like to be doing. The last thing any of us need is the added stress and extra shopping that this barbaric ritual entails. Let’s give ourselves a break.

The kids, we should still buy gifts for. If only because they’d complain so loudly if they came out into the living room and found nothing under the tree except the pine needles that will have to be vacuumed up later. (I actually think it’d be better for everybody if we broke them of the gift-getting habit, too. But it would be too hard to explain to the 8-year-olds the first two or three years to be worth it.) And, to be honest, it’s nice to see the expressions on the faces of children when they open their presents. Lovable little materialistic swine that children are.

But teenagers? Nothing’s going to relieve their misery except getting to have sex, and that’s nothing that anyone can buy for them. (Or, well, nothing that anyone should buy for them. Not for Christmas, anyway.) Teenagers might as well spend every family holiday alone in their rooms, masturbating and listening to Skrillex or playing World of Warcraft or whatever. The best gift we can give them is to not make them be around us. They don’t want us to see their braces.

And other adults? Why do we buy each other gifts? Why do we go to the trouble? So everyone can have to fake more excitement and gratitude than they actually feel upon opening them? “Oh, thanks for this book I told you I wanted that I could have just as easily bought for myself! Thanks for these gloves, this blouse, this bottle of wine. I’m so glad to have this pile of stuff to pack into the car or check at the baggage claim when I could have just bought it on my own time nearer to my own home, or even had it delivered directly to my door. Here, I got you something, too.” It’s like we’ve all entered into this mutual pact that makes everybody's lives a little bit worse. All anybody really wants is money anyway. And since there is a quid pro quo element to the stupid gift-giving tradition, we should all be getting back pretty much what we’d pay out. So let’s just skip it. Or establish a credit system. My gift to you is relieving you of the obligation of getting a gift for me. The gift of relaxation. The money you would have spent on me? Go buy yourself something you want with it. There. We’re even and happier. Bosses? Give a cash holiday bonus. Or better yet, don’t—and put it into raised yearly salaries and health benefits.

It’s not even just the giving. Receiving gifts stinks, too. People ask you what you want, and it’s hard to think of anything. (A yacht or a beach house or a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer being unrealistic.) I mean, a bottle of nice something, sure, always. But again, then you’re stuck carting it home and the difficulty of not breaking it on the way. Generally, I think adults get the things they need or want when they need or want them. That’s one of the joys of being an adult. And in shopping for ourselves, we’re more likely to get exactly what we want; there’s less risk of mistakes.

A few years ago, back when CDs still seemed like things that were worth owning, I told someone who asked me what I wanted that I wanted a certain Townes Van Zandt CD that had been recommended to me by a friend. The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt, I think it was. But come Christmas, when I unwrapped one of my CD-shaped gifts, I saw a different Townes Van Zandt album—a compilation album. Of course, since the person who had bought it for me was sitting in the room, I did my best to hide my disappointment that this was not the CD I had asked for. I mean, it was a minor disappointment. And I certainly wasn’t, like, angry at the person for buying the wrong CD. I’m sure the person just couldn’t find the exact album I’d asked for. Maybe it was out of print? I don’t know. And, y’know, I don’t think this person should have been in the position of having to buy me a CD anyway. I blame society. But now I had this wrong Townes Van Zandt album. And the real problem was (and I know this probably has more to do my personal neurosis and human defects than anything else), this compilation had on it some, but not all, of the songs from the album I had in fact asked for, and I knew that owning it would in fact now make it harder for me to go and try to buy myself the original one. For the same reason that you always get off the subway one stop short of a destination that lies in between two subway stations, and not one stop past it. Nature abhors backtracking and redundancy and vacuuming up the pine needles that fall off of the Christmas tree.

See how gifts ruin everything?! At least for awful, unlovable neurotics devoid of the capacity for love or joy?! See?!!!

The whole problem is the obligation—that we’re expected to give gifts this time of year, and expected to want to receive gifts this time of year, and then expected to express gratitude, even if we’d rather just beg out of the whole deal. Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of gifts—even those given to one adult by another—are given in the spirit of generosity and love. I like generosity and love. And other human beings. And chestnuts and roast goose and a big meal with lots of people. And even the smell of those pine needles making such a mess on the floor. And gratitude is a very good thing. But it’s easier to come to honestly in instances that aren’t so laden with all this heavy obligation, the feeling that we’re all taking part in an antiquated tradition that we’d actually rather not be taking part in.

64 Comments / Post A Comment

djfreshie (#875)


Leon Tchotchke (#14,331)

@djfreshie If not wanting to give and receive meaningless money sacrifices to/from people I barely know but happen to be related to makes me cheap, consider me a proud cheap-o!

djfreshie (#875)

@djfreshie Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeap

jolie (#16)

Or you could just give every single person on your list the same, perfect gift: Fraido the Feather Duster.

@jolie : How a Neat Person Drops a Hint.

Alternate take : I think this would pair nicely with my mother's favorite Christmas present ever. NB: around the Mongoose house, it's called a "Hose-y Cow", which, well.

jolie (#16)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose Oh no no, Geffie, THIS is How a Clean Person Drops a Hint!!!!

@jolie : I got about halfway through the list and then I started to feel itchy and anxious, so good job there?

BadUncle (#153)

@jolie Am I a total asshat for expecting something that looked like John Cazale, maybe in a banana daiquiri base?

BadUncle (#153)

I hate the rigorous, universal expectation of gift giving. Even were it affordable, every purchase froths up a stiff meringue of performance anxiety. And the whole idea of asking someone what they want just kind of summarizes what's wrong about the whole business. It's a gift, not some kind of existential compensation.

That said, I've been unsuccessful with any of my family at ending adult gift giving. And you know, it always feels nice to give something to your loved ones and sex vessels.

To displace some of the pain from giver to the recipient, a friend and I launched a site for passive aggressive gift giving. We want to share the misery.

deepomega (#1,720)

Co-sign, but with the added point that this applies double to weddings. Wedding registries are the motherfucking worst for all these reasons, but with an additional heaping helping of patriarchy.

beerd (#194,051)

@deepomega You don't need to bring gifts to weddings. It's a recession. Anyone under 35 gets credit just for showing up.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Oh I get it. So we olds must bear this awful burden alone?

BoHan (#29)

Agreed. My family stopped a few years ago, although I'd say 21 would probably be a better stopping point for gifting. But when you just start giving each other gift cards and comparing the amounts, who cares anymore?

djfreshie (#875)

Also, the answer to this problem is to always buy everyone scotch unless they're recovering, in which case buy them chocolate. Chocolate or scotch. If they don't like scotch, fuck em. If they are allergic to chocolate, fuck em. if you are expecting a cheap gift, get em Johnny Red or a Box of Turtles. If you are expecting something nice, or you just want to give a nicer gift, get Johnny double black which is terrific, or Teuscher chocolate. There you go. Now you can be like djfreshie, and never ever have anyone ever complain about a gift. You're saying "hey but what about those people who don't like scotch or chocolate, they probably just feigned appreciation at the gifts" and I'll stop you and remind you of the part where I said "fuck em."

barnhouse (#1,326)

@djfreshie I love this strategy!! I actually kind of employ this strategy, come to think of it. With slight variations.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@djfreshie Ha! I posted my suggestion below of giving whiskey and chocolates (along with other "consumable" gifts) before I read yours.

djfreshie (#875)

@barnhouse All I know is that everyone who gets me scotch gets a big giant hug. Well, Irish Whiskey and Good Tequila also.

The order of hug intensity for booze gifts is:
Scotch (any)
Tequila (good)
Irish Whiskey (good)
Irish Whiskey (Bad/Jameson's)
Rye (good)
Vodka (any)
Bourbon (good)
Tequila (bad)

Absent from hugs: Cheap Bourbon, Cheap Rye, Gin. (I know this board will not accept my distaste of gin, but let it be known that I agree gin is a fine drink, but it is just not something I will consume willingly because my taste buds refuse to appreciate whatever it has to offer. Chaqu'un son Gout.)

@djfreshie *chacun

djfreshie (#875)

@Rachel Austin@facebook This correction to a genius with "bilingual" in his job title. AS Rick Perry once said, "whooops"

the teeth (#380)

@djfreshie I was totally with you until you slagged cheap rye — rittenhouse bonded is the best value I know of for spirits. Makes a better manhattan than many whiskeys 2-3x the price.

djfreshie (#875)

@the teeth Is Rittenhouse "cheap" though? I mean price wise, it's still a grey goose level above CC and Crown Royal. Both of which, well… bleh.

the teeth (#380)

@djfreshie Ah, I see — I was an unintentional snob and hadn't realized that canadian whiskey is called rye in some areas. I totally agree — though I guess it's more fact than opinion — that cheap canadian whiskey is not very nice. I don't know of an american rye that retails below $20/750ml; cheap starts in a different place, there.

@djfreshie: Old Overholt for American Rye. Cheap as dirt but completely sip-able.

djfreshie (#875)

@the teeth Wait…Americans make Rye now?

roboloki (#1,724)

let's start this tomorrow. today is my birthday.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@roboloki can we make it Sunday? Tomorrow's my birthday.

Dave Bry (#422)

Sunday's my birthday. We can start then.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@roboloki (happy birthday, roboloki!)

roboloki (#1,724)

@barnhouse thank you.
@whizz_dumb & Dave Bry happy birthday. i'll be drinking in your honor today.

Dave Bry (#422)

@roboloki Thanks, Roboloki! And I hope you had a good celebration of yourself on Friday. And Whizz_dumb, you yesterday. I'm raising a glass to all of us, today. And to Keith Richards. Because it's his birthday today, too. And he is still alive.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@roboloki & @Dave Bry Birthday wishes abound. How are you guys feeling? If you celebrated similarly to how I did, you'd be calling your closest friend and asking how the last few hours of the night went. Luckily, I only flirted with one troll.

namedropper (#8,938)

I agree, xmas is for kids. And you can throw in birthdays with that (why get a gift and cake on the anniversary of your living outside a womb?) As my sainted grandmother used to say about all the hoopla during the holidays: what, are we peasants?

Lately I have come to the conclusion that formalized genero…


redyellowgreen (#194,539)

It is high time children stopped getting presents too. Aren't there better things to teach them than unrestricted greed and materialism? How about helping truly needy people? Check out Jimmy Kimmel's video related to this, "YouTube Challenge – I Gave My Kids a Terrible Present."

I take issue with a few things here. There's nothing wrong with buying sex for a teen on Christmas. The immaculate transaction. Also, I want a bonus and a raise, boss! In exchange, you get this internet comment. You're welcome!!

razorgrin (#104,497)

@@snackychocolate You're (gonna be?) the best parent/uncle/aunt ever.

@razorgrin i don't have sex, i just buy it for other people's children.

razorgrin (#104,497)

@@snackychocolate Best 'creepy neighbor across the street' ever, then?

razorgrin (#104,497)

I'm okay with this. I'm impossible to shop for anyway: all of the cheap things that I might want, I just buy anyway; all that leaves is the expensive things I can't buy myself. That wouldn't be so bad if I had, like, a doting, rich uncle who had nothing better to do with his money, but I don't. My entire social and familial circles combined might have a hard time scrounging up enough cash to make a car payment.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

I tell family each year I don't need anything and I don't want much and each year they pester me for a list and it makes me feel childish but I oblige because fine, buy me a bunch of shit, I'm fine with that. But I'm really not fine with it for reasons written above. Plus I'm ungrateful.

Also, each year I tell myself I'm going to make everyone's gifts, like framed artworks, and every year I end up buying a bunch of shit instead. Something's gotta give! I'm getting picture frames at a thrift store and immediate family is getting pencil drawings this year.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

First of all: of course. Second: even when it comes to random gifts not related to holidays or anniversaries, I think we should only give gifts that can be consumed, such as: whiskey, chocolates, dinners, and concert tickets. I have nowhere to put anything, and I don't want to take the responsibility of adding to anyone else's clutter.

SeanP (#4,058)

@Niko Bellic Also: flowers. No calories, no one is trying to kick a flower addiction, they go with everything, don't cost much, can be tossed when you're done with them.

beerd (#194,051)

In defense of gift-giving

Sometimes, you want to give people stuff. A book for your friends, or you found tomato seeds your dad would love, all these things you WANT to give people, but for fucks sake, if you just gave them a gift at any old time, it could get awkward. Who has the brain cells to track a lifetime of gift-giving math, and is that bottle of wine for dinner equal to doing dishes or do I still owe you a Moondog CD and when I bought that beer that one time, is that on a separate ledger?

Let’s face it—gift giving is awkward, yet giving is important because your friends are awesome, and seriously, they want that cast-iron pan so much and would never cough up the cash themselves.

Christmas erases the awkwardness or the potential power-imbalance of an unreciprocated “thinking of you” gift. (No, I’m not trying to get into your pants, it’s fucking Christmas!) Christmas erases the informal value-ledger: a Christmas gift is worth a Christmas gift. And Christmas forces you to hunker down, itemize the people you love, and think hard about how to make them happy, you fucking Grinch.

beerd (#194,051)

@beerd Seriously, it minimizes the awkwardness. The holidays are like a social vomitorium for love and all the discomfort, vulnerability and irrationality connected to it. You have to give a gift sometime…

Batsheva (#160,884)

@beerd Exactly. Some of us like thinking about others, spending a little of our time, thought, and maybe even money on a thoughtful gift. Or making something. Seriously, are people so fucking self-absorbed and lazy ALL THE TIME that they can't pull their heads out of their asses for just a few weeks to think about someone else?

Batsheva (#160,884)

@Batsheva Also, they probably hate freedom, puppies, and rainbows.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@beerd Thanks, dad.

C_Webb (#855)

My family compromised. Everyone gets gifts for all the kids (six cousins), and then the adults do a Secret Santa and buy one gift, $50 or less, for one person. Everyone gets something, the kids get loads, and anyone not related to us by blood can eff off.

Tulletilsynet (#333)


lovelettersinhell (#13,711)

Oh god, yes. I feel so damn awkward buying gifts with money I don't really have.

metoometoo (#230)

I agree with all of this. Actually, my boyfriend and I just had a fight because he keeps talking about gift ideas for me and it's stressing me out.

BadUncle (#153)

BTW, Mr. Fry, just noticed the title. Nice shout out to Susan Sontag.

Gydle (#193,256)

"The best gift we can give them is to not make them be around us. They don’t want us to see their braces."


Bridget Callahan (#5,234)

My favorite part of Christmas is the part where my parents tell my siblings and I that there's nothing they want that we can afford. Which is true, but their own damn fault for raising artsy people.

churlishgreen (#49,256)

This is excellent, I agree with every word…

GailPink (#9,712)

OK, I'm in.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

loving that skrillex made it into this post. excellently stated, good sir.

emmwils07 (#195,962)

We'll exchanging gifts have been part of a Christmas symbols of being thankful from what you have and just share them.

JoshUng (#11,371)

How about giving teenagers a car? That would get them laid.

I have been trying to promote this idea among my family for years! When my Mom asks me what I want for Christmas and I say "Nothing," she takes that to mean I'm being difficult.

I think it's a lot more fun holiday-wise to steal something you want from a friend's house. (It's also fair and a lot of fun if they do the same thing to you!)

The best way to make this work is to have friends who are rich and who are also agoraphobic!

Arkarch (#197,049)

Gift-giving provides the opportunity for new directions, interests, style, etc. It is a time for your friends and family to open new doors; perhaps to give you what you need; or give you what you really want that you will not get yourself.

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