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.