Presenting: A guide to Christmas gift giving
For retailers, the miracle of Christmas hasn’t got anything to do with a heavily pregnant woman and a manger, but rather anticipated sales of $39.9 billion dollars between mid-November and December 24.
The slap up meal most of us will be tucking into on the 25th accounts for a big chunk of this spending but many billions of dollars will also be spent on gifts.
Perhaps the scariest part about this is the billions that will be spent on fizzers: gifts that don’t hit the mark, gifts that don’t even get airborne; gifts that break before the New Year; gifts that you need to keep out of sight and then retrieve whenever the relevant donor is in the vicinity.
At this point, I have a flashback to my mother giving me the look of death because I, age say 5, have just candidly told Aunt Margaret that I do not really like the book on King Arthur she has given me.
And I hear the mantra drummed into me later that day and installed in most of us as children – “you’re lucky to get anything”. And that is true. Still, billions in unloved presents – it seems a shame.
One approach to this situation is to bemoan the commercialisation of Christmas and head straight to the kitchen to develop a signature chutney.
An alternative approach is to say that since Christmas is likely to remain the holy highpoint of the Christian and consumer calendars, let’s lift the national standard of gifting.
Let’s marshall the money and try to ensure its being well spent - a potential win-win for everyone, except perhaps the op-shop.
To raise the national standard requires a degree of public consensus about the ground rules of good gifting. The following are proposed as a foundation:
1. The Hands and Knees Rule – Before buying a young child a toy that includes scores of tiny plastic pieces, ask yourself, does the image of that child’s parent on their hands and knees late at night, crawling around to locate and store those tiny parts give you pleasure.
If, for whatever reason, it does, proceed with the purchase. If this is not your intention move on down the aisle.
2. Invisible Consumer Warnings – Australia has a comparatively advanced system of consumer protection. The system requires food manufacturers to give you an accurate estimate of when their food will become unusable.
Why is it then, that toy manufacturers who churn out millions of toys that will not last longer than a good yoghurt have no similar obligations?
While their shelf life in the toy superstore may be indefinite, too many of these toys cannot survive in the wild. This is partly because it is the sorry destiny of a toy to endure misuse. But more than ever it is because their design and construction are a joke.
Accordingly, this rule requires that we look at the proposed toy closely and read its expiration date, with your mind’s eye. If it’s a matter of weeks, mark it with an L for landfill and move on.
3. Homemade Hints – Homemade items can be charming. Everything that goes around comes around and macramé will be no exception.
However, it is important to distinguish homemade from unmarketable. Homemade items do not need to meet any objective standard – not even the most basic of which is that they be ‘fit for the purpose’.
Could the item in question ever have been legally sold in a store? If the answer is no, then the answer is no.
4. Statute of Limitations – While some people are crisis shoppers who can only perform under extreme time pressure, the opposite end of the spectrum is the present hoarder.
Like a bower bird the present hoarder collects what it considers well-formed items at any time of year for future use as a present.
Items are then stored in a designated cupboard or drawer. So far so good. The problem is that the present drawer can turn into a time capsule for purchases, like the hand-carved gourd from Port Moresby that were a good idea at the time.
The simplest approach here seems to be to apply the pre-existing Statute of Limitations – if a present has been in the drawer for more than 6 years it is defunct.
5. Projected Gifting – The final rule proposed deals with what is perhaps the most common fault in gifting: Projected Gifting.
Projected Gifting is also the saddest. This is because the Projected Gift giver has put a great deal of thought into their gift – a great deal of thought into what they like. While there is a woman somewhere waiting with bated breath to see if this is the year she receives some crotchless panties, in general, such a gift requires considerable caution.
Giving good gift is an art and as such improvement on a national level will take time, but the rewards will be manifold.
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