The best Chrissy present is actually just being present
Ten things I hate about gifts: shopping, choosing, wrapping, posting, forgetting, worrying they cost too much or they don’t cost enough, giving (what if they hate it?), receiving (what if I hate it, but have to pretend I don’t?) and – the worst – opening something from someone you love and feeling as if they don’t know you at all.
I should be a terrific gift giver. I see things I’d love all the time. And I’m always stashing recycled ribbons and baubly bits in the hope of having a Martha Stewart moment.
But as the occasions that demand a gift proliferate – Valentine’s, baby showers, divorce parties – I become more Grinch-like or, as my husband puts it, “meaner than a mouse’s turd”. He’s justified: I did give him cutlery once. But, for several years, he gave me cookbooks until, one exhausted Christmas morning, I snapped: “If you want to eat Nigella Lawson’s food, then you should’ve bloody married her.”
It’s not my McMollard tendencies that have caused my shopping mall malaise. Rather, it’s the hollow nature of this acquisitiveness that eats like a fattened rat through our purses and our principles. We’re all stuffed with stuff.
Some, such as my darling friend Sarah, are gifted at gifting. Opening her jiffy bags from the UK is akin to receiving a scoop of her: a Union Jack covered notebook full of recipes, Benefit’s mango-tinted lip and cheek stain.
The pressure to give something equally thoughtful led me to suggest we abandon presents. What, with the cost of post. “The fact we’re so far apart makes it all the more important,” she said quietly and quite rightly.
My youngest brother gets it. “Ange,” he said last year, “presents are not your language of love.” There are, he explained, five ways people show love: gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time and touch.
All five languages have a common element: generosity. And surely that’s what really matters. It’s what Dickens meant when he wrote Christmas was the only time when people “open their shut-up hearts freely”.
There are ways to be generous that don’t require wrapping paper. Last week my stylish friend Marina popped into a shop to browse and found a frazzled mum desperately trying to find a new outfit. She set to suggesting tops, dresses, a necklace here, bangle there, while the shop assistant held the baby. “I’d never met her before, but you know what it’s like with a newborn,” she told me later.
Likewise, a colleague has recently shown me enormous generosity. When I thanked her, she replied: “Success isn’t a finite commodity. There’s more than enough to go around.”
For my friend Kate, who hosts Jailbreak, a radio program for prisoners, working on Christmas Day and connecting kids with a mum or dad inside is her way of giving.
Sometimes the best present is just to be present. Play with a toddler while its parents rest. Round up Grandad for a game of 500. Listen to your mum. Really listen.
Among the gifts my husband has given me, a simple handmade card from 12 years ago remains the most precious. As I opened it, hundreds of paper hearts fluttered out. I kept them, occasionally slipping one into a pocket. His, mine, the children’s.
“What if Christmas doesn’t come from a store?” says Dr Seuss’ Grinch. “What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”
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