Yet Another Consumer Tip: Before you place your gift order with any mail-order catalog company, make sure they have a policy of NO UNAUTHORIZED SUBSTITUTIONS. --Sandra Boynton
Boynton starts off her chapter on Christmas presents by declaring that the giving of those presents is truly one of the greatest joys of the season. Of course, coming up with an idea for, and then procuring, each gift is another matter entirely. As is actually affording those great gifts you stumble across. In the current economy I think it is definitely fair to say that the truth still rings clearly in that idea.
I have said before that I am amazed at how relevant this book has managed to stay over the past twenty-three years, while still containing a few glaringly dated snapshots of the general mindset in the eighties. This chapter is an excellent example of both concepts, to be sure.
Much like in Chapter Two, where Boynton discusses sending cards out of obligation as opposed to genuine friendship or affection, she also delves into gift-giving for the same reason. She acknowledges that these gifts of obligation are not even remotely in the running to be joys of the season, and does submit that you could decide to forgo these gifts in order to save money, time, and effort, as well as to bolster your conscience. She comes back from that suggestion, however, with a snarky comment about your pride in making the right choice sustaining you "through the loss of your job, wrath of your relatives, and the substantial deterioration of mail delivery, trash collection, and car servicing throughout the coming year."
Okay, I'm not gonna touch the thing about relatives with a ten-foot pole, the expectations and practices in every family are different, and even I can admit there might be some obligatory gift-giving there, depending on just who you might be related to. As far as the "loss of job" thing, I am going to hazard a guess that the obligatory gift to one's boss was an eighties thing. Mostly because every time I read this part of Christmastime I get a picture in my head of Chevy Chase hopefully holding out a present to his boss in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and being directed to place it on table with the twenty or thirty other clearly identical gifts (and I still really want to know what that gift was, because it was shaped so oddly, mostly for humor, I am sure, but still).
Look, I worked in an office environment for almost eight years, and I had several bosses come and go in that time. I gave (most of) my bosses a card each year, and every once in a while someone might take up a collection to get a group gift for a boss, but only once did I ever personally give a gift to one of my managers, and that was because she was the best boss I have ever had and I really wanted her to know I actually appreciated her. The suggestion that someone might actually get fired for failing to kiss up properly in the form of a Christmas present really rankles me. I am sure Boynton meant it for humor, but for some reason it just rubs me the wrong way. It also leaves me desperately hoping that the reference truly is a dated one.
As far as the thing about giving gifts to mail carriers, trash collectors, and mechanics, well, do people actually do that? This is something outside of my realm of experience. Is this just an old tradition that has lapsed? Is this something that occurs among the wealthier set? I really don't know. As far as mail carriers and trash collectors, I am not even sure we have the same people do this job day in and day out for our street, it seems to change frequently, and I do not have personal contact with these people, why would I give them a gift? I do have a pretty much steady mechanic, but he is paid quite well for his services, and honestly, the better he does his job, the less I see him, so again, why a present?
So I don't know if those particular trials of gift-giving are irrelevant to today or just to me personally, but either way, that is pretty much the biggest point in the book where I fail to identify with Boynton's narrative. I'm not gonna pretend I still don't get a giggle out of the illustrations on that page though. So, moving on.
For people who don't feel up to passing on the obligatory gift-giving, or people who just aren't quite able to financially fulfill their gift-giving dreams, Boynton suggests that this is as good a time as any to start picking fights with your friends. You can always apologize next year. Or you could re-gift items that you've received and never used. She cautions to be careful to keep track of who gave you the item you are re-gifting, so as to avoid any unnecessary awkwardness (another wonderful little illustration). But in the end, she reminds you that the greatest gift you can give to those people who really matter to you is of yourself.
Avoiding the Two Most Common Christmas-Gift Pitfalls: From September onward, do not allow your children to watch any television whatsoever. Keep some undesignated gifts in reserve, for anyone who might have been inadvertently overlooked. --Sandra Boynton
Next up, Boynton tackles the subject of actually shopping for gifts. She posits that back then, as is still the case now, the idea of venturing to the mall for a spot of Christmas shopping is really something to be dreaded. There are just so many reasons why this is a BAD IDEA, for the shopper's sanity and peace of mind, as well as holiday spirit and pocketbook. Remember that this book predates the institutionalization of Black Friday. I would be curious to see an updated version containing Boynton's thoughts on that, to be sure. However, she also posits that if you approach Christmas shopping expecting it to be a horrible experience, it will be. If you approach it as a challenge to be met, then you are likely to come out of it with a feeling of accomplishment, and while the process may not have necessarily have been enjoyable, at least you won't be holding a grudge against your loved ones for making you venture out into that mess in the first place. She also notes that there are a few rare creatures who simply enjoy the whole process of Christmas shopping, from start to finish, though she is as baffled by those folks as the rest of us.
Funnily enough, she doesn't mention those people who start their Christmas shopping in January and are already done by the time November and December roll around. Perhaps she was holding to the old saying, "if you don't have anything nice to say..."
As always, Boynton suggests a few alternatives to braving the malls and other bricks and mortar stores. The first is making gifts by hand. She doesn't have much to say about this particular route (other than a snarky mock-magazine cover claiming to hold patterns for crocheted sports car covers and patterns for all of the clothes being worn by the royal family this holiday). She simply acknowledges that it is an alternative, though one not everybody necessarily has the ability to take. As a crocheter, I will admit I do tend to make at least a few of my gifts each year, so I will add my own two cents on the subject. Don't make presents unless you really a) want to, b) know what you are getting yourself into, and c) truly love the person you are making something for. Making a gift by hand doesn't necessarily save you any money (you have to buy the supplies, and yarn and fabric aren't exactly cheap). Nor does it save you time or effort, which, in fact, it actually requires more of. I don't want to discourage those who wish to make the gifts they give out, I just want to make sure that they understand what they are signing on for when they start down that road.
The other alternative Boynton gives is to mail-order presents. She has a whole spiel about how, as long as the items you order are in stock, and as long as you order them in plenty of time to allow for shipping, this is the "carefree" way to go. Though she has her doubts about either of those things happening successfully, not for any lack of preparation on the buyer's part, but due to the mail-order companies themselves. The example of a "typical" packing slip she provides is certainly entertaining, suggesting that many companies will just send you whatever they have laying around the warehouse when they find they are out of the item you ordered, or not send you anything at all but still charge you for it.
Now, this is another one of those points where Christmastime lives in the past, as entertaining as it might be. Certainly people still order things rather than go out and buy them in person, but these days we get them from the internet. Even if we are ordering from a catalog we received in the mail, most of us do the actual ordering online. Most online stores do not charge you until they have shipped your item, allow you to track your packages online once they have shipped, and won't let you order an item that is out of stock. In the event that an order goes through and the item ends up being back-ordered, you are notified immediately so you can cancel that order and get something else. Companies like Amazon have made a lot of us much more confident in ordering our gifts with a simple point and a click rather than going out into the crowds to try to hunt them down. I won't lie to you my friends, more than half of the presents I bought this year came from Amazon. So while Boynton views mail-ordering as a huge pain in the rear (which, I am sure it was, because I do remember those days, believe it or not), it has been replaced by a bigger and better system that for this girl, who does most of her shopping online anyway, makes the holidays much easier to get ready for.
She wraps up the chapter with a few bits of advice on wrapping presents. Mainly, she warns that, tradition or no, waiting to wrap all of the presents until Christmas Eve is a BAD IDEA. This part is actually one of my favorite blurbs from the book. She advises having all of your gifts wrapped in the store (which I would counter with suggesting just wrap them as soon as you get them in the house once you've got the kid distracted doing something else). She then goes on to comment about how relaxed and peaceful you'll feel on Christmas Eve knowing that all of the presents are beautifully wrapped and waiting to be put under the tree...until you realize that none of them have been labeled and you have forgotten what is in them. The illustration that accompanies this is one of the best in the book, showing the family on Christmas morning each quite surprised at their gifts: The mom (trying to hide her amusement at the situation) with a hand puppet, the dad absolutely delighted with his toy firetruck, and the absolute bemusement on the faces of their children (an astronaut helmet for the teenage daughter, a hat and tie for the young son, and a "Little Miss Lovely" doll for the teenage son). It is a priceless beautiful moment. Also, you should probably remember to label your Christmas gifts as soon as you get them wrapped, whenever that might be.
Buying Christmas Wrap*Two consumer tips for the price of one!*Read the Square Footage on the Label: Price and roll diameter are unreliable indicators of paper quantity.Beware of Excessive Square Footage Claims: The weight of the paper is also a factor in true value. --Sandra Boynton
Tomorrow: Christmas Traditions