The Rules of Giving

Cash registers ring, are ya listenin’? In my hand, my Master
Card’s glistenin’

Cash registers ring, are ya listenin’? In my hand, my Master Card’s glistenin’ …

I know, I know. It isn’t even Thanksgiving yet, but with more than 30 family members to buy for I had to start my holiday shopping early. There are 37 shopping days left before Christmas (counting today), but I’ve already run into some problems.

“‘Tis the season to be jolly” couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to stressing over what to get your great-aunt-once-removed, who only enjoys the card game canasta and syndicated “Jeopardy!” and owns every matching floral sweater-and-turleneck set ever made.

Although some people in my life are difficult to shop for, others have been doing their own shopping for the holidays – for themselves. The “gift” part comes into play when they hand me the receipt for their new goods and expect me, in turn, to hand over the appropriate amount of cash.

“If you really want to get me something I like, you guys could just pay me for the microwave and new coffee maker I just got,” my mom said in the car the other day.

“So you’re telling me you want me to pay for something you already bought as your gift?” I replied in disbelief.

What ever happened to making holiday gifts a surprise? There is something so special in scouring the stores to track down that one gift you know the recipient will love, then covering it in bright, obnoxious wrapping paper and watching the delighted (or puzzled) expression on their faces when they tear it open.

Well, coming up with alternatives to the holiday gift-giving experience must run in my family. My 27-year-old sister Julie did the same thing when she was visiting from Sacramento last week.

“I bought myself some new black boots the other day,” she said. “Do you think mom would mind paying for them, and then they can be my gift from Santa?”

“No!” I shouted. “You’re already wearing them, Juliette!”

Because of all the ridiculous hoopla I’ve already encountered thus far this holiday season, I’ve decided to make some gift-giving rules of my own. And after talking with several people in the community about how to stifle laughter when opening a bad gift, and when it’s considered OK to re-gift something, I think some of you out there may want to pay close attention. Here goes: six rules, starting with those of lesser importance and working our way up:

• Rule No. 6: It is never, under any circumstance, OK to give someone a Chia Pet – unless, of course, it’s a total joke (a joke the recipient is in on, that is).

• Rule No. 5: Should you feel the need to re-gift something, make sure to give it to someone on the opposite side of the family, who lives at least 100 miles away and will never come into contact with the person who originally gave the gift to you. Also, make sure the gift isn’t a signature item, such as a family heirloom or bronzed baby shoes.

• Rule No. 4: When buying for a recently new member of the family or a friend you don’t know very well, go for consumables. Many people don’t like crocheted doilies and tissue-box covers, but they’ll love some homemade rocky road candy or fudge.

• Rule No. 3: When you’ve just begun dating someone, try to find a unique gift that shows you put some thought into it, but don’t spend a fortune. Lord knows if they’ll even be around for a New Year’s Eve smooch.

• Rule No. 2: While shopping, always remember that you’re not there for yourself. Just because you like that gigantic rhinestone broach or those fall-off-your-butt-cheeks jeans from Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t mean Aunt Lois and Uncle Harold will.

• And most importantly, Rule No. 1: Never let your family members coerce you into “pretend buying” them holiday gifts that they already own, such as in the example of my sister Julie’s black boots.

If any family member even tries pulling such a stunt, wrap up a box that looks like what they want, but instead of the gift, put a lump of coal in it!

Happy holidays, and happy shopping.

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