Monday, August 11, 2008

A Blog on Gift-Giving?

The Inspiration: Sisters Birthday Dinner

The inspiration for this blog was a birthday celebration Susan attended some years ago for a member of her women's group (hereafter referred to as Sisters; names changed to protect the innocent!). They have been celebrating birthdays with cards and presents for years now, and it has, for many of them, become the one guarantee of proper birthday recognition and appreciation.

This particular evening, everyone had really gone all-out on thoughtful gifts. Inevitably, though, the Sisters began to speak of gift disappointments. Saltine told of the time her husband had bought her an appalling blood-red dress 3 sizes too big, and of the Mother's Day where, with ill-concealed delight in his gift-giving genius, he gave her 3 ordinary, unrelated and boring coffee mugs in a paper bag.

Pauline's tale of decades with no birthday cakes, EVER, still trumps everyone, although the Sisters made up for that a few years back. They showed up with their regular gifts and cards, and with a birthday cake each. She about fell out of her chair, and had cakes in the freezer for months to come.

The Sisters also shared stories of reactions to appalling gifts. Pauline always conceals her disappointment, because of how crushed her husband becomes when she responds instinctively, while Saltine is fortunate in a husband who can take a "What on earth were you thinking?!" with humor and grace. Nadine has the opposite problem - her husband is never happy with anything she gives him, despite her best efforts and the fact that she really is trying to make thoughtful, clever choices. Celine... well, apparently she and her husband are both blessed with Nifty Giftiness, and have no impressive tales of woe.

Gift Conundrums

It does seem like we rarely get what we might wish for when it comes to gifts. It's an almost impossible balance between surprise / effort / ingenuity / delight. If you tell someone exactly what to get, you lose the surprise and effort. If you don't tell them and they get something wrong, you lose the ingenuity and delight. And the burden of how to respond can make it even worse; in the case of a disappointing gift you can be honest and hurt the Giver, or lie and give the Giver a false contentment.

The Perfect Gift

Often we find ourselves longing for the perfect gift:

  • something we really long for
  • something we do not expect, and
  • something we didn't have to suggest to anyone

A perfect gift is more than a tangible Thing; it's also the implication that the Giver truly knows your heart and made a real effort to bring you joy.

We all have a couple of these rare, precious situations where we were given the perfect gift, but as we get older, decades stretch between, and we falsely say to ourselves and others that "Gifts don't matter that much when you get older," or "I can buy it for myself!" or "A gift certificate would be the smartest thing."

But we are disappointed. We don't want to seem childish so we pretend it makes no difference, but in our heart we long for Real Gifts. And yet there is absolutely nothing we can do to make them happen. So we might pray for a gracious attitude, or persuade ourselves that as adults, we are beyond feeling hurt by such small and unimportant things.

Even when we have been given the best gifts of all, family, life, good health, we have this human desire for something tangible in these gift-giving rituals, to remind us we are known and loved.

Cultivating Gift-Giving Genius

What can be done about this, you may ask. There is not much we can do to improve our chances of receiving such ideal gifts, beyond sharing information about ourselves, and revealing our personalities to those around us. But we can learn to improve the gifts we give. While some seem to have an innate talent for gift-giving, for most of us it is a skill like any other. It takes an open mind, a willingness to learn, and of course, practice.

If you are not among those naturally gifted at gift-giving, this is the blog for you.

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