How hard can it be to give a gift? You buy something notionally cool ($→Bezos), wrap it in coloured bark, and set it in the hands of the recipient.
But then, evaluatations…Judgements!
Yes, we as a social species are painfully complicated when it comes to interactions between two individual. Beyond the classic “Will it hurt me?” and “Can I mate with it?”—questions that arise when two animals encounter each other—human gift-giving entails the perils of social taboo, careful assessments of ulterior motives, and chess-like manoeuvering and escalation of action.
Yesterday, my breakfast with the esteemed members of the wiser generation included an unexpected helping of emotional discussion.
Who should my mother-in-law invite to Christmas? Should invitations follow standards of personal preference, familiar duties, social norms, or immediate necessities? Should she cook that which she wants, or something expected by her guests, or as according to social expectations, or to maximise the extravagance of the menu until within an inch nervous breakdown?
All reasonable expectations, within the bounds of our irrational society.
And that’s not even including the lose-lose dilemma of one-uppance in giving presents (“Well now this is embarrassing— he sent me a present and I didn’t get anything for him”).
If Jesus were alive today (and if we’re not assuming he’s metaphorically alive in your non-anatomical heart); that is, if a corporeal Jesus we invited to your standard Western consumerist Christmas party of 2021, he’d be horrified. Or at least, as horrified as could be, as one of sublime grace.
[Replace “Jesus” with whichever noble religious figure is most familiar to you, as needed.]
And the irony wouldn’t be lost on him that this neurotic, judgemental, and ruthlessly decadent circus was in his honour.
Money willingly doled out to the richest man in the world, products made and delivered at the expense of a withering rainforest, commodities received to the chagrin or disappointment of recipient, the giver being thanked with the judging eye of social comparison and greedy expectation, and neurotic attempts to cook and decorate things well above one’s ability, or salary.
Do we have a term for “Christmas-related burnout”?
I find it amusing and not entirely displaced, that Chilly Gonzalez has taken all our classical joyous Christmas songs and dropped them into mournful minor keys (an excellent alternative, by the way, to anyone who’s had their fill of plastic-pop or light-swing renditions).
The breakfast discussion of who to invite, and associated dilemma of what then to cook, raged on around me, as I continued as best I could to mindfully chew my toast.
The local-made jam was brilliant.
An exasperated plea for validation (or perhaps it was vindication) was called for from me across the table, and my first input to this debate was a non-verbal response, to take the edge off the frantic interchanges. A few more minutes to simmer down, and then I offered my piece — the summary of an internal dissertation I’d gathered in my head for 20 minutes, the fruits of such luxury afforded the introvert who has some elementary mastery in focusing his attention.
“The purpose of a gift, is it not?, is to bring something good into the life of the recipient, to strengthen the connection between giver and receiver.”
Admittedly, I still have not yet determined if one is incumbent on the other. The artfully-given gift likely includes in equal measure both the relational bonding and the recipient’s uplifting.
“If a gift is procured amidst onerous aggravation, given perfunctorily in irate disinterest, and received with disdainful reluctance, then might we say, it is in fact no longer a gift?”
With that, I closed my side of the debate.
And I continued enjoying that fantastic marmalade.
Especially amongst elders, I’m loth to merely drop my opinion in as prescribed course of action. Far more nourishing and simultaneously courteous is to proffer some cud to chew on.