Holiday Shopping Check-In: Chatting about Progress and Perfect Gifts

harold and kumar christmas

Ester: Hello! How’s your holiday shopping going?

Nicole: Well, I have the to-do list of people I need to shop for. And that’s it. I have yet to buy a single gift. How about you?

Ester: Ha! Well, that is a start. I’m in a funny situation, actually: I don’t know whether we’re having “Christmas” this year.

Nicole: No Christmas! That sounds like a premise for a holiday special! Maybe one with singing mice!

Ester: Totally. I think of Narnia: always winter and never Christmas. But it’s less of a curse and more of a blessing in our case, perhaps? Unless the people in my husband’s family change their minds at the last second and we have to scramble to spend money after all, it would kind of be nice to spend December doing something other than scavenging for sales.

Nicole: I like the idea of Christmas being “optional.” It’s like every year, everyone feels like they have to celebrate, regardless of what’s going on in their lives. I also like the idea of gift-optional holidays, and I feel like I’ve heard of people doing those, but maybe that is just an urban legend.

Ester: That sounds so exciting! I take it you’ve never had a gift-optional holiday? What’s your usual MO? How many people are you responsible for trying to make happy?

Nicole: Well, technically you can’t make someone happy. They choose to be happy themselves. Etc.

Ester: Don’t be ridiculous. I’m a middle child and the only girl; it’s my JOB to make people happy.

Nicole: Ha, and I’m the oldest one, it’s my job to … be responsible. I think that’s what I’m supposed to do. But to answer your question, I have five immediate family members to buy gifts for. (I tried to write that as “for whom to buy gifts” and it just felt wrong.)

Ester: Five isn’t too bad. No extended members to take care of? I have the hardest time with the in-laws and the steps and the people I know less well.

Nicole: No, our extended family is spread out and we don’t often get together for the holidays. When we do, we’ve done Secret Santa or White Elephant, so you only have to bring one extra gift.

Ester: That is THE DREAM. Well, one of the dreams. Another is to buy everything on Etsy from adorable, charming little shops and succeed in eliciting looks of shocked, bright-eyed gratitude from the recipients. But that’s also why I have trouble with these gift-giving holidays: my expectations are probably too high. I want to get everyone the perfect thing, something they secretly desired but never admitted to coveting. And also not spend all my money on it. It’s … tricky.

Nicole: I feel like that’s hard when people are adults, because if they have the financial capacity they can often buy what they covet. But for kids it is different, right?

Ester: True. You’re being logical again. Indeed in real life adults often give you lists, when is helpful but also kind of annoying or sad or something, because where’s the magic? Where’s the frisson of “I know and love you so well I can guess your deepest wish?”

Nicole: I’m still stuck on the idea of where that works for adults. Like, for kids, you’ve got Laura Ingalls getting her first-ever doll that isn’t made out of corn, and for adults, you’ve got this nonsense about watch fobs and hair combs. Or you’ve got Emma Thompson with her sad CD. Or… Every Kiss Begins With Kay.

Ester: Ha! Yes. I can’t even think of a good pop culture example of the weirdo ideal that’s been implanted in my mind for so long. Perhaps one will come to me. Meanwhile, though, what’s your secret dream present you wish someone would get for you? If money were no object.

Nicole: A bigger apartment with a kitchen. But I have to earn that on my own. It’s my quest story. How about you?

Ester: Probably a replacement pair of those La Canadienne boots. :) But the funny thing is I’m often more excited by a gift I hadn’t thought to want and yet can really use. Like, for college graduation, my aunt gave me a fancy grown-up purse. I brought it with me to job interviews in the city. Though it would have never occurred to me that a handbag was an important part of business-lady drag, it really was. It helped me feel like I belonged, and I appreciated that.

Nicole: Oh, wow! The best graduation present I got was a tool kit, hands down. But I wish I had gotten a great purse too.

Ester: A tool kit! That’s amazing. No one’s ever given me a tool kit. Did/do you know how to use it?

Nicole: Yes! Within reason. It is so helpful to have every type of screwdriver all in one place.

Ester: Very cool. You did draw an important distinction between things it feels more satisfying to buy for yourself and things that it’s fun to get as gifts. I’d rather buy an apartment than be given one too. Or rather, it felt amazing to be able to put together the down payment and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. But boots? I don’t care if I buy them for myself or someone gives them to me; I’m grateful either way. They don’t stand for something the way a house might. One doesn’t go on a quest for boots. Usually.

Nicole: No. They really are more “gifty” in the idea that someone can say “I think you deserve to have this.” Or “I think you need this in your life.”

Ester: Yes! And I thought of a good pop culture example. In one of my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels, Harriet Vane finally allows him to buy her a present — or two, even. First he buys her a dog collar to protect her neck while she prowls around after dark hoping to catch a murderer, and then he buys her this fancy frivolous chess set she’s been lusting after. Both presents are quite significant to their relationship and revealing in terms of their character. Again: high bar.

Nicole: Please tell me this is a mystery series about a man and his verbal, chess-playing dog.

Ester: Even better, these are mysteries about a man and his verbal, chess-playing, strong-personality-having lady love (a mystery writer herself) who resists him for years and years because he saves her life and she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s marrying him out of gratitude.

Nicole: Sorry, can’t type, literally LOL-ling. That is delightful.

Ester: I will buy you one as a present! You deserve it! :)



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