Christmas is over five weeks away and I just bought myself a present. I grew up in the UK and my Indian parents would bring a plastic Christmas tree down from the loft. It was small. Fast forward thirty-three years and I am married to a German. Christmas is celebrated on 24 December with a real tree that is chosen for its magnitude and I spend a significant amount of time during the festive period on my hands and knees sweeping up an avalanche of pine needles.
Over the years as our family has grown, choosing gifts has become stressful. Despite the best intentions not to go overboard, our desire to please each other inevitably results in a mountain of gifts that are ripped open and quickly forgotten. The kids are beside themselves with glee, and torn pieces of wrapping paper fall from the sky like snow as we lose track of who gave what to whom. It is happy and exasperating mayhem.
I think long and hard about what gifts to buy. Kids love the same en vogue toys which make their mothers groan. Do you play to the likes of family (“no, I am not buying you a box of cigarettes, granddad”) or go the education route (“how about this book on Imran Khan, dad?”), or try and force some much needed relaxation on them (“we couldn’t possibly take the time out for that spa day, Nillu”)? What’s wrong with another perfume or scarf for mum, or a pair of socks or aftershave for dad, you might ask?
Photo by Kevin Dooley
But what if there are some significant misfires in your present history? Like the time I was given a clothing item I turned upside down and inside out, none the wiser to what it was, before dissolving into fits of giggles in front of the mortified present giver. And when my mum visited recently and brought us some toothpaste and a box of tampons. Make of that what you will!
It’s the thought that counts. We are lucky enough to be in a position that all of our needs are fulfilled. The rising wave of seasonal materialism can leave a bitter taste in the mouth especially when the world feels bleak. There’s nothing to say we need to give presents, or that we shouldn’t give them to others instead.
Except we all want to feel loved and it is a joy to open a thoughtfully chosen present wrapped up in glistening red, green and gold on Christmas morning. So what if we disregard the surprise factor and ask for what we want? I’m not very good at accepting gifts or compliments, for that matter. When I am asked what I would like to receive, all sound thoughts evacuate my mind and I am left with a very guilt-ridden “oh, but you don’t need to buy me anything”.
Still, let’s face it, there is enough potential for clashes during the festive season – over what kind of gravy to make and whether Brussels sprouts are a must-have or a smelly no-no – to be coy about what we would like. If pressed, my wish list would read:
- A new set of pans because frankly the ones I still have from university are embarrassing
- Some free time for a lie in and then a whole day of writing
- A massage not restricted to one hour (who doesn’t feel disappointed when the time is up?)
- A bath without my two year old coming in and shouting “boobies!” at the top of his voice
- A weekend at a yoga retreat to see if the enlightened me I think may be lurking inside is really there
- A glass of wine that is invisible to my stricter-than-me Muslim parents for when the conversation gets really boring
My favourite presents tend to be the ones I buy myself. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s a very happy mix of self-love and control-freak. The present I just ordered for myself is this planner, which is a hybrid of journal, calendar and goal setter. I am very excited (although I will break down and cry if the second edition has the typos which reviewers said were in the first edition).
What makes seasonal festivals special – Eid, Christmas, Diwali, Thanksgiving, you name it – is feeling loved, connected and grateful for what we have. Presents have somehow become central to our experience of Christmas, but my favourite parts of it are: the quiet moment when everyone is round the table and too busy eating to speak, carols being sung unexpectedly in the street, and the lights. The lights are awesome. As for presents, here is my letter to Santa.
please bring me a present which is cheap and useful but shows me you know who I am.
Over to you. What is in your letter to Santa? What are the best gifts you have received and have given?