The high cost of giving

It's not the thought that counts, it's the price. Christmas is the time to discover what you really mean to your friends. By Paul McDermott.

That joyous time is here again. That time of peace on earth and goodwill to all men* and universal happiness and unbridaled greed. Just a few more days to discover how much you are loved.

It is unrealistic to equate emotion with expenditure, but it is something we all do. As the presents are handed out from under the tree, our minds are engaged in mathematical gynastics. How much was that? Where was it found? Were there many others like it?

At Christmas there are numerical equations that indicate how much you are cared for, how much you are loved. The cost of the item (gift) over the income of the giver (approx) multipled by the amount of time spent searching is equal to the sum of their affection. With certain items, say a pair of pajamas, I wouldn't even bother with the maths.

Christmas is a terrifying time, when we tread a tightrope between lose and gain, love and hate. It is a time of judgement and assessment. It is a time of defining ourselves in relation to others and we do this by comparing. Comparing what we got to what they got. You gave a state-of-the-art handmade juicer from Dusseldorf that took two weeks to find, she gave a pair of nylon mix socks from Target. The juicer was $628 less $2.50 for the socks- that comes to a loss of $625.50.

It is an awkward situation, but just as awkward the other way around. You're suddenly aware that the giver has greater regard for you than you previously thought. You should also be aware they are simultaneously discovering, as they rip open the wrapping of a bargain basement CD of 70's love songs (**) you picked up at the newsagent, that you couldn't give a toss about them.

It is a time for questions. How many items of rubbish can I grab at the $2 shop, put in a box and send to the relatives I never see to make it appear I care? Can I make a family of five happy for $10 including postage?

And though you are loath to admit it, it is a time for getting what you want. In the months preceding the big day you've hinted at the perfect gift. You thought you were subtle, casually dropping the name of the object into every conversation for the past three months. You discussed your favourite colour, left notes on the fridge, when the ad appeared on TV you fainted with desire. If you had written it in blood on your forehead it couldn't have been more obvious.

Then the moment of truth arrives when you tear away the wrapping paper and the gift is not quite what you were expecting. The look of sadness that slurries across your face is impossible to disguise. That pretense of a smile curling into a sneer. The moisture in the corner of your eyes. That interminable silence as the room awaits your reaction. There is only one response you can ever make: "I love it! WOW! Who would have thought of that for a present? A batik handbag and a plastic folding straw-look sunhat. Only you Nan, only you could have got me that."

Even when given the option of an easy out we fail to take it. How often have you stood there inanely smiling while a voice says, "if it doesn't fit yo can take it bake, or swap it for something you like".

You want to be honest but you find yourself lying. "No, it looks great on me!" You long to say, in as gentle way as possible, "it's the wrong colour, the wrong size, I hate it! Get me something decent! I don't care if its 11am on Christmas Day. Take it back! How could you think, even in your most deluded fantasy, that I would think that this is attractive?"

Your mind is screaming, "It's crap!" But the words that dribble out of your mouth are "no, no, it's fine. It'll stretch".

With all this talk about buying presents and the cost of living, you may think I have lost the Christmas spirit. You may think I have forgotten the true meaning of the festive season. And you're right, Christmas is not about buying things, its about selling them at outlandishly high prices.

* This is a sadly archaic phrase that does not extend "goodwill" to all our sisters. ** Not by the original artists.

Typed up by kplacing from the MOSH!!! board.

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