Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Shopping

I'm making progress on my Christmas shopping, which mostly involves ordering things online after I've browbeaten and nagged my relatives into telling me what they'd like. It's our holiday tradition, and it's exhausting — not the shopping so much as the conversations. As I understand it, they test my affection for  them by seeing how hard I will work to drag a viable response from them. Other families knit sweaters or make crafts as presents present. We sometimes make mild threats or create mayhem, but it ends there.

Those of us in the middle generation take a reasonable amount of pity on each other; we like gift cards and keep Amazon wish lists, and we don't play hard to get. Much. There was that year or two when my brother asked me what I wanted, and all I could say was, "I want our mother back." Just being able to tell it to somebody who really understood was a gift.

The younger generation is more difficult. I have to work hard to make most of them admit they want anything — except for my youngest niece, who always requests one or two of the new celebrity perfumes. This year, I visited fragrance departments in Lord & Taylor, Macy's, and Saks, asking for "Britney Spears's Radiance,"quickly explaining that it was for a teenager — not for me! No one carries it around here. I ordered it online from Elizabeth Arden, who seems like an odd bed-fellow, if you will, for Miss Spears. So I couldn't even smell it, but the bottle does look very pretty.  But that's okay; my niece is crazy about it. I'm also getting an 8-piece, non-Britney, gift-with-purchase, including that old EA favorite, Eight Hour Cream.

The older generation carries the torch in the hard-to-get and hard-to-get-stuff-for departments. "Call us back, we're having dinner." "Oh, it's too early to think about that." "Call us back at 10, after the Rosary." (You can pray the Rosary, led by a nun or priest, on TV at 9:20, on some Catholic channel. Keep that in mind if you ever need an emergency prayer session or you want to lull yourself into a stupor at 9:30 pm. I'm all set; my relatives pray for me every night, and a stupor is my natural state most of the time.)

Once I manage to keep the older folks on the phone, the real fun begins. They use the wish-list tradition as an opportunity to prove they've still got plenty of muscle, volume, and energy, even if it's all passive-aggressive and negative. "We don't need anything." "Oh, c'mon. You don't have to get me anything this year." "No one can give me the things I want..." (my favorite). "DON'T get me ANYTHING. I DON'T WANT ANYTHING." "Well, let me think about it.... Nah. Nothin'." "I'm too OLD for Christmas presents."

Eventually I wear them down and they admit that they would like restaurant gift certificates or a gift card for wine. There's also the sneak attack: They'll be going on, and on, about what they had for lunch and I'll suddenly break in with, "Do you need a new umbrella?" or "Do you want more Moravian cookies?" Catching them off-guard can trigger an honest, unedited response.

With my dad, I get results if I threaten to buy toys for homeless children in his name as his present. I think it's a wonderful idea, and I'd love to do it in his honor. But it makes my Smile-Train-Fanatic father upset. He gives to many charities, and he's just told me, emphatically, that he doesn't want a single Christmas present from me or anyone else. But if I bring up the toy donation plan, he'll finally admit that the soles of his slippers are worn through or his favorite belt is broken.

It wouldn't be Christmas without these struggles. I wouldn't have it any differently, except that I wish that all the equally rebellious and cagey relatives we've lost over the years were still around to join the fray. I hope they're listening in on the action from wherever they are — it's mainly conducted by phone (land-line) — enjoying the sarcasm, sparring, protests, and surprise tactics. Because it's worth it. There is nothing more fun than watching everyone unwrap their presents, and my dad never looks happier than when he has a big pile of wrapped gifts piled in front of him. With that picture firmly in my mind, I continue my Christmas quest.

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