Gift giving is an art form. Some excel at it, others – not so much

Dec. 23, 2019 | G. Michael Dobbs

As you read this column, Christmas is done. There is still plenty of time for the rest of the holiday season – it doesn’t end until the Epiphany on Jan. 5 – but at least the most arduous part of the season is over.

I’m talking about gift giving. I know you thought I was talking about running the gauntlet of family activities with people you see several times a year and you’re glad for it.

I love seeing people open a gift and express joy. It’s very fulfilling.

Giving that right gift is an art form – sometimes I’ve mastered it, sometimes I’ve failed.

My record though is better than my Uncle Paul’s when I was a kid. My father’s only sibling, Paul, seemed to excel in sending my brother and me gifts that would be quite inappropriate.

For instance, when I was a little kid he sent a toy toolbox to me. Now, my dad was a furniture maker and the house was full of tools. Today such toys are plastic. Back in 1960, they were miniature metal tools – a real working saw and hammer.

That’s what you give a six-year-old. We were a hearty generation.

I nearly ruined a commissioned piece of furniture my dad made with my saw. Luckily for me, I was sawing away happily using the flat side of the saw rather than the side with the teeth.

And that hammer? My brother knocked the family dog out with it. My father recalled trying to rush to my brother as he saw him raise the hammer over his head but he was too late. I really don’t think he meant anything by it – he was a little kid – but the dog never liked him much after that.

The tool set went missing soon after.

A few years later, Paul also sent a set of boxing gloves. Now, my brother and I were typical brothers: we fought frequently. We really didn’t need a set of gloves to encourage fisticuffs.

My mom also made sure the gloves made their way into the same place errant socks go.

When I was on WREB radio in the 1980s, one of the sales reps wrote a commercial for a local vacuum cleaner store. He crafted a narrative that this would be the perfect gift for any woman.

I’ve never met a woman – or man for that matter – who saw a vacuum cleaner as a gift. It’s a necessary tool, but not a “No, you shouldn’t have!” gift.

I wondered if that is what he brought home for a gift for his spouse?

Unless requested – and I’ve never heard any woman say what they want for Christmas is a vacuum or a new washer or refrigerator – appliances are necessary tools, not personal gifts.

I once sent my brother a gift for his eldest son Matthew for Christmas that I knew would get me in trouble: a gumball bank. The kid loved it – I saw a video – and the moment he opened the box the look on my brother’s face said it all.

The beauty of the gumball bank is the three levels of problems it can cause. First, the kid will bug the parent for coins to put in the bank. Second, the kid will do this all day, spitting out gumballs as soon as they lose their flavor. Third, then the kid will bug the parent to buy more gumballs.

Drums just make noise. A gumball bank does much, much more damage.

I see items every year that I truly wonder if people actually give them as presents. I spotted a Golden Girls Chia Pet at Walgreen’s and think, “Are there actually people who want to grow a plant on a sculpture of Estelle Getty?”

I’ve met a person who does.

I hope your gift giving was successful and that you received gifts that mean something. Merry Christmas.

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