Published by the West Seattle Herald 10/05/2016.
I suppose it’s a privilege that I’ve never had to rely on Black Friday to do my Christmas shopping. I know some people get a thrill out of competing to collect big on the best deals, but I don’t like to feel rushed, herded through a crowd, or pressured to make a purchase. The only thrill I get out of Black Friday is the thrill of knowing a bunch of black cats are going to get homes that day, because the Humane Society waives their adoption fees. Nope, Black Friday comes and goes for me without much notice. I tend to stay home, digesting leftovers.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t get into the gift-giving spirit. Post-Thanksgiving, I feel silly with glee at the prospect of stumbling across perfect gifts for people I love over the next month—unexpected, clever, fun, thoughtful, useful gifts. Gifts that will be just what the recipient wanted, without realizing they wanted it. Gifts that are as satisfying as the end of a Sherlock Holmes novel, or a cup of hot chocolate spiced with chili. Gifts that say, “I love you AND I know you,” but which also give the recipient something new to sink their teeth into.
That’s the aim anyway. I almost never manage it. I think the closest I ever came was a painting I made for Deanna of an emo cow, complete with purple hair falling over its face and tears streaming from its eyes, crying out in a caption above it, “Emooooooooooo!” In all my gift-giving attempts ever since, I measure my success against the look of bewildered joy Deanna’s face made when she unwrapped that painting years ago.
Of course, there are shortcuts. The most extravagant Christmas gift I’ve ever seen given was the brand new, crimson, racing-striped mini cooper my stepdad Chris got for my mom. Of course, it was the perfect gift because it was exactly what my mom wanted, and exactly what she wouldn’t splurge on for herself. But that wasn’t the whole of it. If you can afford it, it’s easy to blow someone away with unapologetic generosity. Rather, Chris’s gift-giving genius came in the presentation. He had managed to keep the purchase a secret, and first presented my mom with a toy version of the car to unwrap. He let her sit with the toy version a while, pretending that was the extent of it—“You know, because you like mini coopers!”—before he invited her to go take a look at the real thing parked outside.
Something new for me this year: Christmas cards. Growing up, I was rarely one to give or receive them, because nearly everyone I might send a card to I already spent the winter holidays with in person. All the same, this year I got the wild craving to take the cards Oma collected and gave to me—blank greeting cards from animal shelters with pictures of cats on them—, make them Christmas-y with stickers and gel pens, and send them off to friends across the country. As I get older, a simple gesture of acknowledgement a card represents seems more and more like a truly fine gift—especially if it involves some creative, irreverent orchestration of cat, metallic Sharpie, and glittery snowflake sticker.
The same wild craving is responsible for something else that’s new for me this year: a Christmas tree. Don’t get me wrong; like many other culturally-European Americans, my family has always put up a Christmas tree. Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I pile into my stepdad’s truck and ride the caravan of aunts and uncles out to one of those you-cut tree farms in Maple Valley. While the adults prowl around the grounds, debating height, diameter, trunk size, and dimension (“I want a Jabba-the-Hut-tree!” my stepdad Chris proclaims every year), I wander around absentmindedly, sipping cider and enjoying the fresh air. But not this year. This year, my Chris and I took up the mission and chopped down our very own tree. Like a pair of adults.
Like a family. Because the only discernable difference about this year is that Chris and I are together, and never before outside of the family I grew up in have I ever felt so a part of a family. It’s our unexpected, incredible gift to ourselves.