Holiday Angst, Nicely Gift-Wrapped

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Holiday Angst, Nicely Gift-Wrapped

What Does Giving Really Mean To the Person Buying the Present And to the One Receiving It? And Which One Truly Benefits Most?

As a child, I believed Christmas to be the most perfect, wonderful holiday of all. Like most children, I believed in all the myths about Christmas and would fantasize about Santa Claus coming to my house on Christmas Eve in a golden sleigh pulled by reindeers. I knew that all summer long Santa and his team of elves had been busy making toys at the gift factory.

My first disappointment came when I learned that Santa Claus did not exist. It wasn't too much of a shock because by then I had realized the story sounded too good to be true, and my friends had
also told me how their parents usually hid their presents the night before Christmas. In the end, Mom and Dad just flat out told me that they were in fact the closest thing to the idea of Santa Claus and that as long as they were around I could expect Christmas presents.

My second and even bigger disappointment came when Mom and Dad, who were supposed to be my Santa Claus twins per se, did not get me the gift I wanted the following year. I had done all the supposed good deeds to please them, and even indirectly hinted that I very much wanted a doll house, which I thought was a reasonable request. But, instead I got a box of chocolates and a pair of mittens.

Now as an adult, Christmas is nothing but a cold, stark reality. Growing older means a gradual shift of roles: as a child, one seeks pleasure in receiving, and as an adult, I'm supposed to receive pleasure in giving. At least that's what my parents taught me as the oldest child in our family.

This year for Christmas, I made a list of names of people to whom I want to give something. I started off with a few dozen names, but after slashing through one here and another there, I painfully shortened my list to about half, including only those for whom I absolutely must buy a gift and a few lucky ones.

Out on the busy streets of downtown, the price tags of attractive gift items shatter my idea of being Santa. Gulping down my frustration, I try to comfort myself. Isn't life a process of give and take? - Fair enough, that's a healthy attitude, I think to myself. Still, the price tag eats away at me. What about that sweater I wanted to get the other day... Christmas is supposed to be the spirit of giving, but this is a pain!

The degree of kindness and attention I receive from the sales person is proportionate to the amount of cash the register will ring up. The degree of gratitude expressed is inevitably dependent on the final amount signed into my checkbook. Shouldn't the receiver appreciate a present for the thought and effort put into buying it? But this isn't the case, the gift is only appreciated for the value it holds to the owner. It's this guilty fear that I've purchased the wrong item that makes me constantly calculate whether I spent enough money and whether I made the right selection. I begin to feel all the more uneasy about the whole ordeal and think about the hypocrisy of giving to others. All too superficial, all too beguiling.

My childhood fancy-turned holiday angst makes me wonder whether I am being an adequate giver. I remind myself that the recipient's needs come first. I also tell myself that I should learn to appreciate the humongous bill that will reduce my salary to chicken feed, not to mention prevent me from purchasing much-needed items for myself.

I think that a giver should to some degree bear responsibility for the satisfaction of the receiver. I should consider heartfelt appreciation from the recipient a blessing, not a requirement. Blaming oneself for buying a gift that has not been properly understood, or at its worst, has simply been forgotten by the recipient is useless.

The receiver who does show adequate appreciation merely shows a certain naivete and how little experience that person has in the ways of giving. Quite simply, when one is the giver, he or she gains the knowledge, through a rapid alternation of focus, of how to show appropriate thanks to someone else, and can reciprocate this appreciation when their role changes from giver to receiver. It is a blissful experience to obtain the heart of a giver, as it is only a giver's heart that can truly comprehend the pleasure of receiving.

by Ines Cho

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