I grew up in a sharply divided household when it came to gift-giving. On the one side, I had a brother that began compiling his list of demands wish list around July; on the other, I had a mother that took great glee in tracking down and neatly wrapping the perfect thing that the recipient didn’t even know she wanted. Personally, I was always uncomfortable making a list of items that I wanted for Christmas– I had survived my entire life without That Single Magical Item, so who was I to be demanding things? (Seriously, I don’t know how I had this much guilt about asking for presents as a child.) I was content to be vague (“I don’t know…books?”) and generally be pretty psyched on Christmas morning when I tore into a new set of belongings that had been selected with my tastes and preferences in mind. Gift-giving, to me, was more than fulfilling a wish: it was tapping into unstated wants and showing that the giver really knew the recipient.
Now that I’ve typed that out, I can see that it is at least partially crazy. How am I supposed to know what every single person on my list deeply desires? What if there really is One Big Thing that they really want? (I know that, if I had been a more normal child, I would probably understand this better. Alas.) I’m happy to report that a) I’ve found ways to work with those in my life who are list-makers and expect me to be, too, and b) I’m getting better at making lists myself.
When my parents divorced, I was in the position of having “two” Christmases; what this really amounted to was a semi-elaborate scheme in which my brother and I would spend Christmas eve and the early part of Christmas morning at one parent’s house, and the rest of Christmas day at the other parent’s house (now that I’m married, it’s a whole new…adventure, but that’s another post). Here is a completely unsurprising fact about my parents: they are completely different. In contrast to my mom’s aforementioned knack for picking the Exact Right Thing, my dad had spent most of his adult life working from a list (my mom is a “better happy than surprised” person), and he expected to be able to do the same now that he was shopping on his own. In an attempt to end up surprised when we opened gifts, I would suggest and try on so many things that I couldn’t possibly remember all the possibilities, and did manage to achieve a decent level of surprise when I pried open the Fed Ex boxes that he enjoyed covering with gift wrap. (He gets the packaging materials free from work, and gets a sick amount of joy from watching us struggle with the tricky openings. We earn our Christmas gifts.)
GP comes from a Christmas-list-making family– they even buy things for each other months in ahead of time, call it a Christmas gift, and are done with it. Now, for a “must be surprised!!!” person like me, this has taken some getting used to. MaGP is a great gift giver because she is well attuned to the things I like; she’s gotten me some lovely purses, great books, and one of my favorite kitchen tools. GP, however, requires a bit more guidance, so I’ve moved into the dad-method of gift-suggesting, creating a list so exhaustive that I can’t possibly know ahead of time what’s under the tree. And, so far? It’s working really well. He knows I’ll be happy with what he buys, doesn’t have to give in to what he sees as a crazy “this gift is an indication of how well I know you and how I feel about you” belief system, and I am thrilled and surprised when I get to unbox my new treasures.
Are you a Christmas list maker? How do you pick gifts for your friends, family, significant other…?