Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I'm Getting Crap for Christmas

Welcome to Jamie's Survival Guide for the Holidays.
If you have questions of suggestions of your own, please email me.
Otherwise, no matter how or what you celebrate, good luck to you.

It's that time of the year again.

That awful time of the year when wrinkled packages sit sagging underneath a dying, be-baubled plant, and you just know they contain crap, but crap you'll have to pretend to be grateful for.

That's been my experience, anyway.

Christmas is supposed to be a time for families to gather near, but I swear, December seems to be the time that my family meets me again for the first time.

Around the first of the month, I like to ring up and reintroduce myself:

Hi, Mum. It's me, Jamie. You know, your first born, the one you named after your brother? Remember me? I slept just down the hall from you for 18 years or so. I like kitchen gadgets, literature, recycling, and Tenacious D. You may recognize me from family portraits and special appearances in the earlier photo albums. Is any of this ringing a bell? Hello? Hello?

But this rarely works. Despite my best attempts to familiarize my family with me, their gifts always seem to be the results of a last-minute dash to walmart where the first thing falling under the theme "girl, age 10-76" was purchased and labeled with my name, and if it was found on the sales table containing last year's kitsch, all the better.

So, I get crap for Christmas.

It started when I was a kid. Of course I got some lovely gifts over the years, but I also got some real head-scratchers. One year I got a puzz-3D of Cinderella's castle. Now let's consider, for a moment, that my mother had no indication that I enjoyed puzzles, or games of any kind, or castles, or Cinderella, or anything other than clothes and music. I looked at the puzz-3D, hoping it had ended up in my pile accidentally, and if against all odds it had been intended for me, that we could all move on and allow it to start collecting dust sometime very, very soon. But no, my mother insisted I at least give it a try, so I opened the box to find 8000 identical gray pieces and thought to myself Either I'm adopted, or my mother hates me. The next year my mother gave my sisters and I a joint gift, and we unwrapped a dazzling 3-storey, 4 foot tall Barbie house. I was 14 years old. As my sisters squealed in delight, I retreated to my bedroom to listen to the Smashing Pumpkins and read some Sylvia Plath. Barbie house? Hello? Do I even exist to you people? What about my Doc Martens and my 90210 posters tells you I might be interested in a Barbie house?

These days though, I would be thankful for a puzz-3D. Now that I'm an adult the window for crap is open wide and the possibilities are endless.

The kiss of death Christmas crap is no doubt stationary. Nothing says "I have no idea who you are or what you like, so I got you this inoffensive gift which was sitting conveniently in the impulse-purchase aisle for $9.99" like a box of generic stationary. I remember when I was a kid, my mother would alternate getting my grandmother (her mother in law) a brooch and a box of stationary every year, because what else do you get an old woman who has no wants or desires or personal style? But then a few years ago, I began unwrapping some stationary sets of my own. What the hell? I'm 25 years old, what the fuck do I want with paper adorned with light houses and seagulls? I'm going to write to all my white-haired, dentured, old-biddy friends to tell them which of my peers has recently died of natural causes? I don't think so.

A close second, crap-wise, is of course, the dreaded bubble bath. This again reminds me of my grandmother who always was gifted with, and as a consequence of, smelled strongly of, Fa. Apparently I do not even rate Fa; mostly I receive junk I'm pretty sure comes from the dusty shelves of the dollar store. And sometimes a capfull of the dollar store junk is missing because someone in the family has bought it, ran a bath for themselves, discovered that it smells suspiciously like burnt hair, and pawned the remains off on me, me who is apparently too dumb to notice that the seal has been broken (my sisters also gift me with clothes they no longer want, the tags cut out and the sweaters already pilling). Now, this is the same family who laughed at my hives when I came into contact with any foreign substance, who grimaced at my red eyes when they got anything as abrasive as clean water in them, who laughed when my face broke out when I so much as looked the wrong way at a jar of Noxema. The very family who ostensibly know me to be the most sensitive-skinned person in the world, and yet gift me with cheap-ass bubble bath because nothing says I love you like a bottle of crap so drying that my skin will flake off and I will be unable to self-lubricate for weeks on end! Oh the joy!

And I won't even mention the fact that I don't have a bathtub.

And how many pairs of isotoner slippers does one girl need? Answer: 0. Only old ladies wear isotoner slippers, and I'm talking long flannel nightgowns and fake teeth in a glass on the nightstand.

Two years ago I got a real piece of crap, in the shape of gold and diamonds. It was a "pendant" and it came in one of those cute little boxes from the jewelry store. And I hated it. I mean, truly, did not like it. Because am I a yellow-gold and diamonds kind of girl? No, I am not. I hate dainty. I hate anything that hangs on a "chain'. I own nothing of the sort, have admired nothing of the sort. Anyone who knows me knows I would much prefer a $10 necklace of glass or wooden beads. Anyone who knows me knows that I think yellow gold is repulsive. Anyone who knows me knows that diamond pendants don't really go with a wardrobe consisting of Ramones t-shirts and Converse. But I have long ago accepted that my mother quite simply does not know me. Sure they say it's the thought that counts, but when the thought behind your gifts seems to be "You probably won't like this, but hey, it was on sale!" and "Woops, we sure did forget about you!", then screw the thought and demand for cash.

My mother-in-law is great for that, she gives gift certificates, and even if some think them impersonal, I can tell you this: her thank-you-note is the only one that doesn't make me weep to write. My other mother-in-law seems to forget my existence every single year, and so I get something out of her "stock" pile, usually things she's bought from various candle parties over the years. I mean, how many dorky candle holders that don't match my decor (or my age bracket) can I really fit underneath my bed? Not many more, I can tell you that.

So to keep the peace, I unwrap these gifts and cart them home where I will dutifully assign them a corner space in my cupboard until I do my spring cleaning, when I will then throw out the crap with relief. And in order to survive the holidays, I have learned this:

Fake the most sincere gratitude that you possibly can, and treat yourself to the gifts you deserve.

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