Friday, November 23, 2007

Can't Buy Me Love

"Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can't buy /
I don't care too much for money; money can't buy me love"

Today is Black Friday, the busiest shopping day across the United States. There were people lined up outside of many retail outlets at the ass crack of dawn this morning, waiting to storm the gates for the very latest must-have inane Elmo toy. Or, in the case of this shopper, a big ol' fancy teevee.

[John Gress/Reuters]

I like to call this official start to the holiday season Hell on Earth.

Every year I resolve to buy Christmas gifts piecemeal when I see them on sale or something and stash them away for Christmas. If executed properly, my plan would pluck me from the depths of Hell on Earth, and save me from dealing with holiday crowds and relentless holiday marketing. This plan never works, for two reasons.

1) My hate for shopping burns brighter than the twin suns of Tatooine. Therefore, I don't go to stores or to the mall unless I absolutely MUST. And when I go, I take a list and buy only what is on it. Stick and move, man. Stick and move. I don't really window-shop except at the antique or thrift store and there are only a handful of people in my life who share my penchant for previously loved items.

2) If I do manage to buy gifts throughout the year that would be great for Christmas, I tend to give those gifts away to the people I bought them for almost as soon as I buy them. I like instant gratification [who doesn't?] and I usually can't wait to see the looks on people's faces when they get their unexpected treat on a random Tuesday.

So I end up in the same damn place I swore I wouldn't be in the year before: shopping at the last minute. Goddess bless online retail. It's the only thing that makes holiday shopping bearable.

In recent years, a Great Evil has risen like a bloated leviathan from the murky depths of consumerism to haunt the already nightmarish landscape of shopping for your loved ones. It is the small, hard plastic abomination called a Gift Card. I have looked it dead in the eye and seen that IT HAS NO SOUL. AAAAAAAGGGHHH!!!

A section of my family [who shall remain nameless for their protection] LOVE gift cards. They claim that gift cards make life easier, both for the giver and the receiver. The giver no longer has to agonize over "What should I get for my cousin who likes grilling food and building things with his hands?!" Answer? A gift card to Home Depot, apparently. Receivers of the Great Evil gift card can then simply go to Home Depot and buy whatever they want or need, as long as it's done before the card's expiration date.

On the surface, gift cards are convenient, but mostly for the giver. I can't count the number of times I have forgotten about gift cards given to me until about a week before the expiration date. Then I'm forced to go to the specific store and spend the money on things I didn't necessarily want or need, but as long as I'm here and I have to spend this money... anyone need a wooden fruit buggerer-- um, I mean citrus fucker-- dangit, I mean lemon reamer? Only slightly *ehem* used.

Also? Can we talk about the inherent silliness of exchanging gift cards? Here's what happens:

Receiver 1: [unwraps thin, tiny package] Oh, it's a $50 gift card to Best Buy. Thanks!

Receiver 2/Giver 1: You're welcome. Merry Christmas! [unwraps similar thin, tiny package] Ah, it's a $50 gift card to IKEA. Thanks!

Receiver 1/Giver 2: You're welcome. Merry Christmas!

IT'S THE SAME FUCKING FIFTY DOLLARS! Givers are just limiting the places where the receivers could spend that money. They could save each other the time and effort and agree to get each other nothing but the joy and relief of not having to buy one more damn gift. Or soulless gift card.

And another thing: there's no mystery, no surprise, no allure in a gift card. If you're handed a thin, tiny package wrapped with giftwrap nibs from the end of the roll, you KNOW it's a bloody gift card! Half the fun of getting Christmas presents is trying to guess what you got by shaking the box or assessing the shape or using x-ray glasses that you won with Cracker Jack boxtop-- you get my point.


If I had my way--and I hardly ever do--I would get my family to institute a $200 limit on all gifts. Not each gift, but ALL gifts. I think that would bring some imagination and inspiration back to Christmas gift-giving. It might lead to some very creative gifts like handcrafted photo collages and homemade jams. Laurel's homemade jams and sauces are among my favorite gifts every year. Mmm... jalapeƱo jam... Funny that out of all the gifts I have given in the last three years, my Prairie Wife Jammy Jam also seems to come out on top as the one that people remember most.

I wish we could have grown-up Christmas craft bazaars like the ones from elementary school, where I would pool my allowance for weeks to get gifts for both my parents and both my siblings. Since I usually only had $30 or $40 to spend, it made me really think about what to get for each of them, something small but well-thought-out. Anyone can spend money on gifts, but do you remember what it was like to spend time?

If you don't know who sang this song, then you're not old enough to read this blog.
Run along now. Go on.

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