It was the Fall of 2000, “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” had been stuck in my head for at least three straight months, and I wanted more. I was about to celebrate my 13th birthday, and little did I know that my mom was about to give me one of the best gifts I’d ever receive, a valuable lesson that she would continue giving me well into my adult life. A lesson about how to give the perfect gift. At that age, I didn’t think that was a lesson to be taught. The perfect gift was obvious; I’d asked for an Eiffel 65 CD, so of course that was what my mom had picked up, right? Imagine my surprise when I opened this:
Hey folks, I’ll have a post up about PAX: Unplugged in a couple weeks, but since we’re right in the swing of the holiday season I wanted to write about gifts. If your here for the nerd shit then don’t worry, I’ll be showing off my favorite dice at the end of the post.
I’ve learned a lot about Christmas since I started dating the babe. Turns out some families operate completely differently than mine. Some families actually try and get the folks in their life exactly what they want for Christmas. Where is the fun in that? Where is the surprise? Maybe you’re one of these folks, and if so I’m hoping that today I can lure you over to Chaotic Festive by convincing you that the quest for the perfect gift is ridiculous and misses the point of giving a gift at all.
Alright now before you think I’m throwing my family completely under the bus, let’s have some context. Growing up the most important thing about our family Christmas was that it felt magical. Waking up on that morning was always going to be a mixture of wonder and bewilderment, and you had to be able to believe for just a little bit that the whole thing had been whisked into existence by a jolly, over-sized chimney sweep. This meant that making the Christmas list was a delicate poker match with my mom, because you always had to leave enough room for her to flabbergast you. Especially once I got to the age where I was hoping for specific things, less “a sled” and more “the Turbo Man action figure with the arms and legs that move and the boomerang shooter and his rock'n roller jet pack and the realistic voice activator that says *five* different phrases!” I learned that the quickest way to guarantee that I wouldn’t see something under the tree was to put it on my list by the letter. I had to make vague insinuations. I couldn’t just come out and say Lord of the Rings, but “a book about elves going on a quest,” at least got me in the ballpark:
For those keeping score, the Elfstones of Shannara is the sequel to a book that I wouldn’t read for another three Christmases.
Meanwhile, on the other axis of Christmas Alignment is my dad, a textbook Lawful Grinch. While my mom and I were playing Yule Tide Battleship my dad would spend the weeks before Christmas buying himself things that he wanted. He taught me the icy, bloodless, December lesson that there is no point in buying someone a gift that they could have easily bought for themselves. You have to catch them off guard, blitz them with bows, harry them with holly, and ambush them with something they absolutely didn’t know they needed. Sure it’s an impossible task but when you find that Burger Meister his yoyo, it’s all worth it.
Actual footage of my dad on Christmas morning:
Little Drama Boy
In my babe’s family, the game is entirely different. Every year her and her four siblings run an ever more complicated endaround trick play of “tell your brother to find out what color sweater your sister likes so that I can buy her the right one.” I’ll give them credit, it’s an exciting game of intrigue if you like a little who-dunnit with your unwrapping.
On several occasions, I have become the villain of that story by refusing to reveal what I truly wanted. My years of training in half-truths have ill-prepared me for their particular brand of tinsel and trickeration. Last year her sister drew my name for the family gift exchange, and of course I’d just come back from that year’s PAX Unplugged, so I was excited about getting a new game. The sister doesn’t know Monsterhearts from Kingdom Hearts so I made an online wishlist of some games that had jumped out to me during the con. My babe, the completely conspicuous double-agent sent it off to the “mystery shopper,” and the reply quickly came back “Well which one does he want!” OK, that’s not entirely fair, it was more like “Which one would he like the most?” These folks are trying to beat the highscore while my family is just trying to beat the chance you saw it coming. I told the babe, “What I’d really, absolutely love is if she looked at the handful I’d sent her and picked the one that looked best to her. Then the gift would be a little bit of what I like and a little bit of what she likes”
See I don’t believe in telling someone exactly what you want, because it’s better for them to pick out what they think you’d like. That way the gift has some of their character in it. It means they pick out something that maybe you never would have bought for yourself, but fits you perfectly. If not, well It pushes you into a new direction, and I find that beautiful.
So here’s my approach. When you’re shopping for someone find out what they need or what they like, but more importantly, find out why. Do they need some new shirts because they’re about to dive back into the dating pool or because they tore up all their old ones working on the car? Do they love journals because it helps them daydream or because it helps them stay organized? Then, when you’re out shopping, and here’s the truly crazy part, stop worrying about whether they’ll like the gift. Trust what you know about them, what they mean to you, and find something that makes you think of them. When they open the gift, you’ll have a story. It might be a short story, but everyone loves a story that starts “I was thinking about you.”
The Most Flagrant Reindeer of All
One last character to add as I wrap up this carol. My kid sister plays the game better than anyone and consistently finds the best and most unexpected gifts. One year, when I had gone away to college she sent me an absurdly oversized pencil with some ridiculous, corny card about how her best big brother deserved the best big pencil. Landslide winner of best gift. I’m talking first ballot hall-of-fame, generational talent of a gift-giver. Last year she gave me a set of dice, pretty standard fare, and she told me she picked them out because they were Notre Dame colors. I’m sure you’ve heard folks say “It’s the thought that counts,” but in my family we double down on that sentiment. See my sister did not get me dice with Notre Dame colors. Not even close. But she did get me the dice that she thought were Notre Dame colors, and that is such a better gift because now every time I roll them, they don’t remind me of ND, they remind me of my incredible sister and her flawless record in this yearly wrapping paper rumble.
Happy Holidays you clowns and monsters.
May all your fears come ever true,
Just as these dice are gold and blue: