Monday, 24 December 2012

The Giving of Gifts...or the Gift of Giving?

'Tis the night before Christmas,
And all through the house, 
In my largely heathen family, little attention will be paid to, or gratitude felt for, the greatest gift of all this Christmas. The main preoccupation is presents of a more tangible nature, which can be felt and squished and poked as they lay tantalisingly, yet verboten, under the tree. 

If I'm honest with myself, I'm pretty excited about the presents too. I tell myself that I hate the commercialism of Christmas, which I do, yet in reality I'm not adverse to the fringe benefits that come with it. I enjoy fondling the packages in the run-up to Christmas day, trying to work out what lies underneath the thin, crispy wrapping paper, regardless of whether they're intended for me or not, and I relish even more the tearing off of the thin, crispy wrapping paper to get to the good inside.

My mother tells me it was ever thus. The idea of Father Christmas always held such a fascination for me that I was endlessly trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. Here was a man who brought me more presents than the rest of my relatives put together, yet didn't require a thank you note. This was too good to be true. I set my first test for him at the age of five. No attempts to film or capture him for me, I waged my warfare on a far more psychological level. I asked him for the one toy my mother told me she would never buy me, as she deemed it far too vulgar and tacky: a My Little Pony. Lo and behold on Christmas Day, a My Little Pony appeared in my stocking. Not just any My Little Pony but a My Little Pony Princess! In going against her ideals of motherhood and good taste, my mother had bought my silence for a good few more years. So convinced was I, that the next year I made a Birthday card for Jesus which I left by the chimney for Father Christmas to deliver. After all, Royal Mail might do next day delivery but they don't offer a magical flying service.

There was only the odd wobble in the years that followed, such as the Christmas morning when I innocently pointed out that it was odd that Father Christmas should use exactly the same wrapping paper as we did at home. I mean, who knew that the North Pole stocked the same stuff as WH Smith's? After that there was a very clear distinction between Mummy's wrapping paper and Father Christmas's wrapping paper.

If that wasn't enough for my mother to juggle, my insatiable desire for presents caused problems for the rest of the family too. One year, I simply refused to go to sleep - not because I was seeking further proof of the elusive St Nick, but due to my extreme excitement about the presents that awaited me the next day. My poor frazzled mother was desperate to go to bed herself but unable to creep into my room to leave our stockings at the end of my bed, as was our tradition. In despair, she eventually left our stockings by the fireplace instead and crawled into bed, only to be awakened a few hours later by a thump, thump, THUMP. On investigation, she found my little brother, thumb in mouth, whacking himself repeatedly against the side of his bed with a disconsolate look on his face. 'Father Christmas hasn't b-b-been,' he sobbed, pointing at the stocking-less foot of his bed, where he expected the stocking to be. As this story comes up every Christmas I'm not sure if my mum, or my brother (now aged 21) have ever quite forgiven me. 

In my defence, I do also love giving presents. Particularly when you know that you have just the thing for that person. There, the anticipation of the gift being opened is far greater than being the receiving party. I experienced this from the other end recently during our Boarding House Secret Santa at school. All the children and staff take part, with a £2 limit. I worked out pretty quickly who'd got me as one little girl kept trying - unsuccessfully - to ask me subtle questions. 'Matron, what kind of things would you like your secret Santa to get you?', 'Matron, will you want to know who your Secret Santa was after you open the present?', 'Matron, do you like knowing what your present is before you open it?' She was clearly dying to tell me what she'd got me.

An hour or so before we were all due to open our presents, she turned round to me and asked archly 'Matron, what's your favourite hair colour?' 
It all fell into place. We'd taken all the children Christmas shopping the day before to choose their presents and I'd seen the girls cooing over some violently pink clip-in hair extensions. I wasn't sure how they would look in my reddy-auburn hair, but forewarned is forearmed and I prepared myself to squeal delightedly as I opened them. When it came to giving out presents I was handed a box, rather than the long, thin flexible package I was expecting. Nonplussed I peeled off the wrapping as the children watched. Inside was not the clip-in pink tresses I'd been expecting, but this...
Happy Christmas. Now Change.

I remain unsure as to whether this was fully intended as a joke, or whether the child genuinely believed that the best gift she could give me was an end to my redheaded locks. Maybe it's just to cover all the grey hairs the children seem to be giving me! Whatever her reasoning, she was definitely more blessed in her excitement at giving than I was in my receiving. However, I thought I'd pass on the blessing by, hopefully, giving you a good chortle this Christmas Eve. Wherever you are and whoever you're with, may your Christmas be overflowing with blessings, whether given or received, material or spiritual, expected or unexpected...

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