Somehow, I’ve ended up with a lot of anxiety surrounding holidays and gifts. And it’s clearly not just me. A huge portion of this stems, at least for me, from financial considerations. And I know that sounds bad, but it’s true. I’ve spent a good number of years recently on a very tight budget, both during grad school and while working as Costco, so my natural tendency towards frugality has been reinforced and overdeveloped. And of course, me being who I am, I feel bad about that. I feel bad that I feel obligated to spend money I’m not used to having on my friends and family, and then I feel bad that I feel bad. There’s really no way to win.
Too much about gift exchanges these days seems so transactional. Sure, there’s the chance of the awesome moment when you manage to surprise someone with something they really want or that holds some personal meaning, but far too often it seems to devolve into a rote exchange:
“Here you go, [FAMILIAL RELATION], here is a gift card to [STORE YOU LIKE].”
“Thank you, [FAMILIAL RELATION], here is a card of equal value to [DIFFERENT STORE].”
“This transaction has been emotionally pleasing.”
“Yes, I am truly a better [CLEARLY BIOLOGICAL ENTITY] for having experienced it. Let us go give a [TOKEN OF APPRECIATION] to our [SHARED FAMILIAL RELATION.”
And of course, I’m just selfish enough that I still enjoy getting gifts. But I’m nice enough that I don’t like not reciprocating gift-giving. But that makes it feel too much like a transaction, which…
You get the idea.
In an odd occurrence, I find myself envious of such a lowly scumbag as George Costanza, with his Human Fund scheme. All the good feeling of giving a gift, without the actual investment! But more seriously, I wish there was a way we could all agree to avoid the stress of choosing and giving gifts. Like if the act of saying “My gift to you is freedom from the stress of having to get me a gift.” could be seen as complimentary and not a cheapskate move. Of course, this scheme falls apart if the other person has already gotten you a gift. Then you look like a Costanza.