From a monetary point of view, unwanted presents have to be the biggest waste at yuletide, and then add the stress of actually buying something 'possibly' desired, interesting, useful, etc. At least the excesses of food gluttony, the nuclear winner panic buying can be composted, most presents end up in a life-laundry-hide-and-seek-game; some may make it under the wire to a charity shop.
When my Granddad was still alive, one year at a family gathering he made the mistake, when asked what he might like for Christmas, "a thermal vest," nothing more: nothing less. I remember a few weeks after the festive period asking if he had acquired his sought after thermal vest. He gave me a considered look; it was a look I'd seen before, when on a visit to Hull University I'd excitedly spotted Phillip Larkin in the library, where my Granddad then worked. "What's Larkin like Granddad?," the same considered look and a lingering pause, until eventually, "A miserable bugger!" On this occasion, he took me over to a drawer in the corner of the living room and opened it to expose four unopened thermal vests in their shiny cellophane. "There's four there, and another couple upstairs, me and my big mouth."
My own father poses the same obstacle my granddad did, or used to. I have bought him well thought out presents, the last three before the new regime, DVDs; Band of Brothers series, Father Ted and In the Thick of It, all I know he would love, all of which he has never ever watched!
So we started the charity shop Christmas present buying scheme. A weight has been lifted, the dictum runs, 'you can only buy from charity, if the person doesn't like it, they can take it back to a charity shop.' No one can fail - the whole world is a winner. There is a great sense of pride when a recipient adores/loves/likes the present you bought them, no one has to fake it anymore! The biggest bonus for me is you can do it all online, I do go into a few real 3D charity shops, but I'm charitied out after three in a row.
I did most of my shopping this year with a glass of wine and listening to the radio. The three sites I used
Better World Books - A lovely charity that promotes literacy projects around the world.
There are obviously many other worthy charities. My wife is getting a toilet, from toilet twinning, it might not be glamorous, but she'll love it (I hope?), and so will the family or community in Nepal that she will be twinned with as well, a great charity if not altogether the sexiest!
Our family have a more bizarre present ritual during Christmas lunch, 'silly presents.' This started about twenty years ago when my son was born. Every member of the family has to guess by fondling their wrapped present what lies within. Don't laugh, one year when the children were teenagers I half suggested that maybe we shouldn't bother with silly presents this year - the belligerent hormonal adolescents turned almost mutinous. The look of indignation could have stripped paint from the baby Jesus's crib, and both chorused together, 'you are joking aren't you?' This is a cheap amusing activity. Three Christmases previous my mother correctly guessed her silly present was a calendar, quite animated, she guessed further, 'Is it the Daniel Craig one.' - The look of abject horror on her face when she opened it to find a selection of overweight naked judges from the north-west of England in various locations from motorbike showrooms to barns. "Oh, no, that's not right," she said as she looked at Mr July whose paunch could not be hidden by a hay bale - she even refused to take it home with her. I had to concur with her, the year after we bought her Mr Bond and watched again the look of pre-opening horror when I informed her we had just wrapped this year's North-West judge's naked effrontery!
So what is my dad getting for Christmas? Jerusalem - Simon Montefoire, Young Stalin - Simon Montefoire, D-Day - Anthony Beevor and Ricky - Ricky Tomlinson - he'll never get around to reading them all, but you know what, it doesn't really matter, someone will.
Happy Christmas and charity to every last one of you, even the judges - but there is a line, Your Honours!
Ian M Pindar is a novelist and blogger - he writes regularly on Goodreads and many other sites: https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard
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