How Not To Be a Jerk This Christmas

jerk-for-christmasLike it or not, we are entering the gift-giving season. I personally am really bad at receiving gifts. Of course, I’m gracious and say “thank you” and do all the other things we would hope our kids do when someone gives them a gift, but what I usually want to do is repeatedly bang my head against the closest hard surface.

I have written before about how irked I get when someone gives me a bad gift. It really does make me upset. I hate the idea of the person wasting money on me, adding to the consumerism surrounding Christmas, and I hate having the burden of another thing lying around our house that will not get any use.

But recently I read The Happiness Project. In it, the author spoke of accepting gifts in the spirit in which they were given. She gave the example of the time she told her husband that she wanted a ring for her birthday. Instead he gave her a bracelet. Immediately she was very angry.

This would have probably been my inner dialogue: He never listens to me. How much clearer can I get? Do I have to do all the work? He can’t take a couple hours to go to a store and find a ring he thinks I would like? He doesn’t pay attention to anything. He doesn’t know anything about me.

But instead of blurting out any of these hurtful comments, she remembered that she wanted to accept the spirit of the gift. So she thanked him and decided that she wasn’t going to be mad. He got her something that he really thought she would like. He even had a personalized charm made to hang on the bracelet. It was a tiny book with the title The Happiness Project on it.

This story got me thinking about my issues with gift-giving. No one has had to deal with this more than my parents. My poor mom and dad. They have gotten the brunt of my gift-receiving angst throughout the years. Despite my aversion to tech stuff, there was the year they got me the first MP3 player on the market, then the next year it was an iPod, and more recently they got Brandon an Xbox Kinect.

They are my parents, so I am less likely to sugarcoat my reaction. But the gift that really sticks in my mind was from several years ago. I unwrapped a small box and read the words “Kindle Fire” written on it. That’s it. I had had it. I quietly gave it back to them and asked them to return it. I didn’t want it.

I was thinking: Ugh! You don’t listen to me.

They were thinking: This is Vanessa’s first year at home with her first baby. She’s going a little crazy. She loves reading magazines. Why don’t we get her something that would let her read all the magazines she wants without having to mess with physical copies or the mail? Maybe this will give her a nice diversion from diapers all day.

And really, when I think about it, sure, they give me techy stuff that perhaps is hard for me to appreciate, but it is the stuff that they value. They love the latest and greatest gadgets. It’s like that story about the husband who always gave his wife the ends of the bread even though she hated them. After 30 years, she finally asked him why he always gave her the worst part of the bread. He responded that it was his favorite and he thought he was giving her the best part. My parents are just giving me what they think is best.

Why do I have to be such a jerk? What I have missed all these years is that gift giving isn’t all about the person receiving the gift. It’s also about the person giving it. No one gives a gift that they think is total crap. Usually, there is some well-meaning (even if misguided) reason behind the gift they are giving. Giving just makes people feel good. It’s a way for people to show others that they mean something to them. That they love them.
When I rejected this gift, I wasn’t only rejecting the gift but the spirit in which the gift was given to me. I rejected the love my parents were trying to show me. What a Scrooge-like thing to do.

This Christmas season I’m going to try not to be a jerk. I have resolved to not just grin and bear it through the whole gift-giving ordeal but to genuinely enjoy it. To look beyond the present and see the heart behind the gift and to be tremendously grateful for that. It’s not going to change my disdain for scented candles, but it will help me to love the gift giver the way I should love them.

[To be totally honest, this year my mom confessed that she still had the Kindle Fire. She never returned it. That thing is a staple in my purse these days. And that Xbox Kinect — we use it to stream movies and TV shows more than we actually watch what is on TV in real time. Apparently my parents understand me a little too well and give me gifts several years before I’m ready for them.]