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David Bouchier: Simple gifts

David Bouchier

Adventure movies always have a countdown scene. The hero has 10 seconds to defuse the bomb, or explode the killer asteroid, or frustrate the plans of some mad scientist and save the world. All countdown scenes are the same. The clock ticks loudly, ominous music rises in the background and everybody sweats profusely. In other words, it's exactly like the last week before Christmas. The clock is ticking and the pressure is on to wrap up our gift lists, both literally and metaphorically. It’s never easy, and this year there are delivery delays and COVID anxieties to add to all the rest. But the hardest part, as always, is the decision-making. How can we possibly guess what other people want, even those nearest and dearest to us?

Does your old aunt really want yet another box of scented soaps from England, or does she secretly hanker after a Monster Hunter video game? A gift you don’t want is nothing but a storage problem. When I helped my mother clear out her house I found almost every birthday and Christmas gift I’d given her for the past 50 years, carefully packed away in their original boxes.

That’s why gift certificates have become so popular. You can buy certificates for just about everything, from a pizza to a day at a spa or a bungee jump. It’s only a matter of time before hospitals start selling certificates for hip replacements and brain transplants. The only problem with a gift certificate is that it reveals, with great precision, exactly how much you value that particular relationship, so you probably end up spending more than you intended.

My wife and I have given up the dubious pleasure of surprise. We tell each other exactly what we would like. This takes some of the excitement out of the process, although by December 25 I have usually forgotten what I asked for. But we’re almost grown up now so we don’t need to get excited about surprises. This way we get and give only gifts that we actually want.

The problem is: what do we want? It gets harder every year. In November we struggle to produce our lists for Santa Claus, and the results are pathetic. My wife would like a calendar, and a book. I suggest a new sweater, and a different book. In fact, we scarcely need anything, or at least nothing reasonable. She wouldn’t say no to the new Porsche Taycan electric car (zero to 60 miles an hour in 3.4 seconds, which would speed up her trips to the shops), and I wouldn’t refuse a first-class round-the-world trip on a slow boat (with no other passengers). But that’s in the world of fantasy. Unlike those billionaires, driven insane by greed, who always want another thousand-acre estate or a space rocket or a bigger yacht, we are content.

I like to think that this is a sign of maturity. When I was a kid I wanted everything. That’s the way kids are; that’s the way billionaires are. But there must be some advantage to growing up, and maybe this is it. At a certain age we should receive a gift certificate of dispensation, a blanket permission to forget the pressures and anxieties of Holiday gift giving, and just enjoy what we have.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.