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David Bouchier: An Invisible Gift

Courtesy of Pixabay

At the end of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade comes the most popular saint in Christendom, Saint Nicholas a.k.a. Santa Claus, a.k.a. Father Christmas. His benevolent appearance signals the official start of the holiday shopping season. The pressure is on. We need to think about gifts for our nearest and dearest, and for ourselves.

In theory this should be a delightful prospect. A gift, after all, is a symbol of a relationship. Kindness is a gift. A kiss, or a smile, or even a telephone call can be a gift. Washing the dishes can be a gift. Love is the ultimate gift. But these items are not in the stores, nor even in the catalogs that come pouring in at this time of year.

So giving and receiving gifts can be more of a pain than a pleasure. How can we possibly guess the desire of others? Does your old aunt really want yet another box of scented soaps from England, or does she secretly hanker after the latest Xbox? A gift you don’t want is nothing but a storage problem. When I cleared out my mother's house I found almost every birthday and Christmas gift I’d ever given her for the past fifty years, carefully packed away in their original boxes.

For this reason gift certificates have become popular. You can buy certificates for just about everything, from a pizza to a day at a spa or an Uber ride. 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 the excitement out of the process, but we’re almost grown up now so we don’t need that excitement. We try to get and give only gifts that we actually want.

The problem is: what do we want? It gets harder every year. At the beginning of December we struggle to produce our lists for Santa Claus, and the results are pathetic. She would like some gourmet cooking oil, and a book. I suggest a set of headphones, and a different book. In fact, we scarcely need anything, or at least nothing reasonable. She wouldn’t say no to a new Porsche Carrera (zero to sixty miles an hour in four point four seconds, very handy for a quick trip to the supermarket), and I wouldn’t refuse a first class round-the-world tour on a slow boat. But, within the realms of possibility, we are content. We have more stuff than we can possibly use.

If you feel the same way you might want to consider giving a gift to yourself, which would also be a gift to everybody in your family and in your community - an invisible, intangible gift that will give pleasure to you and thousands of others all the way through the coming year. What could be more generous than that?

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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.