My family tends to treat holidays as contests. The typical traditions just aren’t good enough for us. Thus, to make these special days even more special, we like to either escalate usual customs to ludicrous levels or invent our own. Well, Christmas time is here, and that means it is time for me to reminisce about our absurd gift giving traditions. It is important as you read this to keep in mind that, since I grew up with this stuff, as far as I knew it is what everybody did. That led to some really fun misunderstandings further down the line.
First, one of my brothers frequently angered the folks. They thus decided to resurrect the largely obsolete concept of the anti-gift. Tradition calls for coal, so they tried that first. Unfortunately, the people who come up with anti-gifts often underestimate the imaginations of kids. Coal + Transformers = Super Awesome Alien Wasteland Playset! Not only did it fail to illustrate the displeasure of the caregivers, it also revealed a second formula. Coal + Little Boy = Ridiculously Messy Carpet. Next year, they went with lemons. You might think he made lemonade. Nope! If an immature boy had written the old axiom, it would have been, “If life gives you lemons, eat them in front of your brothers to gross them out.” Finally, Mom struck gold, by learning a very important lesson indeed. If you want to make a point that you are unhappy with someone, one needs look no further than the mafia. A fish head wrapped in newspaper sends a message, particularly when stuffed in a stocking. Another common practice which I believe began as a way to indicate displeasure with the year’s behavior but eventually gained full tradition status was the “Impenetrable Gift Wrap.” Traditional wrapping uses just enough tape to hold the wrapping shut. Impenetrable Gift Wrap covers every single seam, and often the entire package, with 1-3 layers of packing tape. Good luck getting that open without tools! Bonus points if the gift in question turned out to be socks.
Moving on, at some point it became a tradition to give me utterly bizarre gifts. Below is a short list of some of the more notable Christmas gifts I’ve gotten.
Jumbo rubber bands
A slinky (one per year for 10 years straight)
A functional German gas mask with two spare filters.
A French Army surplus stretcher.
A note about that last one. An authentic military stretcher is a 6 foot by 3 foot swath of heavy canvas stretched taught between two steel jacketed wooden runners. It has a heavy steel support structure that sticks out in the form of four 6 inch feet and is still 6 inches wide even when collapsed. It is very big, very heavy, and has a center of gravity that virtually prohibits standing it on end. In short: Hilarious gag gift for a day, storage nightmare for a lifetime. By the way, if you are looking for a serious test of durability for consumer electronics, knock one of these on top of the product in question. 26 inch LCD monitor? Survives amazingly well. USB keyboard? Not so much. Thank God she never managed to find last year’s attempted bizarre gift. A Crash Test Dummy. As awesome as it would be to own one of those, she would pretty much be giving me a roommate, since the only place I could put that sucker would be my computer chair during the night and my bed during the day.
The last little aspects of Christmas that stick out in my mind are yuletide pranks and theme presents. Just because we lived in the same house and spoke to each other each and every day didn’t mean that my brothers and I actually knew what each other would have wanted for Christmas. Thus we would seek the expertize of the parents. The outcome of this was frequently one of the following. 1) The Dual Gift. In this prank, you tell two people to buy the very same gift for one another. This has the additional possibility for humor in that it is quite likely one will buy a more expensive version than the other. The instance of this that leaps to mind is the time my brother and I ended up buying each other microphones, and the one he gave was easily triple the cost of the one he got, since I was unemployed at the time. 2) The idiotic gift. In this prank you advise someone to give a support gift based on main gift that you are going to give, then don’t give the main gift. The results have been a box of blank tapes that were the wrong format, a bunch of guitar picks and no guitar, and games but no system. Good times. 3) The redundant gift. This is where you recommend a gift that you happen to know that person will already be getting. This works best with DVDs, Bluerays and the like, since having two copies of a movie is utterly useless in most cases. The Theme Gift is sort of like the long con. This is where you make it a habit to give gifts that follow a certain theme, invariably leading others to follow suit, until that theme permeates your entire life and is sometimes the only thing you get for lesser gift giving occasions. For me? Cows. Now listen. I like cows. That’s why, in 1989, when asked which ornament I wanted to get for the tree, I chose a cow. Now I literally have a whole shelf in my room covered with cows and cow memorabilia. Stuffed cows, cow pads, cow bells, cow puppets, cow CDs, cow books, cow erasers, cow mugs, cow ornaments, cow magnets, cow candy, cow posters. There’s nothing wrong with giving me cows, but there comes a point where you stop being cute and start being almost passive aggressive with this stuff. I’ve had at least one birthday where I received nothing BUT cow stuff. That said, the most recent cow gift is a full sized, authentic Butcher’s diagram of a cow showing the individual cuts and such. Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds, so maybe the cow theme isn’t quite exhausted yet. Anyway, it could have been worse. Mom’s theme for the longest time was glass clowns…
And so ends another article. I might as well make a token plea for you, the nonexistent reader, to reply with the best/worst/strangest/saltiest gift you’ve ever received. Of course, you’d have to do this after Christmas, which means I’d have to keep tabs on this crap for a whole year in order to make use of the user created content at an appropriate time of year… so you know what? Forget it. DON’T tell me about your gifts. Just have a Merry Merry and a Happy Happy.