That’s a question that’s being asked all over the place at the moment. Doubly so in our house, as it’s often accompanied by “What do you want for your birthday?” for over half of us. It can be a difficult question to answer (or at least it seems to be here!).
I see it as a bit like being granted a wish, really, but a whole lot more difficult, as we’re limited by what’s practical and possible (world peace, good health, success at work are just some of those that fail this test) and what’s affordable (so that rules out a new car and a million pounds or so). We have to consider the cost to the giver as well as the pleasure of the receiver, and this can be a tricky balance. We have to spend our wish wisely – we have learnt never to buy a present for one particular family member until close to the day, as he’s notorious for changing his mind frequently. Others will refuse to give any suggestions until they’ve really thought deeply about it – by which point we’re usually so desperate to get things done that we jump on any suggestion with more enthusiasm than it might have received had it been given earlier. There’s the feeling that it should be worthwhile – the balance between buying something we approve of but that they’re not that keen on and something that we see as a waste of money but they really, really want.
When answering the question we have to figure out something we would genuinely like, that’s reasonably priced but that we aren’t going to go and buy for ourselves – hubby reads lots of books, but there’s no point in me buying him one unless it’s pre-arranged, because otherwise chances are that he’s already got it. In this world where we have so much already it can be hard to think of something that fits the bill.
Sometimes a request can be symbolic of the real wish – if I ask for painting or drawing equipment, what I really want is the skill and time to use them well. Or a book on a topic, when what I really want is the understanding that I hope the book will bring.
Sometimes the giving of a gift can be symbolic as well as real – I’ve been toying with the idea of adding a note to presents to explain the thought behind them. For example I want to get my toddler niece something that shows her how great it is to explore and discover, because I want to give her a world where girls can grow up to celebrate what they can do and learn, not just how pretty they are.
Sometimes a gift can reveal more about the giver than the recipient – there’s a stage that a lot of children go through, when they buy a present that they would like themselves, because they can’t comprehend that great aunt Agatha isn’t really that interested in a set of pokemon trading cards or whatever. Or they can reveal what the sender thinks the recipient is like, or what they think they are interested in, which can sometimes be wildly different from the truth.
The most moving present I received came in two parts – the year my father died, my sister put together a photograph album of photos of him for me to remember him by, and the year my mother died she did the same for her. It was the thought and love that went into these, not to mention the memories, that made them so special.
One mother’s day present I received years ago was a cushion – at that stage I needed a cushion to sit on to drive the car we had, and my sons managed to find some fabric and stuffing and made a cushion with the word Mum on it. I never used it in the car; it was too precious for that, because they had put time and thought into it rather than just money, and they’d done it completely on their own. Instead it’s on display in my bedroom.
So, what do you want for Christmas? Do you write a list? Do you choose one thing and stick to it? Do you suggest things and then forget them, so it’s a nice surprise? Do you insist on all gifts being a surprise? And more to the point for me right this moment, what does my husband want for Christmas? Or for his birthday?