So, whose pile of unwanted gifts is ready for return/further distribution/exchange?
Tinsel, turkey, tantrums and togetherness, all gift-wrapped in shiny sentimentality, have been and gone. Well, maybe the turkey hasn’t quite left the premises as yet, there is still the carcass to be turned into stock and about a week’s worth of leftovers have to be dealt with/turned into rissoles (a.k.a. frikos) or, more sensibly, surreptitiously fed to the dog when no one is watching.
What to do with the gifts? If you are lucky, have trained your family and friends well, or you belong to that happy breed who is not afraid to say exactly what they want for Christmas then you may be blissfully happy with your little stash, ready to enjoy the books, CDs, chocolates, etc. Lucky you! Otherwise you may now be deliberating whether to brave the shops with a view to returning items during the hectic Sales period for something more to your taste, or hang on for a while longer, when everything half decent might have been sold. Is there a chance that Aunt Lizzie might find out that you have taken the colourful ski jumper she knitted for you, or the massive ghost-written autobiography spanning the first 15 years in the life of some minor celebrity which Uncle Fred has kindly bestowed on you, to the Charity shop already? Problems, problems, and you're still reeling from that small altercation between Frieda and George about the time he was caught under the mistletoe with her from next door.
Christmas is for giving.
Gardener was telling me that he has drawers full of short socks, all proudly presented by his sister-in-law, a new pair or two every Christmas. “I hates them”, he says, “I never wears them, they slips under the heel and I has to pull them up all the time. I’ve a good mind to take them to the Rashity shop. (Gardener has verbal dyslexia). “Why don’t you tell her”, I asked. Stupid question, the answer was obvious. I should have known. "Noooo, I canna do that, it’s the thought”, he says. In fact, he is quite embarrassed by my show of social ineptitude.
Any of his employers, who give him a bottle for Christmas run the risk of receiving a recycled one in return. We had one from him this year in spite of having given him some gardening tools. “ If I gets a bottle, I looks round to pass it on, like”, he says, totally without irony. As he handed it over, he reassured us that he had bought ours. “I only drinks for Christmas, or for family parties”, he says, ” and I always has to finish the bottle, can’t leave nothing in, as I dinna drink it the next day.” He says this like it’s a matter of honour.
That seems to go for bottles of spirits too, expecially for home made sloe gin, which starts off as slin goe, until one of us helps him out with a straight face. Sloe gin appears to be a great favourite; one of his employers gives him a bottle for Christmas every year. Gardener is willing to share it on family occasions but, if nobody drinks with him, as usually happens, he finishes it off in one sitting, by himself.
Christmas is for giving.
Then there’s the delightful young women, one half of a couple with two small children struggling to make ends meet satisfactorily, who comes and helps me in the house occasionally. She starts her Christmas shopping at the end of October, “in dribs and drabs”, she says, because she can’t afford to buy every one a present otherwise. By ‘everyone’ she means the many children her nine siblings have produced between them, each of whom receives a present of some considerable monetary value. And her own children only get one ‘major’ present each, apart from the small toys and games she puts into their stockings. When she told me the cost of the ‘major’ present I was amazed. “Because there were so many of us, Mum couldn’t afford to get us presents”, she told me, “I want my kids to have everything I never had”. Okay, that may be laudable, but to go house cleaning for others to buy expensive presents for a dozen or more nieces and nephews?
Christmas is for giving. Giving is more blessed than receiving.
We give and receive small presents, books, music, food and drink, tickets for a concert, a subscription to a magazine, a plant for the garden. We have no small children around, which would be a sad thing for the proud grandads and grannies who revel in the shiny faces of the very young at Christmas, nor are we obliged to put up with cantankerous, elderly relatives who have nowhere else to go, who have outlived their welcome everywhere else.
Scrooges, us? Bah humbug!