Friday, December 23, 2011

19th Century Wrapping Papers, Christmas

Normally I'm a pretty sh***y gift giver.  My family never expects anything from me.  Not presents, anyhow—though they do expect me to come home for Christmas and immediately start complaining about how vacuous mid-western suburbia is, about how ostentatious and phony the display of holiday cheer can be in a well-heeled town like ours, about how our government has been completely purchased by huge corporate interests, and so forth.  Last year I made my dad some eggs for breakfast.  I cracked one egg into the pan and the white spread out everywhere.  I almost lost my shit.  The albumen had no integrity.  It was completely loose.  The standard, white supermarket eggs that come packed in Styrofoam are beyond fresh before they even reach the supermarket.  I watched the white spread out into a flabby pool and complained bitterly.  Get some fresh eggs for Christ's sake! Damn suburbia with its crummy eggs. I'm not sure if I actually said all of that, but I thought it, which was a completely bratty thing to think with my parents standing around, wanting only to spend some quality time with their boy.  This year I will behave differently.  Someone gifted me with a Christmas ham (and three smoked hocks) earlier this week, and her gift spurred me into a Santa mood.  The actual monetary value of the gifts I purchased is quite low—but what notion of value can't antique wrapping papers cut from 19th century Harper's magazines undercut?  Normally Christmas depresses me.  

There is something about all the $$$ that depresses me.  We throw money around during the holidays and many of us whinge about it later when our credit card statements come and force us to buckle down.  In the north, the winter months are the most financially demanding months, and this is exactly when the culture dictates additional expenditures in the form of presents, sometimes lavish, sometimes simple.  I am sure that some people give gifts purely and joyfully, which is how it ought to be, but I am also sure that that there is an enormous cultural pressure that surrounds gift-giving.  There is pressure to choose the right gift, pressure to wrap the gifts on time, pressure on the wallet, pressure to love the gift you receive, and the stress and pressure of holiday travel.  When all these pressures collide with what is supposed to be a cheerful and joyous time, we have Christmas, we have the holidays.  I think, more than anything, it is how our base financial concerns compromise our spiritual joy that depresses me and makes me rant.  Perhaps I am too idealistic.  Perhaps this is why I always feel so sad when unwrapping a present.  I have no idea; I've never really thought about this at length before.  But making these presents, I turned a corner, a gift-giving corner. 

Throw all of the gift onto the outside—make the gift the lavish exterior.  Put the joy into the unwrapping (and the wrapping), not into the nugget beneath.  Circumnavigate the unfortunate financial whirlpool of the holidays by falling back onto the old adage: it's the thought that counts.  Make a beautiful thought.  Take the focus off the money and put it back onto the love where it belongs.  I know that many people can express their love through purchases, which is an alien concept to me, but one that I understand to the extent that I can.  I mean, you can't say I love you by shoving a dollar into someone's ear, but you can work hard for that dollar, with someone you love in mind, and then give that someone your hard work; you can give that someone that which you sacrificed in order to get that dollar.  It may be that you sacrificed time—years of time—that you would have been happier spending doing something else.  For someone who would prefer to be broke than work a job he doesn't love just to pay bills, etc, the idea of sacrificing time and love to worldly demands is a depressing idea.  It makes me feel that life is hugely compromised.  It makes me feel that I am compromised beyond my will and that my happiness must be balanced against drudgery.  Perhaps this is immature and romantic.  I could work on my attitude.  Let's get back to the presents.   

I had a ball making these presents.  I put on the Velvet Underground and got into the Christmas spirit.  I am much happier making than purchasing.  I don't know why the two concepts are opposed in my mind—I daresay even in my heart—but there it is: I didn't know how to (and often could not) express my love through money, through purchasing, and so Christmas would upset me.  I couldn't exist comfortably with Christmas.  Christmas always rubbed me the wrong way.  

Anyhow, I fly home tomorrow, fly home with a jar of raw Massachusetts honey packed into my checked luggage.    


Dominik said...

Hope you enjoy your stay at home

And I like these wrapping papers!

And I hope this time Christmas could give you a great load of peace, happiness and hope

Barbara said...

Your blog always feels refreshing to me for its honesty and intensity - your feelings about Christmas echo my own. Every year I try to restrict the gifts to handmade or food, but there is always spending in the air and I get sucked in. Thanks for putting it on paper (?).
Keep OilChanges going - you have a real gift for outrage and I would miss your rants and recipes for sure.