At my fifth-grade birthday party, a friend gave me a gag gift — a box full of nails, Mr. Yuk stickers, plastic G.I. Joe legs. I reacted with automatic delight, saying, “Thank you! Oh, that’s so great. Wow, this is neat, thanks!” It wasn’t until I got to the partially-chewed gum at the bottom of the box that I realized something was awry, that perhaps my gratitude wasn’t called for and that I had ruined myself for future displays of sincerity.
This is why I don’t always like giving gifts. It’s not the expense or the materialism that bugs me; it’s more the insecurity around it all. What if I secretly disappoint the people I buy gifts for? What if my presents show I do not really “get” them?
So, believing I may have bought menorahs for friends who are truly Hindus at heart but who will react with faux joy anyway, I succumb to my holiday gift-giving insecurity by purchasing several small gifts, much as one invests in a diverse stock portfolio. I wait anxiously as my gift-ee unwraps the first gift, quickly adding, “I made you a mix CD too!” and pulling this out of my bag of tricks. In nightmares I find myself bogged down with packages and parcels tucked in every pocket of my clothing, but nothing is perfect. “Book no good? Quick, try this turtleneck on for size! Did I tell you I also composed an interpretative dance in your honor?”
Being so insecure, I propose a new holiday tradition: The Bag of Crap. (Not wanting you all to think this is a terrible idea, I’d like to add that I stole this idea from a co-worker, who has had this tradition in his family for years. I also have another idea, in case you don’t like this one.) The Bag of Crap is simple: Everyone gets each other utterly ridiculous, totally tactless, useless, low-brow gifts. Think My Little Pony for Dad, a Spam recipe book for Sis, and for dog owner Aunt Doreen a plaque that says “A house is not a home without a cat.” Or you can think smaller and cheaper: Grab a stack of Dunkin’ Donuts napkins next time you’re getting coffee and consider yourself productively completing the holiday shopping. (I also hear partially-chewed gum is making a comeback.) What do you get the husband who has everything? Why, a subscription to eHarmony.com, of course.
The brilliance of this idea is that it doesn’t require as much pressure or money as the usual hoopla, and it’s a whole lot of non-faux fun. The Bag of Crap is also versatile. You can buy crap particular to your loved ones, or general crap everyone can enjoy, mixing it all together and letting everyone choose his own unwanted item from the bag.
There are lot of us in this country who don’t really need much. We’ve got books and DVDs and vases to spare, plus an ability to buy coffee on our way to being ten minutes late to work. But I’ve always thought we could do with more innovation, more craziness, more laughter. Less of the “shoulds” of the season, more of the serendipity and the surprise, the stale sauerkraut under the tree.
As I’ve come late to this realization, with Amazon orders already on their merry way to my home, I’m sad to report that this season with my family may not be as crappy as I want it to be. (But note to the in-laws for Christmas 2006: Watch out!) However, there’s still time for some of you to conduct your own ridiculous shopping for your loved ones.
Fortunately, my workplace decided to institute the Bag of Crap Secret Santa for this holiday season. I don’t know what gift I will be purchasing (or stealing) yet, or who will be so unlucky as to pull it out of the bag, but I know one thing: If I’m only finding one item of crap this year, it’d better be terrible in all the best ways.