Merry, Merry, and Quite Contrary

Today we are discussing how to enjoy the holidays to the full extent of the law, to enjoy every last drop of goodness in them, to enjoy them so much that you cannot stand to enjoy them again for at least another 10 years.

First of all, in order to truly enjoy the holidays — and when I say “the holidays,” let’s be honest, I really just mean Christmas; Hanukkah was three weeks ago and Kwanzaa doesn’t exist — you must resign yourself to spending truckloads of money. You can’t avoid it. Sure, you will see magazine articles with headlines like “Four Cheap Ways to Enjoy the Holidays,” but then you read the articles and realize the tips basically boil down to: 1) Don’t buy anything; 2) don’t go anywhere; 3) don’t invite anyone over; and 4) turn out the lights, crawl under a blanket, and sob.

Money is what drives the Christmas season, and we’re apparently OK with that. According to the 2002 American Express Retail Index, the average American plans to spend $1,073 on holiday gifts this year. The significance of this is clear: I need to get richer friends, because no one I know is spending that much. Is it possible American Express didn’t do any research and instead just chose that figure randomly, the same way they come up with their interest rates?

The big dilemma is not how much you’re spending, but what you’re spending it on. Obviously, the worst gift you can give anyone is cash. It’s the thought that counts, and cash indicates your thoughts were, “I’m obligated to give you a present; here you go.” Several years ago, on my 24th birthday, my friend Rob gave me a check for $24. I said, “Too bad I’m not turning a million!” It was our little joke, and I never forgave him.

So don’t give cash, and don’t give gift certificates, which are only slightly better than cash. Cash says, “I don’t know anything about your tastes, interests or needs.” Gift certificates say, “I’ve identified one store that I can imagine you wanting to shop at; beyond that, you are a stranger to me.”

But giving is important, regardless of what you give, or to whom you give it. Some people get into the Christmas spirit by giving to the less-fortunate. It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. At Village Inn, they are urging people to donate Village Inn pies to an organization that will give them to homeless shelters, because if there’s one thing homeless people need, it’s pie. Time was, the government would provide the needy with pie — indeed, with all necessary pastries and sweetmeats — but no more! We’ve gotten so spendy that the pie fund has been exhausted and the homeless are left to fend for themselves in satisfying their pie needs. (Village Inn has graciously offered not to send any of its signature skillets to the homeless, because even people who are really hungry can’t eat that stuff.)

*** Holiday shopping tip: To avoid the crowds, do your shopping five months ago! Let us know how that works out for you.

Another way to enjoy the holidays to an excruciating degree is to host a holiday party. I did this last year, and Luscious Malone and all the gang were in attendance. The party began well, but trouble arose when we sang Christmas carols and occasionally disagreed upon the correct words. This minor disruption escalated to the level of full-scale brouhaha during “Joy to the World,” when the “saints and angels” faction tried to out-sing the “heav’n and nature” camp, which responded by singing even more loudly than before, and a hymn of jubilation turned into a cacophony of hurt feelings and bitter recrimination and Luscious Malone telling everyone they were wrong. But in some other ways, it was different from every other day of the year. The important thing is, we spent the holidays together without having to make monthly payments afterward.

I was reading through some old journals I'd uncovered when I found the account of receiving $24 for my 24th birthday. It fit well with the column I was already working on, so I squoze it in. I'm pretty sure Rob knows I have, in fact, forgiven him. Now, we don't bother giving each other gifts of any kind, which is really the way to go.

"Pie" is a funny concept to me. Start talking about pie, and I'll probably start laughing. I have no idea why.

"Heav'n and nature" is the way Isaac Watts wrote the song; "saints and angels" was a later modification, and it's the way it appears in the Mormon hymnbook, which is why some of the guests at my gathering sang it that way.