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Christmas present anxiety

December 21, 2008

I’m staring at the presents on the train seat in front of me. They don’t look very big and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near enough. Should I have bought more? Don’t my parents deserve more than this?

In spite of the credit crunch, my debit card has seen quite a lot of activity over the past few days. It’s paid for a massive online food shop and a handful of presents sourced from the internet too. It’s been whipped out at a moment’s notice to post woefully late Christmas cards to Australia and the US, as well as meeting my impulsive desires as I flirt with supposedly must-have goods in various stores. The smallest transaction, and to my mind the one which represents the best value for money, was to pay for the repair of my bike – a mere £12.50 to repair a painfully slow puncture.

As far as distance is concerned, my shopping trips have not seen me venture out too far. Westfield – Europe’s largest shopping mall – was the first destination, certain as I was that it’s proximity to work at White City would make it ideal for all my Christmas shopping. Not so. Only half an hour dodging slow-moving families as I make internal notes to “come back to that shop later and get that” I was exhausted. I slumped in front of a friend and an Americano for a much-needed break before trudging back home.

A few transactions on the internet under my belt, I reckoned I’d try again with real shopping. I pootled off to the nearby Lewisham Shopping Centre with a list of things I needed to get, confident I could always press on to Canary Wharf or the West End if I absolutely needed to.

Energy and enthusiasm failed me on this occasion too. I knew exactly where I wanted to go in Lewisham Shopping Centre, but as I wandered around WHSmith eyeing up potential gifts for my parents I soon realised that this was the final stop. I had no desire to go on to another shopping venue. I’d have to find everything I needed in Lewisham.

Hesitation gripped me. I wanted to get everything now. I wanted to return home with gifts in my bag smug in the knowledge that all the chores were now done and I wouldn’t have to stress about it anymore. But I couldn’t find anything? Some things were too cheap, some things way too expensive. Some things I knew my parents wouldn’t want or enjoy what would be the point in buying that? Exactly who derives the pleasure when a rashly considered obviously crap gift is bought in a rush? The giver feels guilty as hell and the recipient is left asking “Why?”

In the end I opted for being resourceful. What do I want to give this year? What do I want to say? What do I give when they have everything anyway? Is a gesture really enough? Do parents need big shiny boxes on Christmas Day? How many bottles of aftershave does a Dad actually need?

Guilt is what propels me around the shops both online and in person.

Everything has to be perfect at Christmas otherwise it’s a failure – at least that’s how it seems to me. In pursuit of that perfection my vision of what the optimum number and size of gifts for the perfect image of a tree on Christmas day morning seriously comes in to play when I’m shopping. I have to rein myself in and resist reaching for the credit card when I’m certain the debit card will get rejected.

Deep inside there’s an overriding desire to look at Christmas differently this year. The gift-giving aspect to the season is exhausting. The season brings enough guilt as it is without the additional worries about whether I’ve found the perfect for someone.

If I’m in search of an alternative experience, I’m can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. I know it’s not a full on submission to the religious celebration. I know technically it should be, I just can’t. To do that will mean believing in God and proclaiming that throughout the year. I’m not ready for all that just yet (if at all). I’m not entirely convinced my significant other is ready for me to do that either.

Baby steps first. Take the church music and a flirtation with the majesty of the Christmas story and throw in an exchange of gifts small in size but big on gesture and resourcefulness. Factor in one or two fingers crossed and a healthy number of reality checks and the usual Christmas present anxiety could well be a thing of the past in future years. We can but hope.

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