Giving a gift that makes someone smile is one of life’s greatest joys. I love giving a great gift. One small problem: I dread the shopping part.
So when the Wii craze hit several years ago (in December, of course), I left it to the grandparents to scour Houston for one of the new video-game consoles. Much hunting and many long but fruitless store lines later, both sets found the game – on the same weekend. One came from a store in Clear Lake, one from an early Sunday trip to a Toys ‘R Us across town. (Apparently that store got new shipments every Sunday morning and sold them first-come, first-served, so waiting in line before the store opened was a must.)
In the end, with not one but two Wiis to give our girls for the holidays, I looked into the future and saw reality – quarrels over which games to play, beautiful afternoons lost to video games. So I asked the grandparents to keep the game consoles at their respective houses. (At that point, I’m sure they never loved me more, right?)
Now we have fun visits to the grandparents, but was the thrill of the big-gift reveal worth all that?
Just a few years ago, a Bellaire boy who today is 8 (and requests anonymity in the name of his now-cool reputation) wanted the Blue Whale and Angel Fish Littlest Pet Shop toys. His mom could not find them in toy stores. So she resorted to searching eBay – and entering a bidding war.
“I paid a ridiculous amount of money for those toys so that the kids could open them for Hanukkah,” she says. “Come to find out, Target restocked the little creatures the following week, just after the holidays, of course.
“My kids stopped playing Littlest Pet Shop shortly thereafter.”
Can’t you hear the collective parental sigh?
There’s not a lot we won’t do to make our children smile at the holidays. A Memorial family went to great lengths to collaborate with Santa to give their 9-year-old daughter her dream gift. The plan was to give her a kitten for Christmas, but when the mom arrived at the SPCA, there was a deal – adopt one, get one free.
“I called my husband, and he said to get them both,” says the mom. “So, we took them both for shots at a new vet and boarded them until Christmas Eve, when we stealthily brought them home and stashed them in a big cardboard box in the laundry room. I kept turning music on louder and louder to drown out their tiny ‘meows.’”
The game was up when the kittens escaped the box, took over the laundry room, and made themselves known. (Know the phrase “herding cats?”)
“We finally put a big bow on the box and put it in the middle of all the presents,” the mom says. Not surprisingly, the gift was a huge success, delighting the little girl to the point of happy tears.
In her years raising four children who now range in age from 9 to 21, Susan Whitney seems to have beaten the holiday shopping craze. She swears off last-minute shopping, avoiding pitfalls like the Wii and Littlest Pet Shop fads, and instead opts to shop at her own pace, gathering gifts here and there throughout the year.
“I keep a notebook in my car,” Susan says. “I’ve got a section for gift ideas and a list of all the people I am buying for. Usually I’m finished by October.”
Susan says the advance lists enable her to enjoy the holidays with her family without worrying about shopping under pressure or braving long lines.
“The only downside to shopping early is that sometimes I forget what I’ve bought and wind up with too much,” Susan says. “I’ve been known to hold gifts back at the last minute when I realize I’ve gone overboard.”
In the hectic holiday scramble, it’s easy to forget the ultimate goal of gift-giving. I’m going to try this year to focus less on my disdain of shopping and more on the lesson of the classic stories – The Gift of the Magi, It’s a Wonderful Life, even How the Grinch Stole Christmas – that remind us: It’s not the gifts, it’s the sentiment behind them.