I'm sitting here in my tiny house, romancing the idea of declaring myself a minimalist, married to a self-declared an anti-consumerist, and plotting the sudden departure of half my children's toys when I suddenly realize that the dark specter of Christmas is almost upon me again. Or, rather, the dark specter of Christmas presents. A sudden influx of stuff that will have to be hauled in, stripped of its protective packaging, sorted through, found a place for, tripped over, put away, cleaned, put away again, and eventually gotten rid of.
My head aches already just thinking about it.
I feel I am being somewhat ungrateful to all the people who I love very much who have taken the time to give my children and myself gifts over the years. Still, I feel much like a drowning person who is offered a drink of water. It is just, no matter how well intentioned, not something I need.
Worse yet, I must also respond in kind with more stuff.
Every year I think the thing that I must give for presents must be the only bit of stuff that I truly treasure. I love books. I am, down to my very bones, a willful bibliophile and have been since I was a child, and, like every true enthusiast, I believe that everyone else should be devastatingly in love with the object of my desire too. Except, unlike flyers of remote control airplanes or equestrian show jumpers, I am actually right. Everyone should read and have lots and lots of books. A book should almost always be present in one's hands. Even if it means taking the bus to work instead of driving or taking baths instead of showers or living on toast because it you can read while it is cooking.
A book is especially handy to have in hand whenever I'm out with a chronic cell phone user. Finally, I can read while having dinner with someone and I'm not the rude one.
A book is truly a beautiful present, at once limitless and self-contained. It can be used again and again, is attractive to keep on the shelf, and can be passed along or sold to another without losing any of its core value. A book is a gift that rests gladly for me, ethically and spiritually.
Still, to my continued shock, not everyone likes to read.
Which worries me, that if I give books to people for Christmas knowing that reading is not something they do without a paycheck attached or if the new dvd player hook up isn't as straight forward as they had hoped, is it really a gift for them or for me? Because I want to give gifts that the receiver actually wants.
I have, in the past, tried to compromise by acknowledging my word loving values while also appealing to the non-book lover's taste. Obviously I chose titles based upon their interests already but I also included in the present some thematic appurtenance to, basically, tart up the book to try to make it more appealing to a hostile audience. A mystery novel may be accompanied by a spy glass and Sherlock Holmes-esque hat, a cookbook with a bucket spices and high-end whisk, the chick-lit with a bottle of wine, tissues, and gourmet chocolate.
I will confess, some of these gifts made darling little packages and I was charmed with most of them. It seemed to me they offered not only knowledge and entertainment on the written pages but also set the stage, with spyglass and chocolate, for a gateway experience that would seduce even the most belligerent non-reader into a life-long love affair with books.
Perhaps this might of been a lot of pressure to put on just one little gift.
Ultimately, I feel these book based bundles fail to satisfy myself and the recipient in two basic aspects. The first is that they are gifts with an agenda, more about gifter than the receiver. Second, the raw and pure spirit behind my intention, my desire to share something I love with another and give them this perfect item, is marred by all the stuff I stuck with it.
Back to the drawing board.
In my perfect world, these gift giving holidays would be stripped down of much of the mania and pretense surrounding the wrap and and presentation of gifts. The expectations would be pared down, the acknowledgements brief and solemn. And I would be able to say, 'Here is a book. It's not about you or me, but something beyond our experience. It is everything and nothing. It is wrapped only in itself and seems plain but it contains many treasures. Enjoy it then pass it along, for once you read it, it becomes a part of you and you no longer need it on your shelf. Even as you share it, it will still be yours forever.'
Then we can all focus, finally, on why we are all together at that time. And still have room in the trunk on the ride home.