Thursday, December 22, 2016

Who is a gift for?

by Giselle Renarde

My grandmother came to Canada in the 1930s. Her family was beyond poor, often relying on a downtown soup kitchen for meals. I remember her telling me that if it hadn't been for a box of gifts distributed by the local newspaper to children living in poverty, she and her siblings wouldn't have received anything for Christmas.

Fast-forward to the 1980s, when my cousins and siblings and I were coming up. My grandparents were working class people living on a budget, but you would not believe how many gifts my grandma gave us at Christmas. Little things, but tons of little things. Cheap plastic toys and clothing from the clearance rack at her local discount store. We're not talking one or two items (or three or four)--we're talking garbage bags full of stuff.

I don't remember how I felt about the sheer quantity of gifts I received from my grandmother. When I was a kid things like storage space were not a concern. But the reason she gave us so much is clear to me now: she was compensating for the poverty of her own childhood by spoiling her grandchildren.

Fast-forward again to the present day. My grandmother died in the 1990s, but her memory lives on--most notably because my mom and my sisters refer to my girlfriend as "Grandma R" behind her back. It's something they snicker about. They snicker, I groan. It's easy enough to laugh when you're not the one whose girlfriend gives you gifts you don't want.

I live in a 1-bedroom apartment. I'm not a fan of "stuff." And yet from our very first Christmas as a couple, my girlfriend has been giving me an abundance of junk for Christmas. And when I say "junk" I'm talking about bags of random shit from the dollar store.

The thing is, my girlfriend LOVES Christmas. She is a Christmas fanatic. I won't even go to her house between November 1st and the end of January because it's so overly decorated (Christmas stuff EVERYWHERE--including on the floor) that I can't breathe. It's overwhelming.

Just like the gifts. The gifts are overwhelming. It's too much cheap crap, too much stuff I have no use for. And I'm too environmentally-minded to throw it in the garbage, which means it's now my job to figure out which charitable organization accepts donations of stupid crap.

Last week we were talking about gratitude here at The Grip. This is the opposite of that. And I'm sure I sound like a snotty ungrateful child, but this is my eighth year trying to communicate to the most important person in my life that I really would prefer it if she didn't buy me presents. I'll tell you right now, this conversation never goes well. I try to communicate that I would prefer we did experiential gifts, like a special meal or a getaway. DO something instead of giving things.

Every time I broach this subject, a hissy fit ensues. "Fine! If that's what you want, fine!" And then she inserts passive-aggressive little jabs into conversations again and again. She wants to give me gifts. She derives joy from the act of shopping for me and giving those things to me and watching me open presents.

But what if I don't want them?

A more gracious person would accept them and smile and say, "Thank you! How did you know? It's just what I've always wanted." But I don't believe in lying to an intimate partner.

Last year my girlfriend handed me my gifts and said, "Here's more crap you're just going to throw in the garbage."

So why give it to me?

Who is a gift for? If I've said please please please do not buy me anything and you do the opposite, who benefits? Not me, that's for damn sure. If my girlfriend enjoys buying me gifts so much that she will go against my wishes year after year to give them to me, isn't she doing that for HER, not for ME?

Is a gift for the receiver, or is a gift for the giver?

All I know is Christmas was a hell of a lot easier when I was a kid.


  1. Definitely a dilemma, Giselle.

    Fortunately, the holidays will be over soon!

  2. It sounds like you're pretty confident in your take on this without any external validation, so you probably don't need me to say this... but, for what it's worth, I have giant garbage bags full of agreement with your outlook on this. Maybe someday she'll be able to get enough perspective on this to see that being "nice" to someone in a way she has made emphatically clear she doesn't want isn't actually nice. Maybe if she can eventually get past her disappointment she'll be able to recognize that while the incompatibility between how she wants to celebrate Christmas with her partner and how you do is no one's fault, the real problem is her inability to understand that incompatibility in a nonjudgmental, non-taking-it-personally way, and to be ungrudgingly open to finding alternatives that would please both of you.

    1. I always think about this one episode of the Beetlejuice cartoon (the movie was turned into a Saturday morning cartoon, in case that needs to be explained) where the theme is "do unto other" so Beetlejuice fills Lydia's room with beetles. Because he would LOVE it if someone filled his living space with a bunch of live beetles. But Lydia's not so jazzed about this and has to teach him that his wants are not universal.

    2. Have you shown your partner the Beetlejuice episode? (:v>

    3. Love this example, Giselle! I've thought a lot about how "do unto others" can be flawed advice, and this is one of the greatest illustrations of the idea that I've ever heard.

  3. Can you pull a "this year, let's just give each other a charitable donation"?

  4. I feel your pain. I also have a grandmother (and late grandfather) who always went overboard at the holidays and still does to a degree now. It's more for the giver than the receiver. It's the instant gratification thing.

    Can you bargain with your GF? Tell her to fill her boots in buying stuff, since that's obviously her thing, but tell her it would make you happy if she bought stuff you could both donate after the holidays - toys, clothes, books and whatnot. She wraps them, gives them to you, you both unwrap them, oooh and aaaah about how some kid would love this toy or a woman in a shelter would get a kick out of getting sparkly nail polish? Better to do this *before* Christmas so you can unload your loot, but it sounds like she'd probably veto that one.

    Or tell her to splurge on food. You'll be up to your eyeballs in Laura Secord and such, but at least the food will be used.

    1. The best would be toys or children's books, preferably before Christmas, so we could donate to a toy drive or the Children's Book Bank. I'll try to push for that next year and see how it goes.

      I would honestly love gifts of food but the problem is I would end up with food from Dollarama. I speak from experience--from the year when she went overboard at Easter in addition to Christmas. The poor food bank ended up with so much cheap crappy candy after that. Sorry food bank!

  5. Both my late mother and my sister always bought like that: Twenty things to unwrap and nothing at all of practical use. We finally worked out a deal with my sister to just buy one thing for each others house. Maybe a nice fluffy set of towels or high-thread-count sheets. One quality product instead of a dozen throw-aways.

  6. Kids go through a stage when the sheer quantity of gifts matters more than the quality, at least during the gift-opening period. I suppose sometimes that becomes subconsciously a "gifts are love, so the more, the better," or maybe for some gifts ARE the only way love was expressed in their family, if it's expressed at all. In any case, compulsions that go back to childhood are hard to break.

  7. You have our sympathy, Giselle. There are some good suggestions here.

  8. Giselle, other people have given good suggestions, but I'm not sure suggestions would help. What you describe is the way my dad was when I was growing up. It was really hard because I feel like complaining about it makes me sound ungrateful, but I eventually concluded that there was a manipulative element to the gift giving. He wanted to push the button that made me praise him, and nothing I could ever do while he was alive could convince him to stop pushing the button, even if it forced me into contortions. I don't think the gift giving was for me, is what I'm saying. A lot of givers don't realize that receiving is an art, too, and that it has its own form of generosity.


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