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.