Tomorrrow is Christmas Eve – or maybe more accurately, tomorrow night is Christmas Eve. Some among us will open their presents at that juncture, while others will wait until Christmas itself.
For Lake Effect essayist Elaine Maly, the timing of the gifts isn’t really the issue:
A french cooking class with a world renowned chef, a stunning haute couture dress, and a sleek black neglige that made me feel like a Victoria Secrets model. These are the gifts my oh so in love husband bestowed on me during the early years of our marriage. Tom knew me so well —my size, my style, my passions.
As we settled into married life, the gifts were still wonderful but gradually became less inspired—a food processor, a terry cloth bathrobe, a jam of the month club membership. The same was true on my end. “How many watches does a guy need?” I thought.
At around year 12, I suggested that we stop getting each other gifts and consider our annual winter vacation our Christmas gift to each other. Tom agreed. Or so I thought. Instead, he went underground. Plotting and planning super secret surprise gifts. I’d check in again and again. “We’re not getting each other anything this year, right?”
“Right,” he’d say.
So imagine my surprise that Christmas, when with our family gathered around the decorated tree, he disappeared into the basement and emerged with a giant wrapped rectangle for me. “You said no gifts!” I complained weakly even though I was completely delighted. “I know,” he said, “but this is something I really want you to have.” He sat close to me as I carefully pulled back the red and white snow flake paper to expose the limited edition numbered and autographed print from renowned artist Jacob Lawrence whom we got to meet in person the year before he died, Elmer-glued into the slightly too large $4.99 poster frame from Target.
“You shouldn’t have,” was all I could say as I tried to keep my face composed knowing that the rescue of this precious piece of art was going to cost us hundreds.
A few years later, when menopause had fully taken up residence in my body as a roaring coal furnace, Tom bought me long-sleeved quilted pajamas. “Why don’t you ever wear them?” he wondered a few weeks later.
Another year, we had been doing some holiday shopping at a big box discount store in the aisle of special gift ideas for people who have everything—electric foot massagers, whopper choppers, and fondue sets—the kind of gifts that get used once or twice and then take up valuable real estate in the back of a closet. There was also something called an instant hot tub that you put into your bathtub to make it like a jacuzzi. I saw Tom looking at it wistfully. He knows how much I enjoy a hot tub.
“I know what you’re thinking,” I said. “Do not get this for me. Listen to me. I do not want it. And I am not trying to use reverse psychology hoping that you’ll get it for me anyway. I really do not want this.”
So, I was not surprised one little bit at the family gift giving gathering when he presented me with a brick shaped box wrapped in Goofy Santa paper with a big green bow. “Wow! I wonder what he got you this year,” said my excited mother-in-law who was sitting cozy with me on the love seat.
I channeled my inner actress, tore off the paper and exclaimed, “Oh how wonderful! Now I can finally turn our ordinary bath tub into a whirl pool hot tub.”
After everyone left, Tom said, “That was a good performance. I’ll take it back tomorrow.”
“From now on, no gifts, right?” I said, relieved that the message had finally gotten through.
This year he gave me the Ellen Degeneris Dance CD.
Essayist Elaine Maly is the 2015 winner of the Wisconsin Writers Association’s humor writing contest. She writes about her life as a native Milwaukeean at her website.
Essayist Elaine Maly reads "Christmas Gifts"
Essay/Term paper: Christmas gifts you love (to hate)
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Christmas Gifts You Love (to Hate)
Christmas. The most exciting and anticipated holiday of the year. A time
when visions of sugar plums--or stereos, new cars, the latest computer, and
various other desirable and expensive gifts--dance through our heads.
Unfortunately the reality of Christmas gift-giving is often a far cry from our
When we're children, it seems as the holidays approach that anything is
possible. But as we mature and gain experience with this annual observance it
eventually begins to dawn on us that it might not always be all it's cracked up
to be. By the time we've reached our late teens--when, coincidentally, the
potential for receiving truly outstanding gifts is optimized--we realize that
Christmas gifts are seldom what we hope for. In fact, from year to year it
becomes possible to actually predict the kinds of gifts you'll unwrap on
Christmas morning. Let's look at a few examples.
The Necessity Gift
The necessity gift is one that always seems like a really great idea to
your mother or grandmother, but which is invariably a big yawn to unwrap. Let's
be realistic, how excited is anybody likely to get over a dozen pairs of
matching socks, a hairbrush, winter gloves or underwear? Slipper Sox, new sheet
sets and toothbrushes also qualify. After unwrapping such a gift, a person is
likely to exclaim: "Gosh, you shouldn't have!" And mean it.
The Token Gift
The Token Gift might be received from almost anyone. Though it seems like
an intimate friend or close relative wouldn't stoop so low, experience proves
that token gifts take up where imagination and/or money leaves off. So it's
possible to receive these kinds of gifts from the most unexpected sources.
One present in this category is the ever popular "soap-on-a-rope." I've
never seen these marketed in June. But come early November the soap factories
undoubtedly pay double-double overtime to their workers in order to meet the
vast holiday demand for nameless, pungent-smelling brown soap manufactured over
the top of what appears to be a six-foot-long shoe-string. A note of caution:
Soap-on-a-rope should never be given to boys under the age of 12. They
invariably turn them into near-lethal weapons. If disappointed enough, they
might even turn them on you.
Other token gifts include cheap aftershave lotion/cologne, stationery, and
the ever-popular electric shaver. Though this latter might occasionally fit into
the Necessity Gift category, I've never met anyone who actually uses an electric
shaver. For this reason, this gift might also fit into our next category.
The Closet Stuffer Gift
Closet Stuffers are exactly what they sound like: gifts that are stuffed
into the closet shortly after Christmas, never to be seen again. The reason they
stay there for a very long time--generations, even--is because most Closet
Stuffers make us believe that someday they might be fun and/or useful. But of
course, they never are.
Great Closet Stuffers include pasta makers, fondue sets, tacky knick-knacks,
tie racks, and the ever-popular but usually short-lived all-around exercise
machine. Some of these gifts might have actually been on someone's "want" list.
But don't kid yourself. If you purchase such a gift, within weeks it will be
doomed to a life of utter darkness.
The "I Didn't Know What to Buy You" Gift
We've all been guilty of purchasing one of these gifts as some time or
another. But that doesn't make it any more fun to unwrap them ourselves. Many of
the "IDKWBY" gifts fall into the food category. Examples include: cheese and
sausage gift sets, mixed nuts, chocolate covered cherries or pretzels, tins of
tasteless Christmas cookies, ribbon candy, five-gallon tins of assorted flavored
popcorn and, last and certainly not least, fruitcake. Now some fruitcakes
wouldn't qualify for this category. There are actually people in the world who
spend months concocting 12-pound, liquor-filled, green-red-yellow speckled
wonders (you wonder what's in them) as special gifts for their favorite
relatives. This doesn't make them taste any better, but they do make great door-
stops in the off-season. No, only department or drug store fruitcakes fall into
Of course, not all "IDKWBY" gifts are culinary in nature. Calendars qualify,
as do chia pets. Enough said.
It would be possible to list several other Christmas gift categories that
would send a cold tingle up your spine. But rather than list any more of these,
I'd like to give you a few examples of really great gifts: Stereo components
(good quality), gold jewelry, an appropriate music C.D., gift certificates, and
But if you want to be absolutely certain your gift will be appreciated, go
with cold, hard cash. The receiver is certain to experience the true American
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