Two weeks ago my parents sent out their annual email asking my brother and me for our Christmas lists, thus initiating the Moxie Family Christmas Present dance, in which we all submit a list of things we want, knowing full well that the likelihood of actually receiving anything from that list is small to the point of being miniscule.
I don’t say this to be horribly greedy and materialistic. We are lucky to be spending Christmas together, and to have the resources for gifts in the first place. But you’d be a little bit bratty, too, if you had to deal with my family’s Christmas politics.
Admittedly, there’s a mercenary feeling to submitting a detailed Christmas list. It removes any element of surprise. But because my family knows itself well (and we all know how disorganized my father and brother can be), we determined many years ago through trial and error that sending out lists early in December worked a lot better than mentioning gift ideas off-hand and hoping for the best.
Still, something always ends up happening between the sending of the lists and the purchasing of the presents--like the synapses just don’t connect. Perhaps it’s my parents trying to add the element of surprise back into the equation. Or maybe they look at our lists and think, “Well, if Moxie says she wants this particular thing, maybe she’ll REALLY like this other, semi-related thing that I saw yesterday at the mall.” But somehow it all morphs and mutates, so that, for example, I end up with a book by Edith Wharton, but not the book about her Italian gardens that I specifically requested.
The really funny part is that my father, the former Brooklyn Jew who resisted my mother’s Catholic Christmas traditions for the first 6 years they were married, has become the king of the passive-aggressive gift exchange. He hearts Christmas and all the presents that it brings, even though his birthday is right after New Years. Every year he makes his Christmas list more and more vague, with the unspoken intention of testing the boundaries of our love and understanding of him. His list requires all kinds of interpretation and assumption, and it’s completely maddening. This year his list looked something like this:
--a technology toy
Don’t bother asking him to be specific--what books? What kind of tools? A backpack for what? Because all he’ll do is frown in that “if you knew and loved me, you wouldn’t have to ask such vulgar questions” kind of way and say, “Surprise me.” Which leads to lots of exchanges like this on Christmas morning:
“A brown belt! Thank you!”
“Do you like it?”
“Well, I really wanted a black one. But this is very nice.”
This is why he gets a lot of gift certificates from me. And why I have learned to appreciate the wonders of Amazon.com, provider of all things that I don’t have to go to the mall to buy. Because if the stress of shopping for my family got combined with the insanity of malls during the holiday season, my head might literally explode.