The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

’Tis the sea­son for giv­ing and, in­evitably, the sea­son for be­ing anx­ious about giv­ing. By now you’re on a dead­line. With less than a week to go, you might have some ideas, you might even have some presents, but many are switch­ing gift tags al­ready, won­der­ing which rel­a­tive they’ve for­got­ten and re­think­ing that frog-shaped pep­per grinder they bought for a pop-in guest.

You’d think we’d be bet­ter at it, given that gift giv­ing has been go­ing on since we lined up at stone al­tars with of­fer­ings for pre­his­toric gods. But many of us muck it up ev­ery year. We risk re­la­tion­ships and bank bal­ances but at least when we get it wrong, we won’t end up kiss­ing the al­tar with hands tied be­hind our backs.

While wait­ing in a queue for a cashier, I had plenty of time to re­flect on why the bun­dles of stuff un­der my arm cause so much anx­i­ety. And, really, it all boils down to four prob­lems: too lit­tle, too much, too late and just-per­fect-for­some­one-else.

Let’s start with that last one. Giv­ing presents is meant to show we’re think­ing of some­one else, but some­times they be­tray us as, yeah, think­ing of some­one else. How well do you know the per­son to whom you are giv­ing? Do you even know their age or are you giv­ing a sparkle craft pack to a niece who’s al­ready do­ing shoot­ers on Satur­day night? Is that Aunt Ma­bel’s Christ­mas Pud­ding go­ing to a gluten­free friend?

It’s not just the per­son you’re meant to think about, it’s their needs you must get right. You don’t give grandpa in the nurs­ing home a home­brew set (un­less you want him kicked out). You should not give your sis­ter’s son an AK-47 wa­ter shooter if his dad is just back from Afghanistan. And enough of the scarfs, OK?

De­cid­ing how much to spend is so dif­fi­cult that many of us put price brack­ets around cer­tain re­la­tion­ships. So, $30 for cousins; $50 for in-laws; $80 for blood rel­a­tives; a couple of hun­dred for chil­dren; and $29.90 for pop-in guests who love frog-shaped things. If you spend too lit­tle, you risk ap­pear­ing mean or, worse, as hold­ing the per­son in lit­tle re­gard, and be­ing anti-ma­te­ri­al­ist is no ex­cuse. You’re tight. They prob­a­bly know it by now.

But spend­ing too much is al­most as bad. You’ll em­bar­rass them if you ex­change a pizza oven (hint for chil­dren) for two li­nen tea tow­els. Or they’ll think you’re feel­ing guilty about some­thing you did to them, thought about do­ing to them or for­got to do for them. A year of ab­sence is rarely re­lieved by a big present.

If you make a habit of over­spend­ing, you might ask your­self if you’re try­ing to make them feel good or try­ing to make your­self look good. Giv­ing a gold-plated gar­lic crusher or a Blah Blah lamp does noth­ing for some­one who lives in a share house and would kill for a two-pack of ging­ham tea tow­els from Tar­get (or, let’s face it, a six-pack of craft brews).

At this point of the giv­ing sea­son, many will reach for the pre­dicta­bles: the scarfs, socks, can­dles, room fresh­en­ers, box­ers and bot­tles of chocolate chilli syrup that will sit on the top shelf wait­ing for a re-gift­ing op­por­tu­nity.

Oth­ers might say they’re sick of adding to First World prob­lems so they’ve de­cided to save the Third World via Ox­fam en­velopes for wa­ter wells, goats and school pen­cils. This is a fine thing to do but, really, it’s a bit grandiose to think you can save the world one Christ­mas stock­ing at a time.

By the time, you’ve fin­ished queu­ing at a shop where The Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy is on a con­tin­u­ous loop, you might just want to throw your­self on a stone al­tar, hand a knife to the high priest and hope the gods are sat­is­fied.

It’s all a bit fraught this busi­ness of show­ing you care, and when the wrap­ping comes off it can feel like a re­veal of you, your mo­tives, your hang-ups, your guilt and your re­la­tion­ships.

But you can con­sole your­self with the idea that a lot of thought has gone into th­ese presents. Too much thought, per­haps, and not ev­ery thought has been help­ful. But, if it’s the thought that counts, you’ve nailed it. Merry Christ­mas and bet­ter luck next year.

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