A Curmudgeon’s Take on the Gifting Season

The headline on Jason Gay’s op-ed on Christmas gifts in Friday’s The Wall Street Journal actually reads,

The Elusive Challenge of De-Escalating Gifts

That’s the point, though. In Gay’s piece, the season isn’t about Christmas, it’s about whether to incur the expense of profligately scattering presents about, with the Christmas season serving merely as backdrop and an excuse for the ostentation, or as a device for crying about the money—and intrafamilial competition—involved.

Gay pretended to considerable angst about trying to tamp down the gifts (with nary a word about Christmas itself), and he offered a number of excuses [sic] for the failure to tamp. A couple were these:

Complete multilateral de-escalation is essential. You cannot have a situation where five people give no gifts, or tiny gifts, and then someone shows up with a wheelbarrow full of Johnnie Walker Blue and PlayStation 5s. If this means impromptu site visits to make sure a relative isn’t secretly stockpiling an illicit stash of Ugg boots, so be it.

No, it isn’t, yes, you can. And no, you don’t have to be intimidated into any spying-on-relatives visits; that’s just cowardice. Instead, it would be easy enough to shame the wheelbarrow-er for his naked attempt to abuse the season to curry favor, or to show off his own ostentatious wealth, or both. If the wheelbarrow-er, in the end, shows himself to lack the grace to be shamed, then he needn’t be invited back the next year.

Ditto grandparents. It’s easier to talk a squirrel off a bird feeder than it is to convince a grandparent not to give gifts to grandchildren. Gifts are what grandparents are for.

Hard means possible, full stop. And no, gifts are not what grandparents are for, no more than wives are baby making machines for those same grandparents. If they’re unwilling to follow the parents’ strictures, then ditto the misbehaving grandparents. They don’t need to be invited back the next year.

Timidity like Jason Gay’s are why it’s so difficult for so many to have a sane Christmas that’s in keeping with the actual meaning of the season, and of the year surrounding it.

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