the art of gifting
The worst two presents I ever got were a multi-carat diamond ring and a Mercedes Benz convertible car.
Before you slap me, hear this: The best presents I’ve gotten cost near to nothing.
My husband David is the best gift-giver in the world. He can bring me to tears of joy with a present that cost under ten dollars. What is his secret?
He pays attention.
Like a ninja of love, he sneaks into my thoughts through casual conversations and finds out something connected to my happiest childhood memories. The gift is only the tip of the iceberg of a love declaration that says “I care about you. I’m interested. I hear you.” He has mastered the art of seeing me. And for someone like me, who grew up feeling invisible and inaudible, that’s the greatest feeling in the world.
An example? Our second Christmas together he gave me castanets and finger-cymbals.
When I was a little girl I was fascinated with them. I used to take seashells, or my mother’s round, flat, metal clip-earrings, and tap them together to the rhythm of Spanish music.
The day I opened his present a seven-year-old inside me jumped so high, her head bumped the ceiling. I didn’t even remember telling him about my love for those finger-musical instruments. I wondered if he was a mind reader, had an insider in my family, or if he’d been stalking me all my life.
Do you think I’m too easy to please?
The second worst present I got on my life was a gigantic diamond ring that cost thousands of dollars. My ex gifted it to me trying to erase from my memory my first (failed) attempt to leave him.
I used to secretly call that ring “the diamond-coated plaza.” Instead of one large stone, it had a bunch of small diamonds arranged in three levels of steps in a square. It was so big it looked ridiculous on my tiny hands. It was heavy and uncomfortable. It protruded so much, I kept accidentally scratching my baby-twins’ faces and breaking my latex gloves whenever I put them on to examine a patient.
But the reason I disliked the ring wasn’t only its lack of practicality. The ring was a metaphor of my unhappy relationship.
I’d never asked for diamonds. I’d asked to be treated with respect. I asked for affection, for time, for a commitment to work on the relationship. Instead I’d been given that ring as a way to shush my complains—like the hungry baby who cries for milk and, instead, someone sticks a pacifier in her mouth.
People used to tell me “You’re so lucky to have such a gorgeous ring.” But I hated the thing. Just like my relationship at that time, it didn’t fit me. It may have made another woman happy, but it wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t me. Every time I saw that ring, my heart tightened in pain remembering that I’d left that man once—I’d been so close to my freedom—yet, I’d fallen back in the trap of “Maybe this time he will change.”
So the price tag has little to do with how much a gift touches you. The best presents in the world are the presents which bring back the innocent joy of childhood.
And returning to childhood is what Christmas is all about. I love everything about it. The music, the family gatherings, giving presents (even more than getting them) and especially the decorations.
I’m a sucker for red, shiny things. My car is a testimony to that—It’s metallic red, the color of a red Christmas ball. My minivan too! I love red cars. Actually, everyone close to me knows that I have a pet-peeve against white cars. I like everything I own to be colorful.
So, the Christmas aesthetics fits my cheerful view of life. I love colorful lights (better if blinking), shiny red balls, sparkle, ornaments in bright foil paper—light, shine and color always perk me up.
I never forget that Christmas when I was five-years-old and my teenage aunt Katy put up a small Christmas tree in her room. She made her own ornaments by taking small matchboxes and wrapping them in leftovers from shiny gift-wrapping paper, then putting tiny bows on them. My mind was blown. They looked like perfect miniature presents. They were so beautiful, I couldn’t resist opening one when she wasn’t looking, to see if there was really a tiny toy inside—that earned me a big reprimand from her. Interestingly, when I found nothing inside I wasn’t disappointed: the sole process of opening it had been worth it.
Yes, there’s something magical about gifts beyond what’s inside. It’s about the anticipation, about staring at the colorful wrapping (or bag). About the act of pulling off the bow and tearing the paper. It’s about knowing that the person gifting it to you made an effort, and thought about you.
So, here’s a confession:
The worst present I got in my life was a luxury convertible car—which was white. Not the color I wanted. Not red.
The car was a present from my ex when I was considering leaving him (again!). A few weeks earlier, I had shared with him my enthusiasm abut choosing and buying a convertible car—buying something expensive for myself for the first time in my life.
Before I’d had a chance to start test driving cars—my ex sent his assistant to deliver a car to my door. One he’d chosen for me. One that was white.
My disappointment went beyond the fact that the car was “the wrong color.” He’d missed the whole point. He hadn’t understood the main reason I was buying that car was to chose it by myself . He’d stolen from me what I wanted the most: the process.
But the worst part? He wasn’t listening.
He wasn’t listening the dozens of times I’d say near him that I didn’t like white cars.
And he wasn’t listening when I enthusiastically explained my plans. He’d stopped paying attention after the word “convertible.”
I wasn’t heard.
I wasn’t seen.
If men only knew how much money they could save if they only listened.
In our first Christmas together, my husband David, re-created aunt Katy’s Christmas tree for me. He remembered the story I ‘d told him about the little ornaments made of matchboxes. And somewhere, he found shiny, foil-paper-wrapped tiny gift ornaments, bought them, and hung them on a small Christmas tree in his living room. My favorite part? When he said, “Now you can open as many as you want without being reprimanded.”
See what I mean? He did listen to the whole story.
This Christmas, as you choose presents for your loved ones, keep in mind that the best present is the one that sends the message, “I see you. I hear you. I love you.”