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This past weekend I spent my annual Christmas shopping day with my dear wife. She does a fine job of compiling lists of people and ideas, and we travel all over Mankato to find the right gifts for everyone on that list.

Sometimes that is very easy. Our niece and nephews are generally pretty easy to shop for. They usually have very specific items they want from Shopkins to video games to Lego sets. It’s always fun to see the lists kids create; they are so excited for presents, and it brings back memories of our youth and how we’d feel the same way.

Other times, though, shopping can be tough. Having a teenage daughter is not always easy. “I don’t know what I want,” is a common refrain. “Just gift cards and cash are fine.”

Ugh. No, they’re not. This has become increasingly common, not just at Christmas but also when she’s invited to a birthday party. “What would your friend like for a gift?” I shudder, knowing that I’m likely to be sent out to get a gift card to Starbucks or for iTunes. The cash thing is really difficult to swallow; that’s a fine gift for graduation or Confirmation maybe.

Some girls in her class are really good about creating gifts that are very individualized for the birthday friend. It takes a lot of creativity and foresight to do this, and we’re not all up to that task. Even when we were kids, our teachers guided us in gifts to make for our parents for Christmas or Mother’s Day. Birthday gifts for our parents growing up were things like coupons for tasks to be completed or something like that.

My 8th graders just finished reading the play version of The Diary of Anne Frank. One of my favorite scenes in the play is the Hanukkah celebration. The Franks and Van Daans had been in hiding for about half a year and couldn’t very well go out shopping for gifts. They had basically braced themselves for the idea of no gifts while the Nazis were out hunting Jews.

However, Anne creates gifts for everyone in the secret annex. She erases the answers in a crossword puzzle book so her sister can do the puzzles again. She promises her mother ten hours of doing whatever she asks. She has gathered scraps of soap and made a big bar that is like new for Mrs. Van Daan. She even created a paper toy for Peter Van Daan’s cat, Mouschi. This, to me, is a true look at the idea of giving during the holiday season.

For many years, my sisters and I, along with our spouses, have done a drawing of names for gifts. We would each create a list of things we might like and would then go looking for gifts based on that. The problem has become that we put things on the list that we would likely just go buy for ourselves anyway. There’s not much thought behind just going off a list when you’re buying for adults. Kids are fine because the things on their lists are not items they can just go out and get.

This year the idea was floated to do away with the list exchange. What could we do that was different? Different thoughts were bandied about, but we ultimately decided that each of the eight of us would come up with some homemade idea to give each of the other three couples. This could be food, a craft item, or anything else we create ourselves. Ultimately, this will force us to put thought into these gifts and more effort than just stopping at Target or Walmart.

The older I get, the more difficult it is to come with what I “want” anyway. Many items I could really use are prohibitively expensive. I think we could use a new couch or I’d like tickets to take the family to a baseball game outside Minnesota or there are some key issues of old comic books I wouldn’t mind having. But as far as what people shopping for me are going to spend, those items don’t really fit a budget. I tend to get books, ties, and food, all things I get much enjoyment out of. I’d probably trade everything I’ll get this Christmas for all homework turned in on time from all my students though!

We continue to hear that we should remember the reason for the season, but then we see the masses of humanity that swamp stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, searching for all the best deals. But are we putting a lot of thought into what we give each other? Giving gifts is wonderful and receiving them is fun, no lie. I’d like to say that I would be fine with getting nothing, but that wouldn’t be truthful. We all like opening gifts, and the ones I like the most are those that show individual thought and represent an understanding of me. Though if anyone finds one of those Nintendo Classic systems that sold out the instant they went on sale…

And now it’s time to start wrapping!


Word of the Week: This week’s word is comport, which means to conduct, as in, “It’s always difficult to teach kids to comport themselves with style when they open a gift they don’t really want.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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