That Gift-Giving Feeling? (Natasha Sinel)

I love the aesthetics of the holiday season—snow, lights, trees (especially since, being Jewish, I don’t have to deal with the hassle part of procuring, decorating, undecorating, and disposing). But the other part of the season—the gift-giving—has been lost on me for a long, long time. December has become nothing more than a month filled with to-dos lists—Chanukah presents (three kids, eight nights, do the math), teacher gifts, tips, cute holiday card to everyone we or our parents have ever known, new unwrapped gifts for charities, checks for end of year fund-drives. It’s just one novel-length to-do list. On top of that, I'm bitter that the list takes up my writing time. And gift-receiving? No thanks. When I need something, I just get it.

But…but! The other day, I caught a glimpse of the giving spirit, and I’m hanging on to it for dear life. Our elementary school had a holiday boutique. Generous parent volunteers arranged gently-used stuff—jewelry, books, ties, mugs, stuffed animals, toys—on tables in the gym, and priced everything for about a dollar. I sent my kids in with a few bucks each.

That afternoon, my sons came home with their booty. While Z (2nd grade) chose to wait for Chanukah, J (Kindergarten) could do no such thing. He was bursting at the seams, talking faster than I could listen. And out of re-used plastic bags came each thoughtful purchase. A small soft teddy bear for Dad, a stuffed Tigger for Z, whose favorite color is orange, and a real-looking plush cat for me (I like cats, but some of us—I won’t mention names—are allergic). And then, out came the pièce de résistance—a truck for his oldest brother N (4th grade), whose current special interest is cars. J couldn’t wait for him to get home, and when he finally did, N, thankfully, was appreciative and sweet, even though the toy was a bit too young for him. J was so happy to get his brother’s approval, he almost cried.

This whole scene brought back a vivid memory from my own childhood. I was in 2nd grade. My mom and I walked to Higgers Drugs (now CVS). Incidentally, it is right next to Politics & Prose. Suddenly, I saw it. The perfect gift for Mom. I was absolutely sure that it had been placed there magically for the sole purpose of me finding it. It was the most beautiful key ring I’d ever seen—a large clear plastic rectangle with the name ELLEN etched in white letters. I ran to find my mom (in those days, it was okay to be out of your mom's sight in a store), asked for the amount of money I needed, then paid for the key ring. All. By. Myself. That was pure joy. Excitement. I could not wait until my mom opened that present. And I’m sure, like J, I didn’t wait. I don’t remember her reaction (I imagine she was appropriately enthusiastic), but I do remember that she kept that bulky thing on her key ring for years and years.

Turtlenecked Me in 2nd Grade

I want that feeling back—the innocence and pleasure, so completely devoid of cynicism. I want gift-giving to signify more than just checkboxes on my list of things to-do. I want to stop wishing for December to end so I can get back to “normal” life. I long to feel the way J (and 2nd grade me) felt when choosing and giving a gift.

Maybe it’s not too late for this year. After all, Chanukah’s only just begun.


  1. Yeah! The holidays crush my spirit. Because Grinch Husband really could just skip the whole thing. "The kids have everything they need," is his (very accurate) point. But the kids don't live under a rock, so they want want want.

    I live for those little helpful moments when it all seems worth it.

    1. Totally! They don't NEED anything. A bit of candy even goes a long way, though. So at least there's that.

  2. My dad is still traumatized by the fact that when he was a kid he bought his mom a pair of slippers that he was so excited to give her only to have her never wear them. I'm glad things worked out much better with your mom and the keychain.

  3. I know what you mean about the novel length to-do list. It is wonderful when gifts bring actual joy!


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