All presents and accounted for?

By TAN DAWN WEI – Dec 28, 2006
The Straits Times

ALL I want for Christmas is: freedom.

Freedom from shopping for gifts for the family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, people not on my list but who may just surprise me with a gift, and office cleaner who’s been clearing my trash for the past year.

I’m sure I’ve missed someone, but don’t blame me. I’ve tried my best. Like all the malls around town, I too have extended my shopping hours – against my own will – and it’s time to close shop.

Christmas shopping for someone who used to go on weekly nine-hour shopping marathons should be akin to a glutton standing before the buffet spread at The Line in Shangri-La.

But when you’re braving the rain – and fire, for some – to buy 30 different gifts on a deadline in malls teeming with harried shoppers, blinking lights and Jingle Bells blaring from every big department store and small corner shop, you don’t feel very festive at all, nor in any mood to spend your money.

I thought I had it all worked out. I sat down last week, drew up my shopping list and planned my exact route, down to where to park and which escalator to take, which I had every intention of executing with military precision.

Go in, get the job done, get out. No detour for window-shopping or browsing, no need to decide blue or green, zip or button, round or square.

But after having my foot trampled on once, my bag knocked off my shoulder twice and dodging armies of cacophonous adolescents more than thrice, that spirit of goodwill went up in smoke, along with the flames off the Tangs rooftop.

I found myself stifling a shout when the gift-wrapping person took what seemed like an eternity to dress up a palm-sized box of something.

I couldn’t see what it was from where I was standing, which was about five persons down the line. But it seems I’m not alone in preferring a visit to the dentist to mall-hopping in search of presents.

As a survey in Britain shows, only one in five adults enjoys Christmas shopping. Three out of 10 people find doing it in crowded streets more stressful than looking after a young baby.

And women spend more time gift-hunting than men, not because we’re indecisive creatures, I suspect, but because we often shoulder the responsibility of getting presents for everyone on behalf of the family.

But more than the stress of jostling with the crowds, is the anxiety of what to buy.

Should I ply the shops until I find something perfect, or just settle for this aromatherapy candle set because it’s within my budget and, well, I’ve got it here in my hands?

Last year, I bought all my friends gifts for a good cause – accessories made by the victims of the Asian tsunami and T-shirts from various animal welfare groups.

The anti-commercialism rebel in me even wrapped every item with pages torn off magazines and strings for ribbons.

If Christmas is about giving, then it should benefit more than just your friends, I reasoned, immensely pleased with myself.

I’ve never seen any of my friends wear the stuff I bought them.

I conceded then that buying good gifts just isn’t my expertise. Not when, to put it in cheesy terms, my heart isn’t in it.

One girlfriend, who’s like a Mrs Santa, always has presents for everyone – even the security guard in her office building.

Her presents – which always come in the most pristine of boxes and wrapping paper – draw the loudest shrieks around the table. They’re always either unusual, hard to find or very expensive.

I can’t compete with that, especially not with the expensive part because my entire year’s salary is probably what she gets for her year-end bonus. Next Christmas, I think I’ll make a pact with all my friends to stop this gift-exchange business because it’s become another case of have-to-buy and not want-to-buy.

Like birthdays or Valentine’s Day or anniversaries or even vacations where you’re compelled to bring back something for everyone.

The best gifts are the ones you receive when you least expect them because someone who went shopping saw something nice and thought of you.

And as trite as this sounds, it bears a replay: You don’t need an occasion to give something to a person you care about.

Excuse me, while I go back to wrapping those gifts.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 25, 2006.

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One Response to All presents and accounted for?

  1. Shopping sucks.

    But getting pressies makes it all worthwhile. :P

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