A week or so after Halloween, a bank teller asked me if I had finished my Christmas shopping. The question surprised me. Not because I find it odd that total strangers inquire about my religious practices — that happens far too often to still find it unusual — but because it was so early. People were still pulling fake spiderwebs out of their shrubbery so it was kind of odd that this bank teller was obsessing over her Christmas shopping obligations enough to discuss it with a random stranger.
I said yes, my Christmas shopping was completed and it was her turn to be surprised. And by the looks of her face, she wasn’t just surprised, she was devastated. Clearly, she had merely wanted to commiserate over some shared procrastination and instead, I had left her alone with her shame.
She looked so sad and pathetic, I couldn’t leave her like that and so I explained my approach to Christmas shopping, “Honey, I gift like the Magi. My Christmas shopping is always done.”
Her face moved from devastated to perplexed so I had to explain my gift-giving strategy.
Here’s the way I see it. The custom of giving gifts to loved ones at Christmas references the gifts that the Three Wise Men brought to Baby Jesus. Because of this solemn history, most people take it upon themselves to give perfect gifts, or as close to perfect as they can possibly get.
And then they feel the need to do this with virtually every soul they know, from the love of their lives to the relief mailman who delivers their mail when the regular mailman is sick. All of these gifts are expected to be personal and thoughtfully chosen, and for the more important relationships, they’re expected to be expensive, because there is a notion that the value of the gift equates to the value of the relationship. Everybody denies this but they still think it. Or they worry that others think it.
This just sets you up for failure and there’s no need for it. If we go back to the gifts of the Magi, who, after all, are the originators of this custom and presumably the gold standard, we see a very different story.
Melchoir didn’t even shop for a gift. He gave Baby Jesus gold which sounds nice, but gold is basically cash. He didn’t even take the trouble to find a gift card. He just threw Baby Jesus a little loose change.
Gaspar and Balthazar didn’t do much better. Frankincense and myrrh? What kind of a gift is that? Especially for a baby.
Who gives stinky oil to a baby? Babies are plenty capable of conjuring up some stink all by themselves.
I’ll tell you who gives stinky oil to a baby; someone who hasn’t put any thought into a gift, that’s who. We’re killing ourselves trying to think of the absolute perfect gift for every single person with whom we come into contact every year, year after year after year, and it’s totally unnecessary.
All you really need to do is grab an old ash tray off the coffee table that hasn’t been used since it became socially unacceptable to smoke in the house 20 years ago, find a used fast food bag in the floorboard of your car and wrap that piece of crap up. You have put just as much thought into your Christmas gift as Balthazar did when he grabbed a jug of frankincense on the way out of his palace and threw it into his camel’s saddlebag.
And the best part; there is no rush to deliver your gift. There is no need to worry about how many delivery days Amazon has before Christmas. Bible scholars disagree on when the Magi finally showed up but estimates range from 12 days to two years since after the Magi asked Herod for directions, he started killing baby boys up to two years old, so those clueless kings could have been wandering around Persia with their stinky oil for two years. Even if you throw your Christmas gifts in the trunk of the car and hand them out next July 4, you are well within the margin of error. You’re probably alright if you don’t get it together until Thanksgiving year after next. We have been making this whole Christmas shopping thing harder than it needs to be. My new friend the bank teller is stressing unnecessarily.
If you embrace this relaxed deadline on Christmas gift-giving and decide to gift like the Magi, you’ll find yourself picking up things for the people you love all through the year and presenting those gifts when they are least expected. Imagine the delight of someone receiving a gift out of the blue when they are totally not expecting it, instead of after opening 20 other gifts while struggling not to fall asleep from a recently ingested overly dry turkey.
Loved and appreciated, that’s how they’ll feel. Just like Toddler Jesus must have felt when the Magi finally showed up with his gifts. Until he opened them, of course, and found out it was just a bunch of stinky oil and some loose change. You can probably do better than that. You’ve got two years to work on it.
Bill Colvard is lifestyles writer for the Mount Airy News and can be reached at 336-415-4699.