Friday, December 19, 2008


This time of year, many of us spend inordinate amounts of time shopping for gifts, impelled by both the spirit of the Christmas season (and for us Jews, the unfortunate conflation of the Big Christian Holiday with the minor-league postbiblical celebration that is Chanukah), and the lashing of the merchants’ Advertising Whip.

For many of us, the most difficult part of the whole process is not the expense, nor is it the hours spent schlepping packages through a crowded shopping mall, nor is it wrapping everything up in nice shiny paper that will be shredded immediately upon opening.

It’s finding the Perfect Gift.

Any slob can give someone a present. At the very least, it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to pick up a gift card at Crate and Barrel...or any other retail establishment. I’ve often wondered at the appeal of gift cards. Instead of writing a check - a gift that says, “I want to show you I care about you, but I have absolutely no imagination and/or desire to spend time actually shopping for a gift for you” - you buy a gift card, locking the recipient into spending money at a specific retailer before the card expires. The gift card announces that you cared incrementally more than the person who simply stuffed some bills in an envelope...but cash, at least, is good everywhere.

For those who actually want to buy something, there are plenty of items on the shelves that seem to show up during the Christmas season...or just before Father’s Day. Stupid-ass gifts, like golf-ball polishers. Decorative items, such as plastic reindeer with electric noses. If you like tchotchkes, this is the time to go wild.

But the best gifts are those that come from the heart, the gifts that you instinctively know are right. They may be costly, but they need not be in order to be precious to the recipient. The bottle of Château Lafite 1945 for that wine connoisseur...the symphony tickets for that couple who are always humming operatic arias...the box of matches and can of unleaded for the unshaven arsonist who lives under the freeway.

To be able to give the perfect gift, you must know someone well enough to know what is in his or her heart. Their deepest passions, their most closely-held secrets, their emotional cores. It is the mark of true friendship.

I think, for example, of the thin volume of Robert W. Service poems that Eric pressed upon me several months ago, a vintage copy of The Spell of the Yukon. Eric knew of our shared interest in poetry, sure - but what impressed me the most was not only that he knew I would take pleasure in the gift, but that it was something he himself loved...and yet, he was willing to part with it for the sake of giving a friend the Perfect Gift.

There is no more sincere gift, I believe, than the one you would want someone to give to you.

In that spirit, in the event you are casting about for a gift for Eric this Christmas season, you can take the easy route and simply buy a bottle of fine Single Malt...or you can select something more personal, something that speaks unto the very soul.

The choice is yours.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to Houston Steve for the link.]

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