Over these next few days, parents will hurl themselves into the gaping maw of shopping hell in a last-ditch effort to appease their children and loved ones. In many instances, they will fail. It's not for a lack of effort; making people truly happy (not just fake-grin, polite gratitude) on Christmas and Hanukkah is like playing a game of chess while blindfolded. At gunpoint. At a Gwar concert. And you have to move all of the pieces with your ass.
Because the game is inside your asshole.
Just remember, you're not making the process any easier when you find yourself resorting to ...
The Practical Gift
Your parents have lied to you about the existence of Santa Claus, and society has played a hefty role in that long con. I know you're angry about that, but on the upside, you at least now know that the real gift decision-maker isn't some cherry-cheeked owner of elf-slaves who is tracking your every movement and watching you as you sleep.
And stop fretting about that winged weirdo with the tooth fetish.
In a sense, the death of the Santa Claus myth brings ultimate clarity to the parent-child relationship as it pertains to Christmas. But while that means that you can now lobby for the big-ticket items on your wish list and search the house for boxes to shake, it also means that there is no magical fat man to blame when things go horribly wrong and you wind up with practical gifts like pants and worm medicine for your cat.
Or socks, used mainly to wipe away tears of disappointment.
Nothing emulates the sound of a heart tearing like the noise a Trapper Keeper's velcro makes when pulling apart on Christmas morning, does it?
Cold, Hard Cash
I know what you're thinking: "Why is money a bad gift?" In essence, it's the least personal thing you can possibly get for someone. A gift card isn't much better, but it at least says that the person tried to figure out which stores you like to frequent. But money? You throw money at problems like mouthy hookers and second cousins whose interests you are completely and blissfully unaware of.
"Actually, do Sue's kids even use dollars? They live all the way in Oregon."
What's worse, the freedom to buy whatever you want with your gifted money doesn't really exist when you aren't old enough to carry a wallet or hold onto your own cash. Instead, the money is "put aside" for you, which means that, while a folded $20 or two in a card may give you a momentary jolt of excitement, in all actuality, your uncle got a clear conscience, your parents got $40 worth of drunk, and you got Jackie Coogan'd.
"Merry Christmas to us all! Including our dear kid, whatshisname."
To be fair, though, the "put the money aside for you" thing is an excellent preemptive way for a parent to pay down their child's eventual "I'll pay you back for it" debts of their early adult years.
The Wrong Video Game Console
Somewhere out there in my mother's version of the cloud (a shoebox in the closet), photographic evidence exists to support the claim that I was a happy child. This picture shows me holding a Nintendo 64 while grinning ear-to-ear on a long-ago Christmas morning, but it could just as easily have been a picture of me holding a Sega Nomad with that same dopey smile on my face.
"Ninety minutes of gameplay before it dies? Golly gee, lucky me!"
I genuinely feel bad for the kids who got the wrong video game system. For every kid who got a Sega Genesis, there are others who got a Jaguar because their clueless parents went to the guy in the cage at Toys "R" Us, pointed, and took home whatever magic box of sound, light, and distraction jumped out at them.
Oh guy in the cage at Toys "R" Us, you were like some kind of mystic freak elf who took slivers of paper and returned with electronic baubles from your vast stack of cartridges and video game systems. I wanted to be locked in that cage overnight so badly. I wanted to live your life, but now I realize that you didn't serve the cause of good. If you had, you would have intercepted and struck down the Nomad people with a burning fury. But alas, you were merely a cog in the grand bone-crushing machine of commerce.
Guy in the cage at Toys "R" Us, you were no hero. You were a victim.
And possibly dyslexic.
The Gift That You Would Have Loved Last Year
Like any normal, red-blooded American boy, my toy tastes evolved from things like BraveStarr, to Masters of the Universe, to SilverHawks, to imported soccer Starting Lineup figures from Europe in the late '80s. OK, yeah, I got punched a lot as a kid.
"Each night, I snuck from the storage closet to your room to wedgie Maradona."
When I picked one toy up, inevitably, another had to be put down, and then it was dead to me forever ... or until I grew up, went on eBay, and decided that possessing the trinkets of my youth again would make me forever young.
Because of my ever-changing tastes, I must have been a monster to shop for and a spoiled brat whenever someone dared hand me a toy after it had become irrelevant to me. Our definition of ourselves and our likes is as inflexible as we are filter-free when we are children. Just ask my stupid, douchebag, fart-licking cousins.
Sorry, I'm still working on that filter thing.
I can't even imagine how hard it must be to keep up with a child's fast ascent through the trendsphere now, in the age of media saturation and this twitchy cultural ADD. Maybe cash isn't such a bad idea.
The Off-Label Brands
We're all a bunch of label whores. Macklemore has built a sonic empire on the back of making us aware of this, but our sickness extends far beyond clothes, and its roots go all the way back to our "Mega Bloks are just as good as LEGOs" childhood.
Many good men were lost in the Oreo-Hydrox wars.
Before I continue, let's all accept that, in hindsight, the Real American Heroes G.I. Joe figures weren't that different from American Defense figures. With that said, though, how insulted were you if you were given those as a gift when you clearly said you wanted G.I. Joe?
Both were American, but G.I. Joe was from the pro-America part of America.
I had my share of copycat army men, but despite the practical benefits, I could never bring myself to combine my forces. And forget about bringing them out around my friends. I'm pretty sure the Gobot kids had to sit at a separate table in the cafeteria, so I can't even imagine what would have happened to me if I would have tried to show off my CORPS! figures without an accompanying pack of Black Cat firecrackers.
The Thing That You Already Had
When you're a kid, you get gifts from people that you barely know, like your parents' friends and Uncle Chad's "special partner." It's a pretty sweet deal that is the inverse of how things are later in life, but it can all go horribly awry if they don't psychically know what toys you already have.
"The second one is to replace the pieces from when someone inevitably throws this across the room."
There is no comp for the mental anguish that one feels when they open up a present and discover something that's already in a box marked "things to burn if we lose electricity." A social contract has been violated, and there is little to no remedy. Sure, we can go return the duplicate toy, but much like the unfair song of the cash gift, the store credit slip always seems to fall back into the family pot. Which sounds like socialism to me.
Violating the very spirit of Monopoly.
Holy crap, I just realized that Christmas hates America. Bill O'Reilly had it backwards!
The Thing You Actually Wanted ... Kind of Sucks
This one sneaks up on you. You got exactly what you wanted for Christmas, and then you play with your gift and it's a disappointment. This has happened to me a few times, but video games always seemed to carry the most risk in the pre-Internet age, because we really weren't able to go in with much information about how a game would look or play. Well, those of us whose asshole moms neglected our subscription to Game Informer magazine on last year's Christmas list.
"Were there only a way to access such info for free, perhaps electronically. Ah, a boy can dream."
What's worse, video games have always had a much more restrictive return policy. So it's not like you could put on your best stereotypical Italian mafia voice and tell your mom to take them back to the store and buy herself something nice.
The Mission: Impossible game on the N64 is a perfect example of this. I was a hardcore GoldenEye addict, and I was desperate to find a similarly themed game that would deliver the same kind of thrills. I chose poorly and wound up chasing my Christmas joygasm with three weeks of the sads as I limply tried to find love in my heart for an inferior product, knowing full well that I would have to wait six months until my birthday to roll the dice again and get a new game. Thanks a lot, mom.
I should have called DCFS.
Nothing but the Thing You Love
When I was younger, everyone knew that I liked baseball. This meant that on Christmas, I was inundated with handheld electronic baseball games, packs of baseball cards, sporting goods, baseball-themed sheets and clothes, and the actual Don Mattingly. I overdosed on our national pastime, and the sad thing is that, even now, as an adult, it is happening again.
Except for the Mattingly part. That love died when his mustache did.
I love The Muppets. I have a couple of the Palisades action figures, and I even have a life-size replica of Gonzo that I got for dirt cheap on eBay as a birthday gift for myself. Unfortunately, as a result of this, I have now become "The Muppet Guy," which means that every Christmas, birthday, and even anniversary, I am given Muppet things that I do not wish to possess. Let's face it, if you walked into someone's house and it was full of Muppets, how likely are you to ever walk back in there again?
Actually, now that I think about it, if you walked into someone's house and it was full of Muppets, there's an equal chance that you'll never be walking out.
"Hi! Now show me on the Muppet where I can touch you."
Anyway, the point is: don't pigeonhole your loved ones. I'm sure they have myriad interests, and I know that nobody wants to become "Family Guy Guy," which is another distinction that I previously broke free of.
The Things That Weren't a Surprise
Everybody peeks. It's an expected part of the dance, but there's a difference between having a clue and picking out your own gifts. When I was 10 or so, my family was in the process of moving. This meant that we were staying at a Howard Johnson for Christmas while our stuff was in storage. Our tree that year was a plastic tabletop deal with no ornaments, and there were no presents because things were as tight and as hectic as you would imagine that they would be if you were living in the HoJo. That's what the cool kids call it.
The HoJo: a winter wonderland.
Desperate to give us some kind of Christmas, my parents took us to Toys "R" Us and told us to pick out whatever we wanted on the day before Christmas Eve. There was a cap, but I don't remember what it was. But I do remember being distinctly told that the "guy-in-the-cage job" wasn't an option.
That probably sounds like nirvana to you, but it actually took all the magic out of Christmas that year. I got some action figures and played with them a little, but I quickly lost interest and those toys always felt tainted because there was no ceremony to the receipt of the gifts and no care put into their selection. It's hard to love a mail-order bride when the courtship is, "Here's the money you required."
"You're a whore, Sgt. Coolman."
I don't blame my parents for that year; they were doing everything that they could to give us something to get excited about during a Christmas that was going to be unavoidably shitty. Besides that, I learned a valuable and corny lesson that I suppose I'll pass on to you here because it's Christmas and I feel obligated to end on a candy-coated note. Even a crappy gift, or a small gift, or a duplicate gift is better than a known gift (unless it's a life-sized Gonzo ... please don't get me a life-sized Gonzo). As cliche as it sounds, it really is the thought that counts and the effort (and torture) that people put into the art of gift-giving that makes it all worth it.
And be sure to check out 3 Nintendo Games That Are Worth Revisiting as an Adult and 19 Knock-Off Gifts People Are Probably Opening Today.
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