Why the unwanted gift makes Christmas a time for giving out
The festive season can feel like a rather long, drawn-out affair. Like a Depression-era dance marathon, it can feel like it will never end, and sooner or later we just want to sit down, rub our feet and sob quietly.
But few festive experiences feel as agonisingly drawn-out as the moments between receiving an unwanted gift and the point where you actually ask the giver if they happened to get a receipt for it.
The unwanted gift is a test of your own strength of will - do you have the courage to brazenly ask for the receipt, so that you can transform this hoverboard/wall-mounted singing fish/Wolfe Tones greatest hits (on cassette) into the gift that keeps on giving - cash?
You can start the process as soon as you receive the gift - a subtle 'oh, where did you get this?' will help you begin the retail version of Guess Who?, eliminating store after store as you ascertain just how easy it would be to return this 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of Eamon De Valera's face.
If the gift was purchased online, returning it will be akin to one of Indiana Jones's more tedious crusades, if he spent the first half of the film filling out byzantine return claim forms, and the second half desperately hunting for a Jiffy envelope large enough to hold the Ark of The Covenant.
No, returning things bought online is rarely worth the hassle, so the gift will simply be placed into a closet in the 'recycling' stockpile for when one of your children gets invited to the birthday party of a child you don't especially like. 'Happy birthday, Timmy, here's a pampering bath set in seductive jasmine. Enjoy!'
If the gift giver is comfortable with their own festive failings, they may have the gift receipt included in the package. If not, they simply need to learn to be less arrogant (how dare they assume they knew what you might like?), and telling them you hate their taste and they don't know you at all is a handy way to start this process. Christmas is about new beginnings, after all.
But even if you get your hands on the receipt, you now have to face another arduous task - actually physically returning the gift to the shop. Time is of the essence, as, like most consumers, you don't really understand even the most basic consumer laws, so you have assumed that if you don't get this pasta-making contraption back to the store before midnight on January 6, you will be left with that most accursed of things - store credit, effectively an IOU for stuff you do not need, given in exchange for something you did not want in the first place.
Added to this misery is the fact that the sales are in full swing, offering a scene akin to the opening 20 minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan', with screaming shoppers falling over buggies, dead-eyed men staring into the middle distance, unsupervised children knocking things over, and the general sense that Herod might have had the right idea. The unwanted gift is a burden on the soul, and is best left to sit in a press somewhere, until such time as you can be bothered sticking it up on DoneDeal in the hope that out there somewhere there is a person who would like to own a boxed set of every episode of Arthur Murphy's 'Mailbag'.
Of course, all of this is an intrinsic aspect of the true meaning of Christmas - pretending to be happy. From the turkey being too dry, to the pudding not lighting, to the leaning tree of Pisa, to the unreturnable novelty clock that plays Christmas songs on the hour, every hour, all year round, the true spirit of Christmas lies in saying the words 'this is great' whilst dying inside. Because let us not forget the original unwanted Christmas present was being forced to give birth in a manger in Bethlehem because there was nowhere else to stay.
Mary certainly didn't have that on her list - she wanted a pampering bath set in seductive myrrh, while poor Joseph just wanted a new adze to impress the lads in his local Men's Shed group. Even though they ended up spending Christmas in an AirBnBC that took 'rustic chic' to a new level (despite rave reviews on PilgrimageAdvisor), they did not complain. Theirs was the original rubbish Christmas, compounded when only one of the so-called Wise Men had the wisdom to just give them cash.
Granted, they got to raise the Messiah, along with immortality, ascension into heaven and a few other spiritual stocking fillers, but if they were able to smile and tell the Angel Gabriel they were delighted with everything without mentioning a receipt, then maybe you can choke down the tears and pretend that a Simon Cowell calendar was exactly what you wanted. After all, the season is meant to be about giving - not giving out.