Sunday 24 March 2019

Tell me what you want, as long as it's in budget

Making sure that everybody is kept happy and satisfied at Christmas time can be harder than it looks

ON A MISSION: Victoria Mary Clarke shopping for socks at Kiwi Country Clothing on South Anne Street, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
ON A MISSION: Victoria Mary Clarke shopping for socks at Kiwi Country Clothing on South Anne Street, Dublin. Photo: Steve Humphreys
'A lot of the people who insist on being vague and unhelpful have told me that they get terribly embarrassed when they are caught trying to dispose of their unwanted gifts'

Victoria Mary Clarke

In a supreme effort to do Christmas 'properly' this year and thinking that one day I will get it right, I have been asking my friends and family to write me lists of exactly what they want, like wedding lists.

So far, only one person has come through. A younger relation has supplied me with a spectacularly efficient document containing not only all the items that she wants but also photos of them, along with sizes, colours and prices.

I find this enormously helpful, even if there is nothing on her list that is in my budget. I have promised to give her my list as well, which includes diamond earrings at one end but also a flashing jacket for cycling at the other.

This way we both know that we have been told what the other person wants and if we choose not to buy it that is another matter.

I was surprised however by how many people were shocked and critical of this system. Many of them said they didn't approve on the grounds that it 'cheapens' Christmas and makes it a tawdry, material holiday instead of a sacred one. A lot of them said they didn't know, didn't mind, didn't want anything or wanted a surprise. My problem with this is that they all know that they will be getting a present, and they might as well get something they like. I suspect that they all know what they want deep down.

Even when you have friends like Bono who are not short of a few bob, and they probably want world peace - which isn't easy to get on Amazon - everyone wants something.

The ones who say they don't mind are out and out liars. Because when you push them they all admit that they have an attic full of scarves, hats, books, perfumes, after-shave, ornaments and other stuff that they knew they didn't want as soon as they unwrapped them. And that is just the children.

The ones who say they don't want anything and mean it are pretty much all lying as well and you can tell by their faces when you open the signed Seamus Heaney that they carefully chose for you, and you remind them that they didn't want anything. My partner Shane is the only person I know who genuinely doesn't want Christmas presents. He says he prefers to think of Christmas as a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus than a time for people to buy him things.

Which is ironic seeing as Christmas Day is also his birthday. And of course it means he gets piles of presents that he doesn't even open.

I get the surprise thing. I used to be one of the ones who loved surprises. But after many years of experimentation, I realised that being surprised by something that you don't have to pretend to like is the exception and not the norm, I now prefer to be specific and be surprised by how happy that makes me.

A lot of the people who insist on being vague and unhelpful have told me that they get terribly embarrassed when they are caught trying to dispose of their unwanted gifts.

A dear friend of mine gave me a completely useless present that I gave to a charity shop only to have another friend buy it back for me, thinking I had made a mistake. When people give me clothes I try to re-gift them to people they don't know, but what with everyone putting pictures of themselves on social media, I have more than once come close to disaster with this strategy.

The more people spend and the more trouble they go to the worse it gets. In the past we have been given paintings that were too hideous to hang up but you can imagine how awkward they are to re-gift, especially when they are portraits of you. I can only imagine how awful it must be for The Queen. But I suppose that is what the palaces are for.

Another reason that I want people to be specific about what they want and don't want is that it hurts my feelings when people don't like what I give them and I am very good at reading micro facial expressions because I spent about a year watching Lie to Me, which is a television series about a human lie detector. You get to know when people's voices say 'I love this', but their noses says 'yucky perfume'.

I think part of the Christmas present problem comes from the fact that we all have different values and we like different things. Sometimes the thing that we know the person wants is not something we approve of, and we might not think they should have it. Shane says that when he was younger, his sister asked for a Boy George album for Christmas and while he did buy it for her, he said he was mortified having to ask for it in the shop.

We might think that everyone should support local crafts people and that is a lovely idea, but it doesn't mean that we all want hand-painted earthenware dishes, and not everyone is thrilled to get given a goat either.

This year, for everyone who won't tell me what they want, I have the perfect solution.

The most beautiful and luxurious possum wool socks that are warm in your wellies and never need to be washed.

I realise that socks are a cliché, but I have done the research with an extensive poll on social media and only 15pc of the people who get given socks say that they ever re-gift them, donate them to charity or even hide them. They do actually wear them, if only in winter. And personally I love socks, particularly the very soft ones. So be warned. If you haven't given me your list, you have no excuse to be disappointed.

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