Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Gift of Guilt

It's that time of year again.

We drive down the street amidst sparkling multicolored lights, inflatable santa's wave cheerfully in the wind, and in the stores lines wind around bright displays of tempting last minute "perfect gift" merchandise.

I love this time of year. I love the lights, the sounds of carols, and the scent of holiday baking. I love the chill in the air (as long as I don't have to be out for too long) and like most people I start longing for the taste of my favorite treats. Unlike most people, I will be making any (and every) thing myself.

Like many people out there, I have food allergies. Of course, if you're reading this blog you already knew that. For some reason holidays can be the hardest. This year, I'm simply grateful for the opportunity to eat a small variety of treats. I'm working on expanding my diet (carefully testing a few new foods. Hoping I can tolerate tomato now, or maybe some nice pinto beans. Not exactly holiday themed, but they do add to the menu.)

I'm also reading up on posts from various forums, and thinking back on years past. Sprinkled throughout the anticipatory ramblings of some members is always a thin, but constant note of dissent. Some people dread the holidays.

And it isn't because they don't like carols, or the festive mood. They don't seem to dread the lines, or wrapping gifts or even shopping. The most voiced complaints? Generic gifts.

It's not that these people are ungrateful. The comments are almost always made in the midst of a post about "what should I get for this person I don't know very well, but really want to remember for the holidays this year." They're softened with the sentiment that "it IS the thought that counts..." but, well, there is that BUT.

Perfume, bath lotions, fancy body lotions and food are some of the nation's favorite "I really don't know you...but you're human, so enjoy" gifts. Popular for teenage nieces and nephews, for long lost cousins and that coworker you've never really seen but know is lurking behind an office door, these items are loved by many. (At least, one presumes that they are enjoyed by someone, since they sell so well.) But they are also very personal items. And there are many giftees who become emotional on the subject.

It's not that they think the giver is inconsiderate. Or even that they take the gift to mean "Here, have a batch of hives and a trip to the ER for Christmas!" They know that it's the gift that counts. They appreciate the thought, time and cash that this tacit remembrance cost. The real root of their complaint seems to be the underlying guilt associated with not being able to appreciate it. Or even to explore a new, potentially exciting product. And, deep down, the strong desire to enjoy it, as the giver most likely hopes they will.

People know that its not the gift that counts, but sometimes the thought means much more than a package. Some people would truly appreciate a card much more than a plate of homemade brownies (especially if the receiver is allergic to nuts and the brownies are studded with pecans.) And frankly, some givers seem intent on simply providing shiny paper and lots of bows. The receiver is little more than a name on their list. In some cases, its fine. But when you know someone won't be able to eat the popcorn in the popcorn tin its just a waste of money and energy to wrap it up for them. Saying it's the thought that counts won't change that. In fact, when one intentionally hands another person something that they already know won't be enjoyed by the receiver, the thought comes through loud and clear, and not the way one hopefully intended.

This year, I hope we all avoid the gift of guilt. But of course, it will lay there under the surface. All we can do is try to muster enough holiday spirit to drown that wave of disappointment when we're handed something we can't eat (or touch, or even open) for safety's sake and remind ourselves that we didn't ask someone to go out of their way for us. Try not to feel guilty, because we are human (even if we don't enjoy Aunt Mary's secret recipe stollen or neighbor Ginger's famous sugar cookies) And so are they.

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