My Aunt Jane– and God bless her sixty-something year old soul – gives the worst Christmas gifts. It’s remarkable that she has been able to keep up this feat for over a decade. I have never had the heart to tell her that the majority of her carefully (or perhaps not so much so) selected gifts now sit in a dark corner in our pantry gathering dust and cobwebs, possibly molding and/or disintegrating after years spent in exile and neglect. She is much too sweet for me (or any of my siblings) to beg her to stop.
My aunt is actually my mother’s half-sister. They share the same father. My grandfather was going to marry Aunt Jane’s mother after she was conceived and born out-of-wedlock, but she refused his proposal. She had contracted TB and was certain that she was going to die. Aunt Jane’s mother eventually passed away when she was two years old. My grandfather eventually married my maternal grandmother, who treated her dismally. She sent her to school without soles on her shoes. She sent her to school without lunch or lunch money. Meanwhile, my mother was sent to school in the nicest dresses and best of everything that Grandma could afford. Aunt Jane did her best to be a good child, never sulking or offering a cruel or reprising word to my grandmother. She stuffed newspaper in her shoes and would shoot craps (dice) on the playground to get money to eat for the day or the week. When my grandmother was dying of cancer, it was Aunt Jane who was by her side caring for her for months as she drew near to the end of her life. Before she lost her powers of speech, my grandmother offered her a tearful apology.
“If I had known in the end it was going to be you…I’m so sorry, Janie,” she wept.
My mother had refused to take on the task of caring for her own dying mother, insisting instead that the three siblings contribute towards a live-in nurse. Maybe she was scared. Maybe she didn’t want to be inconvenienced. All I know is that my grandmother wanted the daughter she had birthed near her.
With that history in mind, how could I tell my sweet Aunt Jane that we don’t use her ceramic Frosty the Snowman salt n’ pepper shakers, or that the decorative oven mitt meant to hang in the kitchen is completely hideous? The answer is simple. I cannot and will never. I will smile, say thank you, and re-gift them if the opportunity arises.
My brother and sister have also been recipients of some truly tacky Christmas gifts as well. Every item oozes the unique cheap manufacturing that is the hallmark of dollar store fare. In keeping with tradition they too fawn and gush and squeal in delight upon opening their gingerly wrapped gifts. None of us would dream of injuring our Aunt Jane with ingratitude.
“Oh gosh! A pair of reindeer antler candles! Thanks Aunt Janie!”
“Wow. What’s this? A decorative wash cloth. Thanks Aunt Janie!”
And every year, we call each other up to ask what the other had received, laughing about how hard Aunt Jane tries…but always pleased that she made an effort to show that we are each loved and valued by giving us a gift even if she couldn’t afford the very best.
This year, my brother and sister decided to spice things up a bit.
Part of the stress of the holidays is in picking out the perfect gift for your family. As you may well know (and may have done yourself) people are wont to talk about you if you give a bad gift. We decided that we would intentionally give each other crappy gifts, and hence have dubbed Christmas 2012 as The Crappiest Christmas Ever – the Beta Version. Next year we will have a full launch.
My family and I are rarely in the same geographic space at the same time. This weekend was the first time we have all been together in six or seven years. It was glorious. There was drunken laughter and stumbling, the cupid shuffle, vodka doused gummy bears, these white things Aunt Janie makes, and of course our crappy gifts.
My sister gave my brother a plastic turd. I gave him a 3 foot tall Justin Beiber poster. (He hates him.)
Uncle Remus Syrup: Dis sho’ am good!
My sister got a Bluegrass gospel CD set, a bright pink lace thong and an album of Mexican love songs. (She is an agnostic who does not want any more kids. Ironically, she likes bluegrass.)
We made sure that our beloved cousins got their share of fun. My sister gave out already scratched off lottery tickets and evenly distributed the pieces of some nondescript snowman holiday set. My brother gave out Spongebob Squarepants sipping straws and toy skateboards to grown men. Chris got an enormous lighter that only produces a tiny flame – completely useless! Everyone had to take a picture with their crappy gift. Since the internet is ‘forever’, I promised only to post pictures of myself.
Judging from my aching ribs and burning cheeks, our Crappy Christmas was an ultimate success. See? You can take something awful and turn it to your advantage. Here’s to a Merry Crappy Christmas to you all!