So in theory I feel like there's too much stuff in the world, an impression borne out by the fact that Pottery Barn is selling fake fur throw blankets for over $100, which blows my goddamn mind. And the exchange of presents is in some part responsible for this excess of stuff, because it means that people are buying things for other people that those other people do not particularly want, and also our financial constraints means that we are buying each other lots of cheapish stuff, which seems even more wasteful.
Nevertheless, I am pro-present.
Getting someone a present that they really like is the best way I know to show you care. It involves effort and attention and comprehension. Also, in some ways, being given something you really like feels like a compliment. This other person saw this cool thing out there in the world, and when they saw it, they thought of you. There's something really nice about that.
This is why gift lists and telling other people what we want is so much less fun -- it brings presents back into the world of autonomy and decisions and choices.
But I understand that the risk of the kind of present-giving I am advocating is that you will get things that you don't like, things that feel, even, a little insulting. "You thought I would like that?" Etc. We've all either been in that position, or we've seen it on tv. The thing is, though, it allows for a different kind of generosity, the kind where you assume that your loved ones are doing the best they can, and mean nothing but the best, and, operating on that assumption, you fake thrilled surprise.
Also, none of this means that I am opposed to the sheepish gift-card giving mode of exchange, although I have been known to joke about people waiting in line for mall gift certificates. Because we are out there trying to be generous to our loved ones, and make their lives better and richer and fuller, and if gift cards are the best way you can think of to do that, that's not so bad.
So that's why I think gift giving is a good thing for being part of a human community. But also I just like shopping for things for people. I like seeing what's out there; I like trying to match gifts up with people. It's like a puzzle. There is that bad moment after you've bought everything when you think the gifts you're giving are crummy, but then you get to rely on the generosity of spirit of your family, and that's pretty nice too.
It's an imperfect world, and there's something great about those moments when we try to compensate the ones we love for that, when we try to snatch out of the darkness a fifteen dollar alarm clock where a hunter shoots a deer, hoping that maybe that will make it all better.