So just how well do you think your friends know you? Or more to the point, your family? Mr Freud please stay at reception, there’s no need to get deep or even philosophical about such a question. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty, let’s talk Christmas presents. Is it the oversized chocolate brown sweater from an Aunt with a red nosed Rudolph on it? The inevitable pair of ghastly socks. ”But they’re too small” you point out, ”No they’re not, they’re cashmere!” comes the peeved reply. Have they forgotten you may now be 40 not 12, as fading memories may imply? What did your mother give you last year, your granny, your husband, wife or child? Have you been generous in giving and receiving, or just miserable and belligerent as presents, decorations and all things Yule are just not your thing?
Christmas is a time of happiness and joy. Flickering lights, the warm waft of home cooking, Silent Nights and We Three Kings, hot, mulled wine simmered with spices and cinnamon. Pure irresistible magic, one might think. Which of course it is if you happen to be a child… and definitely don’t live in Britain. Why? Because in Britain, Christmas is more like a national sport in the giving and receiving of the most hideous, horrendous and utterly useless gifts imaginable. This is not a joke but a grim, unavoidable seasonal reality.
Only yesterday you find yourself on the London Underground travelling to work. In the seats opposite, a tired looking mother with a tiny, screaming baby and an equally loud teenage daughter, both doing some serious pondering over their Christmas list. Patently on a shopping trip, one can hardly help but listen to their heated exchange. Fine you think, at the very least it may provide a few gift ideas as Christmas approaches. “Yeah mom”, begins the daughter, “we’re getting the Superman G-string for dad, aren’t we? Or ones with the elephant trunk? In fact let’s get them both, a man should have more than one pair of knickers! Tracey should have a pancake maker and Sonya the rabbit.” ”What rabbit?” mother asks. “The dancing wiggly rabbit, extra large one, you know? The inflatable life size hammer for Steve and a body-wash gel for gran.”
Well, at least grandma lucked out. She could have some use for the body wash. But was that genuine initiative, or are they simply implying that the poor woman is in need of a hose down? Anyhow, the list went on and on, among other things included were battery-operated candles, glow in the dark gloves, magic gloves, decorated rubber cleaning gloves and even stretchable and washable tattoo sleeves. Stretchable and washable tattoo sleeves? Now that was a stroke of a genius. Who would think of something like that? And what is a stretchable tattoo?
So once home that evening you go on line to look for the special tattoos. And there they are, only £4.99. The blurb read:
“Fool your family, amaze your friends or shock your boss with these fun novelty tattoo sleeves. Stretchable and washable, simply slip on for an instant and realistic looking tattoo. One coloured sleeve and one black and white sleeve so you have the choice to wear one or both. Guaranteed NOT to go unnoticed! Two Great sets to collect – One size fits all.”
The website was flooded with such “great gift offers” and clearly making a good business out of it. Flabbergasted as you are to find such items of completely unusable and worthless nature, you can’t help but be even more puzzled by those who purchase such things like the mother and daughter from earlier in the day. Yes it’s Christmas time and yes it is Britain, so perhaps there is a cultural thing that one cannot comprehend fully as a foreigner here? Perhaps you are misguided in thinking that pointless presents are merely a British thing. The game is on, you just have to find out. Is this a global craze rather than a local one? Are useless gifts given and received everywhere regardless of geography and culture?
Being on line already, you post a single question on Facebook enquiring: What is the most useless gift you have ever received? It didn’t take long for answers to start pouring in. One friend wrote, “My aunt’s annual Christmas present is always a birdfeeder, surely one’s enough!” Another one explained, “A Bible, not that I object to having one but considering that it was the fifth one given to me by the same person, I thought they may have raided the church or something.”, ” A blow up hammer- no good if you want to hit things!” The list continued with small chairs; “so tiny that it was impossible to sit down on them,” rotten fish, ugly multicoloured sweaters, synthetic underwear, bad perfumes, tacky china, picture frames…
Perhaps the most twisted tale of all though is the grandmother who, every year, would delight in lavishing some of her grandchildren, while scorning others. A beautiful doll for one, a sachet of shampoo free on a magazine to another. One year all her progeny received one empty video cassette box each, presumably all were deeply out of favour. The most memorable Christmas however had her bestow five gifts to five siblings. A carefully written cheque for £7 to the youngest, £6 to the next, £5 to the middle child. By this point the remaining two were waiting breath baited. Paper ripped off, the second daughter in line revealed a bar of soap. Only the eldest son remained. His special gift? Two Bic biros, one blue, one red- carefully sellotaped together.
Whatever this Christmas may bring, fix those grins, polish your best ”oh really you shouldn’t have” and remember it’s not what you want but the graciously receiving what you’re given, that counts.
Text: © Predrag Pajdic, originally commissioned by and published in German language as “Merry Christmas”, TUSH magazine, Issue 18, November/December 2009, p. 260.
Image: © Roberto Foddai, Self Portrait, 2009