Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Best Christmas Gifts

This article was originally published on Dec. 19th, 2007 at and

I love stuff. I’ve always loved stuff. I would go as far as to say that I love more than just stuff, I love junk. I love cheap plastic junk that breaks easily and does neat stuff. I’ve loved cheap plastic junk that breaks easily and does neat stuff ever since I was a kid, before it was all made in China. If it was possible, I would probably have the biggest collection of cheap plastic junk that breaks easily and does neat stuff in the world and most of it would probably be broken from being played with too much. When I was a kid I used to spend quite a bit of my money on cheap plastic junk that did neat stuff and broke easily and ended up in the garbage. Nowadays, of course, I can’t really afford to buy cheap plastic junk that breaks easily and does neat stuff simply because I don’t have that kind of disposable income. I need to spend my money on more important things, like food. It’s also nice to have heat this time of year and the company that supplies natural gas seems to want money to deliver it. The same is true of the company that sends electrons down the wires which are utilized by my computer to help me write these articles and deliver them to the Internet. When I get my own place I’d love to be able to supply my own electricity and heat using solar and wind power and stop making monthly payments, but I digress. The point is that right now the acquisition of cheap plastic junk that does neat stuff is very low on my priority list. Even though everything I’ve said so far is true, cheap plastic junk that does neat stuff, or even expensive plastic junk that does really neat stuff, does not make my list of the best Christmas gifts.

When I was a kid, I collected little metal cars called “Hot Wheels.” One Christmas, I asked for a specific "Hot Wheels" racing set and had my heart set on receiving it. Now, I came from a large family, so Santa Claus had to spend a great deal of money to supply us with presents. Of course, this hardly occurred to me when I was a child. I only knew that year after year I had received whatever I asked for from this wonderful and magical stranger, though by this time I was beginning to notice that my parents would act quite oddly at this time of year and spent much more time than usual out shopping. Anyway, to make a long story short, and I’m quite certain that I could embellish this story to rival the movie “A Christmas Story,” but then it wouldn’t quite be factual, but to make a long story short I was quite excited that Christmas morning. I scanned the room and did not see a present for me that was large enough to be the “Hot Wheels” racing set I had asked for. I ripped into my other presents and I probably gave them the proper appreciation, but it was beginning to look like Santa had not brought me the present I had most wanted. I was beginning to panic. Then my mom came down the stairs with a large present. I hadn’t even noticed that she had left the room. She explained that Santa must have accidentally left it in her room. It was for me.

Now I was excited. My heart pounded. I rushed to her. She handed me the present. I tore into the wrapping paper. Before it fell to the ground, before I could tear it all off, my heart sank. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I hadn’t gotten the “Hot Wheels” racing set I had asked for. I had, instead, received the dreaded “Johnny Lightning” racing set. I felt betrayed. How could this have happened? I wanted nothing more at that moment than to be left alone. I ran out of the room screaming something about how much I hated “Johnny Lightning.”

Now, just so everyone’s understanding is complete, this was not just some random reaction. My best friend and I at the time would often get into deep discussions about the virtues of “Hot Wheels” as opposed to the failings of “Johnny Lightning.” If my memory serves me, I believe much of the discussion revolved around the superiority of the “Hot Wheels” power source (the little houses that the cars would pass through had two battery operated rubber wheels that would spin and shoot the cars through) versus the inferior power source of the “Johnny Lightning” (which was a hand operated lever that moved a catch sticking up through a slot which would sling the car up a ramp). I seem to recall that the “Johnny Lightning” cars were also proprietary in that they had a little tab on the bottom so the catch in the track could sling them and this made it a little more difficult to remove the cars from the track and free play on the floor with them, but I could be wrong about that. In any case, my best friend and I had decided long before this happened that we both loved “Hot Wheels” and hated “Johnny Lightning” and we vowed we would only ever own and play with “Hot Wheels.” We both had quite large car collections we were very proud of. How could Santa, who was supposed to be able to see into the heart of a child and know his true desires, how could he have done something so heinous as to bring me the hated “Johnny Lightning” racing set?

So, that was not a good Christmas. The “Johnny Lightning” racing set is also not on my list of the best Christmas gifts. I did learn something on that day, however. I went through a whole range of emotion, from anger and profound disappointment, to realizations that maybe a child that young shouldn’t have to come to. For one thing, I did notice how bad my parents seemed to feel that Santa had not been able to bring the proper car racing set to me. It seems that Santa could be a victim of consumer demand as much as anyone, and I wasn’t the only kid that had wanted the “Hot Wheels” racing set that year. It was in high demand and by the time Santa had gotten around to shopping for my gift, the stores had run out of stock. All that was left were “Johnny Lightning” racing sets as they were not so much in demand, and Santa had decided that something for me was better than nothing. Of course, this was a hard concept for a child to wrap his mind around, especially one that had been so disappointed. My father did let me know in no uncertain terms, however, that I was lucky to receive anything for Christmas and that I should appreciate any present I received. He was a brought up during the depression, after all, and had lost his father at a very young age, so he seldom got anything he asked for when he was a child. This was something I took to heart. By the time my father had finished explaining things to me, my brothers had set up the “Johnny Lightning” racing set and were playing with it. I decided to break my vow and play with the “Johnny Lightning” racing set. After all, it seemed to matter a great deal to my father, and everyone else in my family for that matter, that I appreciate the gift.

If you are waiting for a happy ending to this story, it comes three months later. On my birthday, I was determined that I would appreciate whatever presents I received. After the celebration had ended and I had opened all my presents, I still hadn’t received my “Hot Wheels” racing set, but I had learned my lesson well. I was appreciative of the toys I had received and happily playing with them. Then my dad surprised me and brought the “Hot Wheels” racing set out of hiding. When I saw it, I became the happiest kid in the world. I couldn’t thank him enough. I’m sure I got many hours of enjoyment out of that gift, but I have no idea what happened to that toy. In fact, my whole “Hot Wheels” collection disappeared into the mists of time. I would say that a “Hot Wheels” racing set does not make my list of the best Christmas gifts. Material possessions are very transient. You never know what life will throw your way. What I remember most about Christmas gifts is the love and care that the person who gave it wrapped it in. What I have learned to appreciate is the thoughtfulness behind the gift.

Perhaps many of us need to learn to appreciate what we already have. It is easy to take for granted what we already possess as we rush to acquire more stuff. I hate to sound cliché, but sometimes something is cliché because truth can be cliché. So, in my opinion, the best gifts are seldom material. A hug makes a great gift. I’m not talking about a little how-do-you-do hug, I’m talking about a great big so-glad-you’ve-shown-up bear hug. A kiss or some other show of affection from a significant other means so much more than a new watch or wallet. A little bit of intimacy says “I love you” so much more than even the most expensive power tool. A homemade card from a child says so much more than anything that can be purchased at a store. Friendship is also a great gift. Just being there for emotional support is a gift beyond expression. After all, what do we have if not each other? The man who has everything is woeful if he does not know true friendship. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for people to express their love for one another by purchasing stuff, but to me the best gifts are those that give the chance for the person to give of himself/herself. Those are the gifts I, at least, appreciate the most.

If, however, anyone out there wishes to give me a gift to show appreciation and they can’t think of a way they can give of themselves, cash is always a good option. Drop me an email and we’ll make arrangements.

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