Do you know what I’ve discovered? Even though it has been over sixty years of me giving and receiving Christmas gifts, I am still in a state of shock at some of the gifts I’ve gotten from people. The one that best comes to mind is the one I got from my mother-in-law at the beginning of my marriage (God rest her soul—I think?) that passive-aggressively declared to any and all who were watching: “I’m smiling on the outside that I have a new daughter-in-law, but I am pissed as hell on the inside that she is fucking black—why me, God?”
My mother-in-law took utmost pride in the fact she had official papers from the Daughters of the American Revolution, and that she was a direct descendent of Governor Bradford of the Mayflower. She didn’t have a lot of money but at least she had her lineage, her pride, and her whiteness until her first-born son (the one she just knew would be president someday) came home one Christmas and said: “I’m in love with a beautiful ebony queen: Surprise, surprise, surprise!”
During the few short years she deigned to speak to us, most of her gifts went straight from the postman’s hands into the bin for the poor because they were usually so awful (anything pulled off the triple-clearance rack to check our names off her list would satisfy her). But there is one present that my husband (WW) and I hung in the hall of shame as the “worst gift” ever, under the sign: “Oh no, she didn’t!” I hadn’t thought of the gift in question for years until the other day when I took a nap after too much brandy in my eggnog moose ears, and I dreamt about a Santa’s Support Group for “weird-gift survivors.”
SANTA’S SUPPORT GROUP
SANTA: “Welcome, one and all! As you all may know, except that little guy and his wife sitting in the back from the lost tribe of the Amazon, my name is Santa Claus, formerly known as St. Nick, and I “do” presents. I invited you all to drop by to informally start a “weird Christmas gift support group” because, frankly, I’ve gotten tired of the complaints. Ever since I started my own Facebook page, it has been inundated with complaints about weird gifts you thought I had something to do with. I’m here to first and foremost declare my innocence regarding inappropriate gifts. Santa is not guilty. But I do feel your pain because last year one of my peeps gave me a gift certificate to Weight Watchers along with a Gillette razor. Hello! Obviously, they didn’t know me. Can we all say together: ‘Don’t mess with the tummy and the beard—facial hair and fat equal job security?’ Having said that, I understand that there are some real grievances amongst you and being the good guy that I am, I thought I’d let you get them off your chest.
“Hum, how about “Eleanor, the blogger?” Why don’t you come up to the front and tell us your story since you’re the one who started all the brouhaha on my social media page.”
The Blogger: “Thanks Santa. Hi everyone, my name is Eleanor and I’m a weird-gift survivor. I’ve been without the urge to kill my gift giver for three years now. Praise God.”
The Group: “Hi Eleanor—welcome to ‘Santahatesme support group!’”
The Blogger: “Thank you for a safe place to come and try to get healing from these horrible memories. Let’s see: My downhill spiral started the third year of my marriage when my sister-in-law gave my mother-in-law a silk flower arrangement she had had especially made by an artist friend of hers for me. It was to be a house-warming present, and since my mother-in-law had volunteered to mail all the family presents to my husband and me, my sister-in-law dropped off the floral arrangement before Christmas and went on about her business. When WW and I opened the presents on Christmas Day (two modest presents each for the kids, a sweater-from-hell for WW, an orange and purple gaudy handbag for me, and my sister-in-law’s floral arrangement for our new house), we couldn’t do anything but gasp in horror:
“The Mother had mailed a floral bouquet that had a tag on it from my sister-in-law to me, wishing me a Merry Christmas. What WW and I pulled out of the box was an old, three-layer, dust-encrusted, silverfish infested, mite invaded silk flower arrangement whose colors had long been muted by dust and age. I am extremely allergic to dust so the entire floral arrangement set of a chain of hysterical sneezing and itching that caused me to break out in a horrid round of hives that kept me laid up through Christmas. Well, you can imagine the hurt and the confusion, Santa. What signal was my sis-n-law sending? What had I done to her? How would I ever be able to build a relationship with her after such a hateful gift?”
Santa: “What did you do (rhetorical question, everyone, because next to ‘you know who,’ I always know who has been naughty or nice)?”
The Blogger: “I did nothing. I was new to the family—I wanted to fit in, yada, yada, yada. I felt if my sister-in-law could be that nasty, then why bother to engage her at all. I thanked her for the “present” and went on with my life. I had my man and he was the greatest gift that could come from them.
“But then, Santa, something weird happened. Six months later, WW, the kids, and I went to visit “The Parents,” and when we drove up to the house, my sister-in-law arrived at the same time, and we all walked through the front door together. She and I both happened to glance at a magnificent silk flower arrangement on my mother-in-law’s sideboard as my sister-in-law asked her Mom in confused surprise: ‘That’s just like the arrangement I sent to Eleanor—I can’t believe you had Flora’s Flowers make you one exactly like hers. Mom, when did you get this and why didn’t you get a different one?’ As my mother-in-law sputtered and stuttered about why she chose a duplicate arrangement, I looked into her eyes and I knew she had stolen my beautiful flower arrangement and put my sis-n-law’s tag on something she’d had in the attic for years. She looked back at me and I could tell that she knew that I knew. As my mother-in-law turned beet red and scurried off into the kitchen, I thought to myself: keep your flowers bitch, I’ve got your son—game on.”
Santa: “Yikes, that one slipped by me! It sounds like that was pretty rough on you, Eleanor. I’m curious, did your mother-in-law like the gifts you gave her?”
The Blogger: “Never. Nothing was ever good enough or up to her specifications. Anyway, I’ve long forgiven her and she has been dead quite a while now so the sting is gone. Her ‘gift’ kept me from gaining a mother I never had and her from gaining a daughter who would have loved and adored her. At her funeral, none of her kids spoke on behalf of her life—they remained silent and so did I (I guess I wasn’t the only one whose presents she had screwed over). One of the reasons I started that write-in campaign to your Facebook page is because I wanted to help other families try and get healed from weird-gift syndrome before it was too late. I figured you were just the dude who could help.”
Santa: “Interesting…interesting. Okay, let’s hear from some others then. Since we’re doing bad mother-in-law gifts, why don’t we have ‘Angie from Peoria’ come on up.”
Angie: “Hi everyone. My name is Angie and I’m a weird-gift survivor. I’ve been clean now for six months.”
The Group: “Hi Angie, welcome to ‘Santahatesme!’”
Santa: “Would you guys cut it out! There are other names you can call this group. Sheesh-Louise!”
Angie: “When I was six months pregnant my husband’s fraternity brother gave me a “one in the oven” cookie-cutter gift set for Christmas. I brought a picture to show you, but it is going to be hard for me to get through this without throwing up. It’s called “Fetus cookies: a special gift for the mom to be.”
The Support Group (screaming in unison): “EEEYEUW!”
Santa (yells via PA system for janitorial service): “Clean up—janitorial cleanup—left of the podium and all across the front row! Okay, gang, while the janitor mops up this avalanche of today’s lunch, let us bring up a gift that is weird but not so gross, shall we? I’ve got a year’s worth of cookies and milk in my body, and I just can’t take anything that gives me an upset stomach.”
90-year old black grandmother (angrily yells from the back row as she gesticulates with her cane): “Then I guess I shouldn’t bring up my Christmas present of “his-and-her” vibrators given to me by my 95-year-old husband, huh? You do know his randy-ass present idea was inspired by the gift of a year’s supply of Viagra that you gave him–don’t you Santa Baby? And now I don’t have a moment’s peace? I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. Did you lose your ever-lovin’ mind, Santa Claus? Just because these mens ask for stuff, don’t mean you has to answer.”
Santa: “Sorry, Bernice!”
20-year old Rapper shouts from the audience (think Eminem): “Shit Santa, take a look at the Christmas gift from my granddaddy that is hanging behind you. What the fuck, man? This thing will destroy my rep, but I loves my pops, so I gotta hang it up!”
Santa: “Stop it—all of you! Oh, for God’s sake (and I mean that literally)—it is His birthday. Get ahold of yourselves. Show a bit of decorum. Now calm down and let’s bring up someone less inflammatory. My list says that there should be a Jim (average dad) present. Jim, are you here?’”
Jim: “Yeah sure. Hi everyone, my name is Jim and I’m a weird-gift survivor. I’ve been clean for one year now.”
Santa: “Welcome Jim what’s your weird-gift trauma?”
Jim: “Santa, I have lived for my kids, and I’ve done so without complaint. I worked three jobs to put them through college and they never lacked for anything. They have all graduated and are now back in the house living off me and their mother because they can’t find a job; I get it, and I’m glad to help. But, you would think that four kids could have found a gift more conducive to who and what I am; instead they gave me a gift that ‘Cleans your way to sculpted calves while you scoot along.’ Are you shittin’ me Santa?!”
Santa: “Actually, Jim, that is a gag gift created by ‘The Onion.’ It just shows your kids have a sense of humor. Surely they gave you something else?”
Jim: “No, but my wife knit me this sweater. Do I kill myself now or after Christmas?”
Santa: “(Sigh) I’m beginning to see the picture and understand your pain—no wonder you’re pissed at me. Lord Jesus, help us! We have time for one more, although I can’t imagine much worse. How about the couple in the back that registered as ‘Mr. and Mrs. 99%?’”
Mr. and Mrs. 99%: “Hello, everyone. We’re brand new to the weird-gift thing and we’re barely holding on. We don’t know if we can overcome our hurt. We’re confused and dazed and we are kind of wondering if there is a God because we’ve lost our homes, our jobs, our savings, our hope, and our trust in our government (especially the current Congress) and the financial institutions that bet against us not being able to pay our mortgages. The other day, all the 99% got this present from The Tea Party, the Republican candidates, the Republican Congress, the college school loan institutions, and some (not all) of the 1%. We each got an empty plastic ball that said, “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.” The card that accompanied it said it is the ‘Gift of nothing which is yours to discover.’ Santa, what are we to do? When did we get to this time and place where the few can basically say to the many, ‘I’ve got mine, baby, if it sucks for you—get a job!’”
I came out of my eggnog induced sleep before I heard Santa’s answer, but I am discovering that if we have people in our lives whose gifts can’t be given from the heart, or the gift-giving is laced with cynicism, and the gifts are just given out of tradition or obligation, maybe we shouldn’t be giving them gifts at all. Maybe it’s time to really get into the spirit of Christmas and channel our hard-earned money to causes that will give gifts that can change the world. In every city and every town there are hurting people who, but by the grace of God go us, aren’t lazy or not trying hard enough—they’ve just been screwed over. I’m thinking our greatest Christmas gift to the hurting world swirling around us is to become a “noticer”—(no turning away, no scurrying past the pain, just really seeing what is in front of us)—then the appropriate gifts have no choice but to follow.
Best of all, Christmas means a spirit of love, a time when the love of God and the love of our fellow men should prevail over all hatred and bitterness, a time when our thoughts and deeds and the spirit of our lives manifest the presence of God. —George F. McDougall
If you live in the D.C. area, one of the best organizations I know that truly “notices” humanity is N Street Village. Please check it out this Christmas if you have a moment: http://www.nstreetvillage.org/
All text and photos by Eleanor and John Tomczyk © 2011 , except where otherwise noted.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.