I have a friend that works for an internet retailer as the manager of the customer service department. Let us call him Lando: I am quite fond of that name thanks to the character from the Star Wars movies — we can put aside the issue of Lando Calrissian’s being snubbed on most posters for the movies on another day — Lando told me that, as the days numbering down to the winter holidays have quickly dwindled, the number of angry callers has grown exponentially.


It reached an all time high yesterday, the twenty-third of December. Most of the calls were pretty much the same. They would demand to know where their presents were, and why they hadn’t yet received them. If it turned out that the presents would be delayed at all, they started yelling and making numerous demands, calling for this person’s head and that person’s head. It was not too dissimilar to watching the scene in Alice in Wonderland (the Disney version, naturally) where Alice finds that roses are being painted red because she only likes red roses, and white ones were planted by mistake.

The thing is, Lando has no control over a number of factors that are involved with making sure that luxury watches and the like get to their ultimate destination on time. In many cases, the availability of the item was clearly stated on the retail web site and yet the purchaser pressed forward, trying to buy something that wouldn’t be shipped until several weeks after they wanted it.

I really want to get down to the fundamental question: how did we get here? A hundred years ago, people weren’t stomping store employees to death and stealing the baby Jesus. Families would gather together and a tree would be put up, and simple small gifts would be put into socks that were hung by the fireplace. Similarly, Chanukah has for most of its history not been about giving gifts, whether for eight days or just one, but about the remembrance of a number of miracles that happened to the Jewish people during the time period of the second holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Why do we have to give lavish, over-the-top presents? Better yet, why do the presents have to physically be there on the exact date of the giving? Would it be such a crime if a card were given, with a note stating that the gift was forthcoming, along with what the gift actually was so that the person would have something they could anticipate?

Even the cards that we give have gotten downright ridiculous. Does anyone remember when a greeting card was made of good quality paper, had a nice image printed on it, and allowed you to write something on the inside? I won’t argue that I didn’t appreciate the birthday card I got this year with an audio clip from The Office, particularly since this is the year that I managed to watch every single episode in the span of about a week. It’s just that cards really are getting out of hand. Soon they will be projecting holograms out in front of them, saying “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi – you’re my only hope!” (I had to put in a second Star Wars reference!)

Let us steer away from giving substantial gifts without substance.  Let our presence be a present. Be there for someone, and show them you really care without spending and spending and spending, and then yelling at my friend Lando.

7 Comments

  1. This is a perfect article for the day, Gordon!
    I confess I am one of those angry, impatient, callers — and I have written about my experiences with the “Landos” of the online commerce world — but I don’t get upset unless and until the covenant is broken and the promise is not kept.
    You’re right that gift giving has gone over the top — but this year, probably due to the economy — people seem to be cutting back a bit. I notice holiday cards are not as important this year as in previous years. I guess people prefer to save a bit than scrimp on sending inadequate cards?

  2. I prefer to make my own cards, personally. I love getting a well crafted card from someone that thought about what they were writing rather than letting an underpaid greeting card writer do the thinking for them.

  3. Not guilty – we abandoned gift giving altogether this Christmas right across the board. We made a pact with the children and everyone else we usually exchanged gifts with.
    However I did continue my practice of making as many of my cards as possible and this year hit 100% – all of my cards were hand made.
    I feel your friend Gordon – the retail industry is an uncomfortable place to be at the moment.

  4. Lovely article, Gordon! I share the sentiments you express. And your solution to the delayed gift problem is perfect, once the giftee is informed that this is the gift and that it is just delayed for a while for this reason, then it’s only a matter of time and not one of overdrawn suspense or dejection.

  5. I am reminded of a documentary style show about girls who had sweet sixteen parties, in particular an episode where a girl complained to her father that she did not want a particular Lexus and then threw a fit. I felt a little cry come on.

  6. Amazing article Gordon!
    You are so right, “let’s our presence be a present!”
    Though I buy gifts for others but I personally enjoy a simple card more than anything else.