Obviously it falls under the category of a character flaw, but when it comes to Christmas rituals and a litany of activities associated to the holiday, I have a tendency to shy away. Yesterday was the Christmas party/luncheon for our office. Let me say up front that it was an incredibly pleasant experience.
Although my boss and his wife host the meal in their home, prepare all the food, and go out of their way to be gracious and welcoming, my boss normally assigns someone or a committee to come up with suggestions for some facsimile of a gift exchange. Maybe it really is true. I’ve heard it said before and I’ve even thought it of myself. Some suspect that: “Bah Humbug” is part of my DNA.
The gift exchange is one of the things I dread. Even if it is a “draw-a-name” kind of experience with a cap on the amount of how much to spend, I always dread it. For one thing, I never know what to get anyone. I always know that I’ll know it when I see it, but that takes an inordinate amount of time and I don’t have an overabundance of free time.
A couple or three years ago, the limit was $10 or $15 and the “purchased gift” had to be purchased at a convenience store tied in to a filling station. That takes some creativity! Another year, I found myself shopping at Goodwill for a used book. Truthfully, the experience opened a new door for me even though I’ve never been back to purchase another book. The book I selected was an architectural book filled with pictures of Victorian homes. The book looked brand new and the pages didn’t smell smudgy. In addition, the colored photos were vibrant and crisp. Actually, after I struggled to make my selection, I almost kept the book for myself and bought something else to take to the party.
Actually, the gifts I feel best about giving are things I’d choose for myself. I don’t want to just walk into a store and buy anything in order to complete the task. I want the gift to be something that I sense has value even if there is a cap on the upper limit of what you’re supposed to spend.
Don’t even get me started on “white elephant” gifts. My definition of a white elephant gift is: “Something you have that is too good to throw away and not good enough to keep”. At some level, I don’t really want the things I’d define as my junk, so please spare me the inconvenience of having to throw away someone else’s junk. Of course, when “white elephant” has been selected as the theme, I always participate because I don’t want the reputation of being unsociable.
I remember the office Christmas party in 2001. The person who drew my name was a part-time employee (former pastor) who worked in the our development office as a church relations person. I didn’t know him well, but he certainly had me figured out. He gave me a copy of a book written by John Ortberg entitled: “Everybody’s Normal Until You Get To Know Them.” It was one of those books you can’t put down until you’ve finished reading it. It was an absolutely rare find. I had never read any of Ortberg’s books, but since that time, I’ve read every book he’s written and I never go into a book store without checking to see if there is another new release.
I guess what I’m saying is that even though I’m weird and I always dread the office Christmas party, it has contributed a lot of personal value to me. The same could be said associated to yesterday’s experience.
Truthfully, “What will they think of next?” was the question that came to mind when I heard the assignment for this year’s gift exchange. The assignment was to select your favorite thing that costs under $5 and buy three of them. You’d then have the assignment of sharing why you selected the gift you did and then draw the names of three people to receive the gifts you’d purchased.
I started to call out “foul ball” and suggest they go back to the drawing board. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a favorite “anything” that costs under $5. This was going to be a challenge. In fact, I didn’t purchase my gift until the day before the party. I did so then only because I had run out of time.
Deciding to take the plunge, I headed to Office Depot. I didn’t know how much they’d cost, but they couldn’t be that expensive and they were practical and useful. I’d purchase three sets of highlighters to use to underline pertinent information in a book. I seldom read a book without highlighting the parts I want to go back to for reference and read again. Brilliant, don’t you think? Yeah, but how many other people are weird enough to want to do that? Like I mentioned: “Everybody’s Normal Until You Get To Know Them”. Maybe coloring in books at my age is part of the reasons folks might think of me as strange.
I put the highlighters back on the rack and walked out of the store. Starbucks was three doors down. I had a brilliant idea. Of course it was brilliant, after all it was my idea and I was thinking outside the box. Like I said, I couldn’t think of anything under $5 that was my favorite thing, but what if I doubled the budget?
Truth be told, nobody likes a half price sale the way I like a half price sale. What if for this party, I doubled the $5 budget and gave three people a $10 gift card from Starbucks? They’d be expecting $5 and get twice the value. In terms of expectancy, they’d be expecting on thing and get twice as much. Wow! Wow! Wow! I was on to an idea that excited me. It was my perfect “half price” thing.
In describing my motivation for selecting the $10 gift cards to Starbucks, I suggested that some people think I’m cheap because when I travel, I always insist on using Priceline. From my perspective, that’s not being cheap. That is being frugal. I’m still going to insist on a 4-Star Hotel in the part of town where I want to stay. Normally I get it for half the price. Getting something for half price is a feel good experience. So for the gift reflecting my favorite thing under $5, I wanted the recipients of my gift to have that same kind of experience. I described it as a reverse half price sale. They were getting double the value of what they anticipated.
Actually, the thing that made the “favorite thing” gift exchange valuable as I listened to each staff member explain why they selected the gifts they selected, is that I learned part of their story. By the time the gift exchange was over, I felt like I knew more about the people with whom I work. You can learn a lot about what people think and value by simply hearing their favorite thing under $5. It perked my interest. Now I want to know more.
All My Best!