Seán Moncrieff: Is there such thing as the perfect present?
We want or need far less than the amount of birthdays or Christmases we live through
So far more often than not, we adults will get crap we don’t want but feign delight at getting it
Brace yourself. I’m going to use the word.
Because it’s November already. This is what I do: to avoid the mind-splitting stress of – here it comes – Christmas, I endeavour to have all my presents organised by the end of this month. That way, I can be all peace and good will for the month of December while everyone else is rushing around in a frothing panic.
Do I actually? No, I don’t. Every year I tell myself that’s what I’m going to do. I tell myself to start thinking about it. I do think about it. I think really, really hard. But I don’t come up with any solutions. So I end up panicking like everyone else.
Present buying is doused in romanticism. It’s a cultural ideal where you’ve figured out exactly what a loved one wants: something they may not have realised they wanted, or wanted but didn’t dare hope they would get. Yet here you are, presenting them with a pony or a fortnight in the Seychelles.
The difficulty with buying a present for someone you know well is that you know them well
This kind of present presentation never involves vouchers or gym memberships. It is life affirming and profound, a pure, beautifully wrapped expression of love.
It almost never happens.
The difficulty with buying a present for someone you know well is that you know them well. While we all like to think of ourselves as creatures of endless variety, we are not. We have edges. There is a limited amount of things we really want or need, and that number is far lower than the amount of birthdays and Christmases we will probably live through.
Only through childhood can you be assured of a thrilled response to a gift (as long as they’ve seen it on one of the ad breaks during Paw Patrol).
So far more often than not, we adults will get crap we don’t want but feign delight at getting it. To do otherwise, even though more honest, is considered bad form. And we’ll give crap in return; in the seconds beforehand hoping that this will be that crystallising moment of gift perfection, when love and desire meet each other in a perfect embrace.
It does hollow out present-giving to a duty rather than a pleasure
You may have dumped such romantic notions. You give vouchers or cash or you simply ask people what they want. This will avoid disappointment, but it does hollow out present-giving to a duty rather than a pleasure. The possibility of magic is extinguished: for both the person getting the gift and the person presenting it.
Over the years, many people have given me presents, and I’m just about to irritate all of them; or at least the cohort who read this column and bought my it’s-just-what-I-wanted routine.
The only example of the perfect present I remember is when I was six. On Christmas Eve night I woke up to hear a figure I couldn’t see moving at the end of my bed. Naturally, I didn’t move. I didn’t breathe, as I’d been told that Santa was very shy and might run away if I said anything. I shut my eyes and pretended to be asleep, and after what seemed like hours, but what was probably three minutes, I reached down in the dark and felt a rectangular box that was the right dimensions for an Action Man. And I really, really wanted an Action Man. It felt like I had wanted one for decades, even though I was only six and didn’t know what a decade was.
By an amazing coincidence, my father heard me rustling the box and came into my room. He told me to go back to sleep, but after I excitedly told him what had just happened, and after a minimal bit of begging, he allowed me to open one present. And when it transpired that it was indeed an Action Man, it struck me even then that he seemed more pleased about it than I was.