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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Little Holiday Math

I complain about this every year so I thought I'd get it over with. Now is a time when my materialistic consumer side comes out, for which I will be reprimanded, I'm sure. I can actually be a pretty generous person who doesn't seek anything in return. (Of course, it's always nice to be appreciated.)

Christmas is a time for giving. We all know 'tis better to give than to receive and we should focus on the spirit of giving rather than on the physical gifts themselves. After all, it's the thought that counts, right? As a single person, I find that I am often at a disadvantage to the rest of the gift-giving community. You see, once you're in a relationship of some sort you can go in on gifts together. "It's from both of us." I don't think it's always fair that a couple - with presumably two income streams - can get away with giving a single person one gift "from us" when the general conception is that the single person - with one income - should give one gift each. Sure, there are the restaurant gift certificates or movies or other things that become community property. I could go that route - and, being a movie person, I occasionally give them as gifts - but I like to be more personal. Even if I do give a movie, for example, I only present it to one and present a separate gift to the other in the pairing.

Another conversation I had with some other single people revealed how this type of thing is extended beyond the holiday season. After all, aside from birthdays and Christmas, singles don't have other times when they traditionally get gifts (maybe graduation too), whereas others get engagement gifts, wedding gifts, baby showers, anniversary gifts, and on and on. Yes, when new members are added to the family it is a joyous thing and it isn't a chore and it isn't about the money when we give them presents. But the exchange seems a bit lopsided to the disadvantage of the single.

As for me, I get hit doubly hard. You see, my birthday is just a few short days after Christmas so it's not uncommon for me to get a solitary present with the explanation "this is for both Christmas and your birthday." Sometimes it's a more expensive or multi-part gift - like when I got money for my vacation last year - and it's understandable, it can be a significant expense this time of year. However, there are those times when I get a single gift from a couple or family for the pair of occasions. So now it goes something like this: "this is for both from both of us." A time when I would normally get 4 separate presents (in gift-math) ends up producing only one. It wouldn't be so tough if the present count was reduced by 1/2 when a couple is doing the giving - it's not about the number after all - but when you only get 1/4 of the gifts you are "expecting" to, it's a little bit of a downer, particularly when you buy them the gifts for their special days.

I know I've gone on and on about the material side of gift giving, and I know it's bad. I'm not even that materialistic of a person and I am generally content with the thought alone. I'm not out to accumulate stuff or to keep score. In fact, situations like this in no way affect the spirit with which I give nor the nature or scope of that which I give. I just think there should be a certain amount of equity there. And a single person, such as myself, shouldn't be "penalized" for being single, nor for having a birthday less than two weeks after Christmas.

*To their credit, my parents have always done a good job of setting my birthday apart as its own special day. Even though some people keep their Christmas decorations up until after Epiphany, my parents always made sure to have the decorations down shortly after the New Year so they wouldn't still be up on my birthday. And, thankfully, they used birthday wrapping paper instead of the extra holiday paper they had left over. It's the little things that make the real difference, isn't it?