New year and the run of gift horses

Timely thoughts of our columnist...


Suresh Menon | January 2, 2012

There are two causes of dread in the gift-giving season. One is, gosh! What do I gift dear so-and-so, and its cousin, gosh! I hope dear so-and-so doesn’t give me that useless gift again. Then there is that unanswered philosophical question: when does the statute of limitation on the New Year end? Do you still stick out a hand, widen your eyes, put on a smile and wish everyone you meet a ‘Happy New Year’ on January 31st, for example?

In the spirit of the season, the temptation to reuse and recycle gifts is strong, which means I can take the dreaded gift from A and gift it to B taking care only to see that the label is changed.
Most people consider gifting me a book a safe bet – a salesgirl at a local bookshop has made her reputation by selling me books that “no one else will buy”. But it is the ties and lamp shades and shirts and CDs that cause the biggest problems. I once gave away a shirt to my driver who wore it while driving a guest – the one who had gifted me the shirt – home from the airport. That was embarrassing enough, but what made it worse was that the guest was wearing an identical shirt!
There is a lovely story of George Bernard Shaw finding in a second hand bookshop a book he had gifted a friend with the words, ‘To _, with esteem’. He bought it and presented it to the same friend with, ‘To _, with renewed esteem…’

Francis Bacon’s advice on books applies equally to gifts. You know, the one about being swallowed, chewed and digested. What he forgot to mention however (about both books and gifts) is that most are to be recycled. The gifting season is a wonderful opportunity to get rid of unwanted stuff cluttering your rooms. As any marketing person will tell you, it’s all in the packaging.

I have decided not to buy too many gifts this year, but will invest instead in gift wrappers and labels. I shall then play the role of a post box, as two total strangers give each other gifts through me. There is probably a Valhalla where unwanted gifts finally come to rest. But before that, they must pass through as many hands as possible. Circulating gifts is a gift.

But what of the statute of limitation? If January 31st is too late, then surely there must a cut-off date? January 30th? January 28th?

Should there be a gradual change in the physical response? I mean, you cannot really hug and kiss and slap someone on the back till 11.59pm on say, January 14th and then a minute later refuse to do any of these things and settle instead for a nod of the head or a gentle upturn of your lower lip. Some parties go on into the middle of the month, but by then it has occurred to most people that the new year has arrived, and no amount of pretending to welcome it on the night of January 14th is likely to change things.

Perhaps by January 10th, there should be no more hugging, air-kissing, hair-tousling or back-slapping. But you may continue to shake hands and say, “Have a nice year.” Here’s a time-table that might be useful:

January 9th: By this date, there is no compulsion to begin every telephone conversation with ‘Have a nice year’ – unless you are speaking to a relative who has been in prison for about a decade and who has just managed to find a telephone to make a call to you.

January 7th: You may still boast about all those wonderful things you did on the night of December 31st which reminded you of the person you were a decade ago, but no new year greetings unless the other person says it first.

January 5th: You are allowed to wish the other person first, but if he or she doesn’t respond you have the right to say, “And may you be forced to watch re-runs of Friends a hundred times this year.”

January 3rd: Leftovers from the December 31st party usually last till this date because no one bothers to eat on the day. Many countries consider this the official cut-off date, and refuse to use the words ‘new’ and ‘year’ in the same sentence from now on. Citizens of these countries look foolish going around saying ‘Happy’, from January 4th.



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