Burt Prelutsky

When it comes to giving gifts, there are only two kinds of people. There are those who not only know the perfect present, but know where to get it. Then there are those who would rather fight a bull than to have to go shopping. If anything, there is even a greater divide when it comes to receiving gifts. The trick here is having the knack, as you unwrap them of being able to pretend that each and every gift is something you have longed for, lo, these many years.

Because I am a perfect lout when it comes to both giving and receiving, Christmas makes a nervous wreck of me. When it comes to giving, the problem isn’t that I’m a cheapskate. Okay, it’s not just that I’m a cheapskate. I just figure that if the recipients really wanted whatever is in the box I’m handing them, they would have gotten it for themselves long before now.

While I fully acknowledge my shortcomings as a shopper, I can take some consolation in knowing that two of the three Magi were even worse. There’s no getting around the fact that gold is always in good taste, but what’s with the frankincense and myrrh? A new mother, after all, can always use baby blankets, some booties and a crate of diapers, but frankincense and myrrh?! I’m betting that Mary wished that two of the Magi had stayed home and sent their wives.

If anything, I’m even worse when I’m on the receiving end. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought or am overly acquisitive. If I could unwrap the gifts in private, I’d be okay. But some troublemaker decided that, along with mistletoe, “Miracle on 34th Street,” and tinsel on the tree, it would be a tradition that people would have to unwrap their presents with the largest possible audience looking on.

Frankly, I don’t get it. What’s wrong with opening the gifts when nobody else is around? I can write a really nifty thank-you note, one that absolutely reeks with sincerity. What I can’t do is unwrap a tie or a book or a shirt, and carry on as if someone had presented me with the pink slip to a new Jaguar or the keys to a Santa Barbara beach house. I wish I could. I stand in awe of those who can acknowledge a $20 gift certificate to Sears with a series of cartwheels and a chorus or two of Handel’s “Messiah”! While I freely acknowledge that I envy their acting ability, I can no more emulate them than I can emulate Helen Mirren or Ben Kingsley on one of their better days.

As bad luck would have it, my birthday follows Christmas by a week and a half. So, no sooner am I through one terribly traumatic event than I’m rushing pell-mell into another. The only good thing about it is that at least I’m spared having to go shopping for such a major nuisance as myself.