For the past 10 years, the National Retail Federation has conducted a year-end consumer spending survey that breaks down the ways in which people spend their money over the holidays. Most of the $6.9 billion to be spent this season will be on gifts for family, friends, co-workers and pets.
And, well, for ourselves.
“Self-gifting,” as the survey calls is, has reached an all-time high — with nearly six in 10 shoppers planning to spend an average of $159.62 on little sumpin-sumpins that will never see the shade of a Christmas tree.
This made me laugh because I am a notorious self-gifter, to my family’s dismay. As my wife puts it, I wait until Christmas time to buy myself “every piece of clothing anyone ever wanted to get you, any new music, any new book — all the perfect gift items.”
The flip side is that I never ask for anything. When my kids ask what I want for Christmas, I either try to defer my response or come up with stuff dads should ask for, like slippers and bathrobes.
I don’t quite get the whole gifting thing, maybe because I’m Jewish in a Christmas-loving interfaith household. My parents gave us holiday gifts when we were children, but as we became young adults the gifts were replaced with checks, or what I like to think of as our progeny bonuses. So I wasn’t in the habit of keeping a year end mental list of “STUFF I WANT” to pull up at any moment.
But I do drop clues without realizing it, which my wife and kids lunge at like ducks to bread. For instance I may grumble about my sweaters being too bulky or itchy. Or I may note that my earbuds have a loose wire, which recently caused one side to go out as I was listening to Mumford & Sons, whom I understand have a new album. The problem is, I’m unaware that I’ve actually dropped these clues.
The mall beckons
And then, come Christmas season, I find myself on unfamiliar turf: the inside of a shopping mall. During the other 11½ months of the year, I avoid the mall at all cost. Before Christmas, I forlornly wander its shiny granite hallways looking for any items that might appeal to my wife and kids.
That’s when it occurs to me that I need new earbuds, and here they are!
I paw through women’s frocks at Macy’s, worried that I’ll pick out something that would only be suitable for a prom dress in 1982. Then I walk past the men’s department and see a 30-buck sweater that appears to be neither itchy nor bulky, so I grab it. It’s not like I’ll be in Macy’s again anytime soon.
I still remember the night, a few years ago, when my wife and I were getting ready for bed and I hungrily pulled out the new book by J. M. Coetzee, a South African writer with whom I’m moderately obsessed. My wife looked stricken.
“Why are you reading that?” she demanded. “You said you wanted it.”
“Um…because that’s why?” I asked as a question.
“Christmas is two weeks away,” she huffed. At that point I realized that any expression of material desire made after November 1 goes on the The List.
I’m learning. As much as the Apple store has been singing its sweet siren song to me — leading me to self destruct on the rocky cliffs of family dysfunction, I am not going to buy myself a new iPhone. I have a sneaking suspicion that Santa is sending me one.
My wife is learning, too. “New jeans?” she asked when I arrived home the other night.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I was, um, at the mall.” She just smiled.