Every year, my best friend and I subvert Christmas. Just a smidge.
We don’t lay hints. We don’t give lists.
We don’t play stupid games.
“Whaddya want?” we ask each other, because, after 28 years, that’s what best friends do.
Then we go out together and buy something.
Afterwards, we wrap our “presents.” The whole affair is purely for show — to placate our wives.
“What are you getting him?” Shona asked me recently.
It’s the same every year.
“You don’t know?”
“I’ve got it taken care of.”
“Well, what are you getting him?”
“Never you mind,” I said, with a barely suppressed grin.
The resulting glare would melt candle wax and send less-experienced men scurrying for cover.
Not me. I remain nonplussed — I deflect it.
“It’s from both of us, you know,” she said.
To which I simply waved my hand in a thoroughly dismissive fashion — relying on the sheer force of my formidable husband powers to disperse her wrath, like smoke before wind.
Shona’s eyes narrowed.
“Have you guys…”
“Tut,” I said, a twinkle in my eye as I flashed her my palm.
Shona’s gaze intensified. An impressive effort, and thoroughly wasted. I am immune.
“You have your traditions, we have ours. This is our tradition,” I said, ending the discussion.
And so it is.
I’m a North American guy. I’m susceptible to society’s down-in-the-muck consumerism.
Alright, hell and blood, I’m a sucker for gadgets and other stuff.
And I love giving stuff as much as I like getting it. Maybe even more.
But this year, for a couple of reasons, I was tapped out. Tired. A tad cranky.
And I couldn’t help feeling that society’s fixation on presents was out of control.
We’re too focused on giving in the literal sense — stuff — instead of the figurative, as in “of yourself.”
We’re worse off for it.
We spend huge chunks of time figuring out what to buy our loved ones.
Then we spend more time battling crowds in malls shopping for gifts.
Then we spend huge chunks of time wrapping the gifts in paper (which we tear off, and toss out). And we run out the clock boxing the stuff up. And sending it out.
And what do we give up in our pursuit and handling of the “goods?”
Well, quality time with our immediate family and friends comes to mind — my wife, my sons and my buddy, among others.
Is it worth it? Really?
I don’t know.
I do know that sometimes gifts cause more grief than they’re worth.
Take my sons, Thomas and Liam.
This year, Liam spent a lot of time pondering what to get his brother. Eventually, he found the perfect item.
He didn’t have a lot of money, just his recycling proceeds from the year.
With that, he bought his brother a present.
We tucked the gift safely away, in a bin between the front seats.
And then, on the way home, we picked up Thomas, who had been minding his cousin.
Thomas hopped into the car with Liam while I had a two-minute conversation with my brother.
Two minutes. What can happen in two freakin’ minutes?
Well, apparently a lot.
Thomas didn’t like the song I’d left playing in the car.
He wanted to hear something different.
So he reached forward towards the bin.
“Don’t go in there, Tom.”
“Liam, I don’t like the music. I want to change the CD.”
“Liam, I hate this song. I want to change the CD.”
“TOM, DON’T GO IN THERE!”
“Liam, let go. I want to change the CD.”
“TOM, NO, DON’T.”
“LIAM …GET AWAY …… LET…G… oh!”
“YOU IDIOT, THOMAS!”
And so it went. Tears, anger, sullen faces.
At home, the two disappointed boys separated like oil and water. It was a tense afternoon.
“Guys,” I said, once everyone had finally calmed down. “This isn’t exactly what Christmas is supposed to be all about, is it?”
Peace on Earth. Goodwill — this doesn’t really fit, right?
“I didn’t really see it, Liam,” Tom said, after a moment.
“Are you sure, Tom?” asked Liam.
And so the brotherhood survived another wrinkle. Life flowed on.
Still, it got me wondering if it was all worth it, the stress, effort and anxiety — all this hullabaloo crammed into a month.
And I still needed something for my buddy.
“Whaddya want?” I asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said. “What do you want?”
“We have to resolve this,” I said. “We have the Christmas party on Wednesday. The girls are expecting us to deliver.”
We walked on in silence.
And then I stopped.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I have an idea…”
Later, after much power-tool work in the basement, I delivered a playing-card-sized box to Shona.
“Here’s the present,” I said.
“What is it?” she said.
“Never you mind,” I said, that twinkle back in my eye.
“What do you mean,” she said. “That gift is from both…”
“Tut,” I said, flashing my palm again.
Shona glared, to no avail.
“He’ll love it,” I soothed. “Trust me.”
And he did.
What was it?
Nothing. Literally nothing.
A single loonie, severed in two bits.
Half for him, half for me.
If, in the future, we ever needed or wanted something, we could present our half.
It worked great. Simple and elegant. A tad imaginative. And geeky.
“I don’t get it,” said my friend’s wife. “Explain it to me.”
So we did.
“But what did you get?”
My buddy and I looked at each other.
“We get nothing,” I said. “And everything. Consider it a time shift — we don’t get anything now, but we could get something later. Less stress, more useful.”
She rolled her eyes.
We ate, we drank and talked. It was, in the end, a lovely relaxing Christmas. Perfect.
“Time to go,” said Shona.
But, once again, I was talking.
“I’ll be there in two minutes,” I said, and started to wrap up my story.
Two minutes. What can happen in two freakin’ minutes?
Well, Shona grabbed my coat.
For some reason, still unknown to me, she put it on.
She reached into my pocket — the pocket where I’d stashed a gift for her.
“What’s this?” she said.