1. The Genuine Giver
If you are lucky enough to have one or two of these folks in your life, it’s time for rejoicing. The genuine giver has actually thought about you and what would give you pleasure. Our culture likes to believe that everyoneis a genuine giver—if you doubt it, just re-read O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi—but maybe what really makes this kind of giving so special is that it’s the exception, not the rule. That gives us all the more reason to savor the moment. If you’re a genuine giver yourself, then all the studies above don’t apply to you and I’m willing to bet that Christmas is your favorite time of year…
2. The Status Hound
This is the costly gift as self-enhancement—a show of money or power, or perhaps both. In this case, the gift has nothing to do with the recipient but everything to do with the giver. These are the gifts for which the exchange receipt was invented, and the truth is that they aren’t emotionally painful unless the giver is a true intimate—a lover or a spouse—in which case the status gift can pack a big emotional wallop. (I’m disagreeing here with the research I’ve just cited; I personally find this kind of gift very painful.) If you’d like to see this in action, just replayThe War of the Roses, especially the Christmas scenes.
3. The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
This is the giver who likes to be thought of as a wonderful gift-giver with perfectly wrapped gifts but his or her spirit is no more genuine than the Status Hound; in the end, Christmas is all about him or her. The Wolf is likely to send a check, rather than a present, and will “re-gift” items without thinking about whether the gift actually suits the recipient. The Wolf likes gift-giving to be even-steven—especially in terms of money spent—so beware of possible posturing or pouting if he or she is disappointed. Paradoxically, the Wolf is also likely to be a discriminating giver—within the family, some members will be luckier than others since the Wolf doesn’t shy away from playing favorites, as one woman recounts: “My brother doesn’t like my husband, though he is close to my sister’s spouse and he doesn’t shy away from making it known when it comes to the holidays. But the thing is that it’s so obvious—Jim gets a golf club while my husband gets a CD or e-book—that it really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s just become par for the season… And the source of many inside jokes.”
4. The Power Player
Perhaps the worst kind of giver—the one who really knows how to manipulate the symbolic nature of the gift—these people are the likeliest to hurt or disappoint us, especially at the holidays. Because they understand how gifts can cause us pain, consciously or unconsciously, they choose gifts that do exactly that.
Here’s one woman’s story: “Everything my mother gave me for Christmas was either two sizes too small or something that would be hideously unflattering. It was her way of reminding me that I was overweight—as if I didn’t have a mirror and somehow didn’t know.” A son tells how his parents—despite everything he’d told them—gave his children wildly expensive toys and clothing which only increased the tension between parents and grandparents. “My father likes to be thought of as a great provider, and his gifts imply that I’m not. My wife and I aren’t comfortable with our kids wearing designer jeans to school and we’ve told my parents that but they don’t want to hear it. The holiday is always about him, not us.”
5. The Complainer
Yes, it’s not just that you have to appreciate the gift the Complainer gives you; you have to listen endlessly to the travails and inconveniences he or she experienced this holiday season, especially during the acquisition ofyour gift. Luckily, the Complainer is easy to spot and more of a nuisance than anything else, and one of the reasons wine is part of holiday celebrations.
With all that in mind, happy shopping and wrapping and, of course, gifting! May your holidays be bright! – Peg Streep