Why I’m not telling you what I want for Christmas

To me, a present’s value is in more than just its utility

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Kate Snyder is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

Whether it be through the Myers-Briggs test, the zodiac or the latest Buzzfeed quiz — “Cook Your Dream Pancakes and We’ll Tell You Your Best Quality” — there seems to be a modern compulsion for constant self-categorization. I’m “humble,” based on my choice of blueberry pancakes with maple-syrup, I’m an Aquarius by birth and I can’t remember my Myers-Briggs type — does the E stand for emotional? That sounds right.    

In accordance with this trend, Gary Chapman created the Five Love Languages in his 1995 book of the same name. As I understand them, the Love Languages constitute those acts and gestures that we uphold subjectively as the most effective and poignant demonstrations of our affection. If all you need is a hug and a backrub, your language is “Physical Touch.” If you get really jazzed when somebody makes you dinner or, like, offers to braid your hair, your language is “Acts of Service.” Oprah’s love language is “Words of Affirmation,” in case you’re interested in wooing her.

I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit my love language. On the surface, it seems superficial, and in my mind I feel inferior to those sensitive souls whose language is something like “Quality Time” and who need only a nice, quiet, walk around the block with someone to feel all the love they need. I like walks, but there’s no use in denying what it is that really gives me the warm-and-fuzzies  — my love language is “Gifts.”

Inevitably, the holiday season is my Olympics. The minute we toss our jack-o-lanterns in the trash, I’m filling a mental spreadsheet of my loved ones’ likes and dislikes, their hobbies and their passions and conceptualizing their perfect gifts. I have notes stored in my phone dating back to March that hold written transcripts of conversations where my mom might have mentioned a shirt she liked or when my brother expressed an interest in the new Harry Truman biography. 

When Christmas rolls around, I delight in my friends’ and family members’ reactions to the presents I give them — the shiny wrapped packages exist as manifestations of the extent to which I understand and appreciate their distinct personalities and want them to have something that brings them joy.

For better or worse, I transfer the same weight of significance of my own gift-giving practices as I do to those of my loved-ones. In turn, my expectations are extremely high — something I’ve made very clear to my family members from the very early days of the Advent. I receive the inevitable “what do you want for Christmas” text from every sibling, and my answer is always the same — “Not. Telling.”

I recognize that this is infuriating, especially considering the fact that there are countless things that I’d love to receive — but that’s beside the point. If I wanted to, I could buy most of those wish list items for myself. I’m not Daddy Warbucks, but I could definitely afford a new sweater and the odd lotion or scented candle. What I love about receiving gifts, though, is the evidence of care and thought that accompanies them. Any item loses its inherent value when it’s something that I’ve specifically asked for. At that point, the gift exchange becomes a transaction — completely devoid of all those things that once made it so meaningful.

I do work to combat my aversion to bullet-pointed Christmas lists, though. In fact, even while we still associate Justin Bieber with “Baby” and not yet “Mistletoe,” I drop flurries of hints, varying in their subtlety. 

“Oh, this is a nice shirt,” I say, seemingly lackadaisically in July. A seed is planted. While home on breaks, I water that seed, “accidentally” leaving tabs pulled up on our family desktop — a couple pairs of shoes, my size selected. “Have you ever read any Zadie Smith, Mom? I’ve been meaning to buy a few of her books.” I wait.

I often wish that I could change this trait of mine — that I didn’t see gifts as more than just their essential utility or that a new dress on Christmas morning was just something to wear and not a sort-of culmination of my parents’ love for me. And it’s not, really — my friends and family demonstrate their appreciation in a myriad of ways. I receive a very acceptable amount of affectionate noogies, my dad was there to pick me up when my car broke down last week and I sat down to a lovely dinner with my whole family just yesterday evening. Despite all this, though, I can’t escape my love language, and I still appreciate thoughtfully selected gifts most of all.

Kate Snyder is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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