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Surprising someone with just the right gift is a risky business, even if you think you know the person well.
I chuckle every time I think of that cartoon of the husband standing outside his bedroom door in his pajamas, wearing some ridiculous looking bunny slippers, trying to coax his wife out, pleading repentantly, “Mildred, I’m sorry. I really do like my bunny slippers.”
We’ve all received one of “those” gifts. What to do with them?
“I just knew you would love it,” your distant aunt or cousin or work-related acquaintance tells you. And you stare at it, wondering what it is and what they were thinking when they bought it. And you ask yourself if you’ve been the victim of regifting.
I rummaged in the back of my closet and came upon some regift relics. There’s the wind chimes (I’m a light sleeper, need I say more?), the industrial size silver bells (as soon as I buy a Clydesdale, I’ll use them), an entire flock of ceramic birds (enough to block out the sun if only I could bring them to life and set them free), and last but not least, the deluxe pen and pencil sets (Yes, sets, plural, circa 1999, leaving me to wonder how many times they’ve been passed along.)
Unfortunately, now that I’ve shared my closet of suspected regifts, I won’t be able to pass them on.
I’m a believer in a list. That practice started with me when I was a child. It was a beautiful moment when one of my list items showed up under the tree.
When I was in fourth grade I asked for PF Flyers. Mom and Dad bought them, I’m sure, but my older brother Mark had his name on the card.
“You can really run fast in these, Merry Christmas,” I think his card said. I raced across the street to show Kim Parrish my prized possession. Occasionally, I remind Mark he’ll never top the PF Flyer gift.
The key is giving what someone truly wants rather than what we think they need.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a study by the Journal of Experiential Psychology that maintains people are more appreciative when they receive a gift they have requested.
“It turns out it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the gift that counts,” observed Nicholas Epley, professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago and one of the authors of the study.
That makes perfect sense: Friends ask what you want for Christmas, then they actually get that instead of some off-the-wall item they thought you needed. And you are so happy they gave you the warm pair of house slippers you requested rather than a leprechaun candy container.
But then again, there are those ever so rare occasions when The Surprise is exactly what we need, even though we don’t realize it at the time.
On my birthday Lori surprised me with some new headphones for my computer. At first, I didn’t like them simply because she had broken the sacred no surprise rule.
“How much did you pay for these?” I growled, trying to remind her in a not-so-subtle fashion that she had violated the no surprise rule.
Maybe I’m a lousy grumbler - or maybe she’s a better ignorer - because she merrily shared the discounted Groupon price for the headphones.
I had to admit, it was an excellent gift.
But I still try to maintain the no surprise rule. Venturing outside it can be dangerous.
“Now remember, no surprises this Christmas,” I reminded Lori as I bookmarked my wish list on my laptop and forwarded it to her. “Stay on the list.”
“Sure, I’ve got it.” I thought she acquiesced.
But something in the tone of her voice signaled suspicion in my mind: Something about that phrase, “I’ve got it,” raised an eyebrow.
As I whirled around to face her, my hunch was confirmed: She was smiling and I could see what she was thinking. She had him in her eyes again, shining as brightly as the noon day sun: it was the Baby - THAT ONE AND ONLY BABY - the one born at an unexpected time in an unexpected place to an unsuspecting people.
And I had to smile back, thankful for those occasional surprises that meet our deepest need.
And make Christmas, Christmas.
Dr. David B. Whitlock of Lebanon is a Baptist minister and an adjunct staff member of Campbellsville University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.