In Rolf’s on-going quest to provide gay men everywhere with the tools to improve the quality of their lives, he turns to me and asks for another article. We go back and forth, throwing out ideas as we drive down La Cienega Boulevard, until we come up with something that I know enough about that I could teach others. And so, here are my tips for the holiday shopping season.
This has many meanings, so I will break this up into smaller pieces.
First of all, start at the after-Christmas sales. That is the best time to buy cards and wrapping paper at a fraction of the price. Paper products last from year to year with no problem. Also think about what gifts might be on sale. Has your mother been griping about the holiday platter that she needs to complete her set? Has your sister been pining over that crystal tree topper that she wishes she had? Take the hint finally! Buy them on December 26 and store them for next year.
Second, that window of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve is retail hell. If I am going to be in a building with that many people, there should also be go-go boys and $12 martinis. Just because the stores are doing half of their annual sales in that four week period, doesn’t mean you have to shop like a lemming. Shop for the holidays all through the year. This will also allow you to wait for a sale, or pick up a really good gift that is not in season. Is your father really proud of his barbeque skills? Summer is a great time to pick up some great accessories for his grill.
Third, by starting early, you will have more time to think of a fabulous gift. This will help prevent the I-know-it’s-not-great but the-store-is-closing-in -fifteen-minutes and I-won’t-have-another-day to-shop-before-we-exchange-gifts fiasco that is bound to happen. Now that I have a frequent flyer card, I find myself doing a little extra souvenir shopping, and saving those items for later. But it doesn’t have to be some exotic gift from across the world. Anytime you are out shopping and see that thing that would be so perfect for that friend, buy it. During the other eleven months when things are (presumably) more relaxed, take the time to think about your friends’ hobbies. For example, I have a friend that has been practicing Origami for the past ten years. While browsing through a Japanese gift shop last June, I picked up an advanced book that I have been storing for Christmas. And I am safe to write it here because, believe it or not, he is straight and won’t be reading this column unlike my friends Jeffrey and Olivia, who have commented to me about my credit card article. I found a really amazing gift for them in San Francisco, but I can’t talk about it here.
Fourth (see my article on credit card debt), by spreading your shopping out over the year, you won’t set yourself up for some outrageous credit card bills in January. If you have someone on your list that always wants the latest DVD or CD, pick up a gift card sometime during the year. You can give it to them with the explanation that you didn’t want to duplicate something they already have. This is also great for that nephew that wants the latest video game.
OK, as I am writing this, it is already November, so the “shop early” ship left the port long ago. You can still get a lot of shopping done from home. The internet is good for more than just chat rooms and downloadable porn. You can shop day or night, for just about anything you can think of. Just remember to look closely at shipping terms. I had the brilliant idea to buy Rolf a cuckoo clock for Christmas one year. It didn’t occur to me that a company-to be left nameless (but it rhymes with Baypal)-would hold my payment for almost five days, thereby causing the clock to be a perfect Martin Luther King Jr. Day gift instead. A good suggestion here is the “of-the-month” clubs. They will send a nice card to your giftee letting them know what is coming for the next twelve months (or three months, if you are on a budget).
Don’t let it stress you out
By shopping early, you can take your time and not have that frantic feeling that I associated with holiday shopping for so many years. Even if you are starting now (or the second week of December), find ways to stay calm. When you go to the mall, make sure to stop at the food court and take a break every now and then. You may think you don’t have time to sit around, but “peace on earth” includes your peace of mind, and that will help your “goodwill toward men.” It will also give you time to make some gift decisions with a little more perspective.
On the other hand, you might think the holidays have become too commercialized. Although, we haven’t gone quite as far as they have in Southern Germany. There is no “Santa Claus” to bring presents to all the good little boys and girls there. Instead, the Baby Jesus decorates the tree and delivers the presents on Christmas Eve. Talk about selling out the church! For those of you that have had enough, I offer a few non-shopping tips.
Don’t let it stress you out. Part II
By this I mean, don’t get so caught up in gift exchanging that it puts your world off balance. If you can’t afford to do a lot of shopping, then don’t. Set limits on who you buy for, and how much you spend. Your parents-yes. Your parents’ next-door-neighbor’s cousins-no. Decide what is reasonable and affordable in advance, and stick to it. Some people might only get a card. Don’t be insensitive about cutting someone off the list. Most people would understand if you are on a budget. However, if you can’t afford to buy gifts for your friends and family because that Mediterranean cruise and the lipo you just had to get for said cruise, left you broke, then I hope for your sake that they are all blind to your hedonism. I have, on occasion, accepted a gift from someone without giving another in return. A heartfelt “thank you” and a mental note to include them on your list next year is perfectly acceptable.
Give the gift of time
Some of us find our budgets truly are a little tight. Our parents sometimes say that you don’t have to buy them anything. Try calling their bluff. Maybe an afternoon of organizing old photo albums or cleaning out the garage together is a better gift than anything that comes from a department store. And that gift gives both ways. I am starting to get a taste of this, as my mother’s memory is not as sharp as it used to be. I have most of the recipes for my old childhood comfort foods, but there are a couple that got away before I could grab them.
And just about everyone has a friend that would appreciate an afternoon of helping in the garden/painting a room/whatever instead of a gift. Or what about a home-cooked lunch for two? A slight variation I once used was a card for a fashion-challenged guy on my list that offered an afternoon with me as a personal shopper. Think about the talents that you have and share them with others. Teach a friend how to bake the perfect apple cobbler or how to crochet. Although using bananas to teach your mom how to give the perfect blowjob is wrong. On many levels.
Give to strangers
Some people on your list are downright impossible to shop for. May I suggest a donation in their name to the non-profit that is near and dear to their heart? And notice that I said their heart. Take a moment to make sure that you are contributing to the cause that they would appreciate, not just the one that you like best.
And this doesn’t have to be done in someone else’s name. The holidays are a very generous time of year to all non-profits. There are opportunities to donate all around us. The U.S. Post office collects canned foods (although I always thought that was just plain mean to make those guys carry more stuff away than they left in your mailbox), not to mention the Salvation Army with their red buckets and bells and Toys for Tots with their collection boxes all over town. The list goes on and on. OK, if you play it right, you can get a tax deduction out of it, but give just because it feels good.
My last non-shopping suggestion is a gift to you. Volunteering a few hours with a friend or family member at their favorite group’s activity can be a wonderful experience. And something that can and should be done all through the year. I know, I know—you are too busy to spend a day handing out flyers for the environment or serving lunches to seniors or whatever. So am I. But one day the lady that I tutor at the library asked me why I help her. I explained that my busy day stops for two hours each week, and I have a sense of peace and calm that I don’t get anywhere else. And that little pearl of wisdom is my gift to you.
About the Author
Jeff Rothenbach is that rare breed of Angeleno that was actually born here. He enjoys reading mysteries, cooking and theatre. He is very happily living with a certain German-born astro-physicist that runs a website for gay men.