Let me share my thought process around the holidays, because there is no denying 'tis the season in Hong Kong. Given that 85% of the city is actually a shopping mall, there is no shortage of reminders of your holiday duties -- namely that you must buy gifts for your loved ones. You should not neglect this duty, because no matter your race, religion, whatever, not giving presents makes you an asshole.
I know this is a very pessimistic way of looking at it, and of course I know and appreciate all the other meaningful and spiritual aspects of the holidays. Which leads me to the other way I know what time of year it is -- my inner romantic and my inner cynic begin to make a lot of noise as they become deeply embroiled in a raging annual debate.
The conversation goes something like this:
- I am so excited! I am going to find each person the most creative, most unique, most thoughtful Christmas present possible so I can let them know how much they mean to me.
- Great, you should probably get started shopping then.
- But where should I go? Where do they sell said perfect gifts? I don't have time to walk around the city stopping in every shop to look for special knick knacks and chotchkes (spelling?).
- You could find time, but you just don't want to because you're an asshole.
- Fine, I should just compromise and get them a candle or an ornament or something. It's the thought that counts right?
- No, it is not the thought that counts. That's stupid, Allison, nobody wants another personalized shiny ball to throw on the tree that they'll only see for 4% of the year.
- Okay, well, what about …. a shirt?
- Good luck figuring out their size. You go too small, you make them feel bad about themselves. Too large, you're an asshole for thinking they're that big.
- Hmm... Some music? I could put together a mix!
- Seriously? How cliche, Allison, I expected better from you. What makes you think you have better taste in music than anyone else?
At this point, the gift has gone from an opportunity to express love and appreciation to an opportunity for disappointment and shame. A misstep could make you the butt of the annual family holiday joke, resulting in a waste of money and hurt feelings since you don't know your loved ones well enough to get them something perfect and fabulous. By now, I have probably procrastinated so long that it's almost Christmas and it would probably be better not to get them anything at all than have something pathetic arriving late. That would be hurtful, not to mention an expensive mistake.
- So maybe I should just send a card? I could just use my words to tell them how much I care!
- Now you're just taking the easy road, you're being totally lazy and selfish!
- Repeat the above from "I am going to find each person …."
So this year, in the theme of getting started, I decided there would be no bullshit. I am going to send something to my family because I miss them and even if it's a silly gift, well... at least they can get a small glimpse of how much I love them and wish I could be there. Living far away makes me realize that you can't wait for the perfect gift, or the perfect moment to call someone in order to catch up. If you do, it will never come, and you won't call. And then, your presence in their life will wane and wane until you're barely there at all anymore. Partially because you become irrelevant (in the true sense of the word), and partially because they really do forget about you. But ultimately, on some level, I think it is because they know that if you really cared, you would just do it. You would send a text, you would let them know you're thinking of them (if and when you are, that is, otherwise we're back to the bullshitting problem). Otherwise, to quote a wise band that loves body paint, you just become 'somebody that they used to know.' That scares me more than anything...