Giving Season

Ego sum pauper.
Nihil habeo.
Cor meum dabo.

--Lame old Latin canon

Peace and joy, Camper, but beware the SEASON of peace and joy.

The season of giving is the season of anxiety, and it is not to be taken lightly. When the three wise men stumbled into town bearing gifts, they started a tradition that has become a 2000-year burden to campers all over the world.

First of all, when you make it a “season,” you make it an obligation. Did anyone ask you, young person, or did anyone ask Your Uncle Jerry, if we WANTED to have a gift-giving season? I don’t think so. It was simply declared a season by bleeding-heart do-gooders.

“Look,” they said, “Look how the wise men and the shepherds bring gifts. Let us, like them, open the cigar box under the bed where we’ve been keeping our secret stash, and let us squander its contents on the hope that making someone else happy will also make us a better person.” I ask you.

So now we’re obligated to spend a month’s allowance on gifts for relatives and loved ones with no guarantee that we’ll ever see any payback. And that’s not the worst of it. How do we know what to get them? What if they don’t like what we bring? What if they get us something we hate? Uncle Jerry is not comfortable when he can’t control things.

One season, when Uncle Jerry was a just a young whippersnapper like yourself, he bought his mother, Grandma Jerry, a jolly good-looking two-dollar ankle bracelet. It had a “silver” chain and three little stars (one for each wise man, Uncle Jerry thought), which were made of a sturdy plastic substance and only slightly broken. (This breakage might have occurred during the three days it spent in Uncle Jerry’s pocket.)

“Oh,” said Grandma Jerry, smiling as she picked off the pocket fuzz, “you shouldn’t have.”

Uncle Jerry wasn’t quite sure what she meant, until he found the chain and stars in the trash. In the trash—not even the recycling! This later became the subject of one of Uncle Jerry’s talks with the nice doctor.

Never mind about that. Here’s the point: Even the wise men made mistakes with their gifts. I mean: gold, frankincense and myrrh? Not even a dradle?

The gold was okay—always appropriate. But myrrh is about as proper a choice for a child’s present as a can of refried beans, and I don’t mean the lard-free kind. Frankincense? Were they trying to cure bladder cancer? Did they think the holy child had asthma? Had they consulted any gift adviser, these not-so-wise men would have traded in the frankincense and myrrh for at least an iPod, if not a Wii with a light saber app. I mean, come on. It’s Christmas!

So it’s complicated. Your Uncle Jerry, after years of therapy, has learned that the best approach in gift-giving, no matter the occasion, is to go for quantity, preferably in small gifts, and never to store them in your pocket. This brings us inevitably to . . .

Your Uncle Jerry’s Gift-Giving Guidelines

· Do your homework, for once. Listen for hints, and write them down—you know you won’t remember.

· Don’t let it go till the day before, like you did last year; that was a disaster.

· Don’t worry about blowing people away with a huge gift—that’s a strategy that only dads can pull off, and even they mostly get it wrong.

· Important: Give lots of little stuff. This will almost always mean you manage at least one thing right, like the wise men did with the gold.

· One gift that's a little bit funny, every time.

· Something edible, for sure. Cigars count here. Or, for your dad, one of those 24 ounce cans of Australian beer in a festive cozy.

· Never socks. Puleeze. I shouldn’t have to tell you this.

· Yes to a classic toy, like a kaleidoscope, a top, a Jew’s harp or kazoo. (Look it up, boy; look it up.)

· Music only if you have better taste than the recipient, which, from the looks of you, I’m guessing you don’t.

· Never make the gift yourself, unless you have a college degree in it. Just trust me on this, and don't argue.

· Most of all, cor tuum das. Give your heart. A gift without feeling is a kiss without a mustache. (And vice versa, of course.)

None of which has anything to do with chapter six of Molly and Rhinehart. Your Uncle Jerry can't force a connection every time. Gimme a break.

Joy and peace.

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