November at last! I've been looking forward to the first moment it would not be indecent to write about the great Christian feast of wintertide, and All Saints Day is it. I've got time to do it, too, for I am going to the 10 AM Mass at the Cathedral and therefore have blocked off the morning.
This year we're going to Canada for Christmas, and so we let the October 31 deadline for economy-class Yuletide packages pass us by. I also felt liberated from the need to buy presents during our Canadian Thanksgiving weekend holiday in the Borders. Last year we went to Cambridge, and I bought three bulky Cambridge U sweatshirts that were surprisingly popular with their recipients. At least, they wear them on our Skype calls. I am gratified because who wants to spend money on a dud gift?
I find buying Christmas presents incredibly stressful, and so I have worked out strategies to cut down on the cortisol. The first is to remind myself that only the gifts to the children have to be successful; the adults have their own money and if anyone asks them what they got for Christmas, it will be asked in a jokey fashion. The second is to count up how many people should get presents this year (the meter starts at 13) and budget. The third is to ask the principal 13 (or their parents) what they want for Christmas.
This number, incidentally, includes me, and I know what I want Benedict Ambrose to get me for Christmas, and I know what he wants for Christmas, so that's two down, 11 to go. Actually, B.A. is in charge of buying his mother's present, so as far as I'm concerned, that's three down, 10 to go.
And here is where I make my great appeal to my family--and to Christian society as a whole--to think of reasonably priced things you would like for Christmas. Now that I have thoroughly grown up and shot down deep roots into reality, I realise that the answer "Oh, I really don't know" is not a particularly kind answer to the question "What do you want for Christmas?"
Paradoxically, it is easier to know what you want for Christmas if you are in an economic downturn, or madly overpaying the mortgage, or a voluntary minimalist. What you want is something that you think is just a tiny bit too expensive for what it is, e.g. the really good coffee you bought when it was £5.50 but is now £7 a bag. Perhaps your gas bill was (she checks) £116 this month, and you would quite fancy a humorous draught excluder shaped like an overly long dachshund. Perhaps the cover of your hot water bottle is looking sad, and it would be lovely if your sister, a keen knitter, would knit you one shaped like an owl or some other homely creature. Perhaps you are worried about the Three Days of Darkness and want some beeswax candles to take to the priest for a blessing on Candlemas. Whatever you want, it surely does not cost more than £30/$34.61 US/$46.90 Canadian. (Holy cats! What has Trudeau done to you?) At very least, it does not cost more than the gifts you are giving to fellow adults.
(That said, in 2020 I asked my parents for a wool cardigan from my favourite Edinburgh shop which definitely cost more than £30, and I wore out the delicate elbows within months. I am not proof against sudden bursts of Advent greed, but I'm trying.)
But anyway my point is to make life easy for the person who asks "What do you want for Christmas" by writing a Christmas list that does not at all resemble the Wish Lists you wrote as a penniless child but is tailored to the wallets of the givers. Tick off the presents as the askers ask. For example, when my youngest brother asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him for two years running that I wanted beeswax candles--which I sincerely did. I was delighted when they arrived, and I hope I get more this Christmas, hint hint.
One thing for sure: I do not believe that anyone can magically read minds--although they might be unusually good at taking hints--so nobody should expect any loved one to know what his or her tastes are. (This is particularly true when you have been divided for three years by the shocking regulations of suddenly totalitarian states.) Instead, one should imagine the loved one at a loss in a frantic, tinselled, cookie cutter mall in a state of panic and confusion and feel a chivalrous desire to spare him or her that horror.
I recommend a person-centred Christmas list that puts your loved one in the centre, with what you will volunteer to them as a present for yourself on the right side, and what they told you they would like on the left, e.g.
That Book He Wants----->Benedict Ambrose----> Those Made-in-England gloves I will tell him about.
A bonus: if you tell each person something different, you are unlikely to get the same thing from everyone. You might be happy to have multiples, but the wind might be taken out of the gift-givers' sails.
So be prepared. Make a list of little presents you would like to receive and be sure to ask your loved ones what they want (if you are very brave, add "Under £30/$35/ $47") well in advance for Christmas. If this week they say, "I haven't thought about it" be sure to ask them again in 2 weeks. If they don't get back to you before the second Sunday of Advent, I recommend beeswax candles. But then, I love beeswax candles and if there are rolling blackouts this winter (or WORSE, see above) they will come in handy.