The Evolution of Gift Giving

IMG_4584 2Sometime after the Earth cooled – let’s just say it was between a gazillion and a gagillion years ago – slimy little amoebas sprouted fins and then legs. And soon, critters of all shapes and sizes roamed the planet.

Not too long after that (again, I’m a little foggy on the dates but feel free to Google it if you’re a stickler for facts), hairy Homo sapiens started squirreling away special rocks and animal pelts to give to each other as gifts.

I’m no archaeologist, but I’m pretty sure gift giving back in those days wasn’t a holiday ritual. Darwin would probably tell you that exchanging gifts was a way humans ensured reproductive success and perpetuation of the species.

But let’s not get into all that tedious history. Suffice it to say that, eventually, human beings and gift giving evolved into the wallet-busting tradition known today as “The Holidays.”

While it is true that my husband, Francis, is unusually hairy and has been known to grunt, our gift giving ritual has progressed significantly from that of our cave-dwelling ancestors. However, I must admit that our family’s holiday evolution has been marked with periods of barbarism, savagery and other primitive behaviors.

When Francis and I first married, we celebrated the holidays snuggled on our couch, whispering sweet nothings and exchanging meaningful gifts we charged on credit cards with $1,000 limits, blissfully ignorant of the 23% interest rates.

Soon, I gave birth to our three children. Unable to contain our “Baby’s First Christmas” excitement, we bought toys, clothes and tiny little rocking chairs, carefully wrapping them and placing them under the tree.

The rookie mistake we failed to realize was that babies just slobber on ribbons, pull ornaments off the tree, and take naps on Christmas. We could have saved ourselves a lot of time and money had we just bought them each a 97-cent bag of bows from Wal-Mart.

Then, the kids got older. Their developing brains were now able to contemplate things like St. Nicholas, the Christmas Miracle, and that the Star Wars Jedi Master Lightsaber requires three AAA batteries. Our kids’ new level of consciousness meant that we had to hit the streets, elbowing fellow humans in a primitive race for the last Barbie Saddle ‘N Ride Horse at Toys R Us.

If we survived the shopping, we nearly died of exhaustion on December 24th. After cookie baking, photos with Santa at the mall, an elaborate prime rib dinner during which the kids whined for boxed macaroni and cheese, church in the itchy outfits Grams sent, and a reading of our “T’was the Night Before Christmas” pop up book, we were forced to stay up until the wee hours wrapping gifts.

By 6:00 am when the kids woke us up, it was all we could do to grab a cup of coffee and witness the mayhem. Wrapping paper flying, we spent our last bit of energy removing hundreds of wires, zip ties and Fort Knox plastic packaging from the kids’ new toys.

Now, they’re teenagers. At this point in our family’s evolution, the kids know more than we do, and they take full advantage. To them, the Magic of Christmas is that they can manipulate us into buying them an Xbox One even though they got a C in Chemistry.

Furthermore, even though they used to hate it when we gave them clothing for Christmas, it is somehow now crucial that they get lots of new clothes. It seems that their entire social life depends on them receiving a new blanket poncho, midi boots, or hipster beanie. Problem is, we never seem to get what they want. We just keep the receipts and brace ourselves for lots of eye rolling.

Through it all, we’ve learned that the holiday is not just a Darwinian gift exchange ritual designed to perpetuate our species. It is a time of selfless generosity, when human beings gather to joyously celebrate with family and friends.

And as we remind ourselves of the ancient miracles that gave rise to our holiday traditions, we will heed the most important lesson of gift giving that can be summed up in two simple words: Gift cards.

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Comments: 8

  1. Monty Clark December 26, 2015 at 6:16 pm Reply

    Lisa – Once again you nailed the evolution of Holiday antics that take place in our home to a tee. I love knowing that we (my wife and I) are not alone in our trials and tribulations.

    But this year was different. My wife decided to take a stand against the commercialization of Christmas! She said we were all to make our gifts for each other, no store bought gifts. I nodded in disbelieving agreement (I am a husband and know when to agree) but wondered how all of this was going to work out. We all attempted to paint, glue, tape and craft our way to some kind of gift, secretly cringing inside at our efforts, except my youngest that thrilled at the challenge.

    To cut to the chase, after a few half smiles signifying “nice try”, mixed in with a few decent suprises, my yongest daughter brought out a present for my wife. It was an empty kleenex box wrapped in red paper (with much tape), the hole in the top still intact, with “Your Awesome” written in classic kid handwriting on the side. Then she explained: “When you do something really good, or something you are happy about, you write it down and put it in the box – then whenever you’re feeling kind of down you reach in the Awesome box and pull something out to remind you You are Awesome!”

    …and, ah, yeah, as my little one sat beaming up at us, suddenly the meaning of Christmas became very real.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari December 30, 2015 at 3:33 pm Reply

      Kids really do say (and do) the darndest things, don’t they? They have some kind of special sense for the truth in life that we have forgotten. Thanks so much for the wonderful story!

  2. lauriebest December 25, 2015 at 4:13 pm Reply

    Brilliant blog, Lisa! It’s nice to have someone finally explain the evolutionary behavior of humans at Christmas! In our family, we try to outdo ourselves by finding the most laugh-inducing, cringe-worthy, embarrassing yet hilarious and appropriate gifts for each other. ‘Winning’ (thank you, Charlie Sheen) at Christmas is of prime importance. I think I won with a book from Australian that I gave to my son.It was a roadkill cookbook…concentrating on poor deceased kangaroos and other exotic animals in Aussie land. The writing is humorous, the recipes God only knows, but all proceeds go to help save the animals when they are injured and before they end up in the pot! Although my son loves animals and wouldn’t hurt a fly, he is also a great cook, travels the world and goes to places with really exotic creatures, supports wildlife organizations and once hit a deer with his car…so can appreciate the horrible fate of same. That said, not wasting the animals that gave their lives in such an ignominious way helps to lesson the pain. Merry Christmas!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari December 30, 2015 at 3:31 pm Reply

      I hope your son cooked up some delicious road kill over the holiday Laurie! Cheers!

  3. Jack Buffington, RADM, CEC, USN (ret) December 25, 2015 at 12:22 pm Reply

    Lisa, You are the best. I always look forward to reading your latest either on e-mail or the Gulfport Seabee newspaper. Warm regards to you and yours this Christmas. Jack Buffington.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari December 30, 2015 at 3:31 pm Reply

      Wow! Comments like this really make my day, Admiral Buffington! I love knowing that people see my column in those base newspapers across the US!

  4. Dave Astor December 25, 2015 at 11:37 am Reply

    Hilarious, Lisa, with just the right touch of seriousness. Great ending, too!

    • Lisa Smith Molinari December 30, 2015 at 3:30 pm Reply

      Means a lot coming from you, Dave!

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