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clear and presents danger
musings on holiday gifting
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

“What do you want for Chanukah next week?” my mom asked me.

“Peace on Earth; good will towards men,” I answered. “Please pass the turkey and cranberry sauce.”

For those of you who don’t know, The Jewish Festival of Gifts Lights came strikingly early this year. Usually, it’s somewhere around Christmas, largely because they both started as Pagan holidays for the Winter Solstice. Semantically speaking.

Except that for one of the holidays we symbolically light up a multi-branched ornamental symbol of the holiday. And the other one is Christmas.

Point is, Chanukah was early. It's as though Thanksgiving ran head on into the season of giving. This is largely because the Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles, while the calendar that features dates like the 4th of July and the always important 10th of October is based on the solar year. True, it was easier for our ancestors to pin down the cycles of the moon – 28 days vs. 365 – but it turns out that the moon (even the Harvest Moon) doesn’t really affect the seasons all that strongly. No ancient farmer ever said, “Better get that barley planted, boys, she’s turning gibbous on the 21st.” In fact, there’s a chance no one’s ever said that before just now.

To put it in a more understandable context for those of you of the “take back Jerusalem from the Infidel” faith, Easter came early, too, if you recall. But don’t worry. This will all be put somewhat right in a couple months, as this happens to be a leap year in the Jewish calendar. And here’s where the fun starts – the Jewish leap year adds a full extra month called Adar.

“But,” you say, “the Jewish calendar already has a month called Adar.”

“I don’t know how you knew that,” I respond. “But you’re right. Actually, there will be two months of Adar coming up toward the end of winter.”

“They’re both called Adar?” you ask.

“Well,” I say, in confidential hushed tones, “actually, one is Adar I and one is Adar II.”

“Oh,” you look relieved. “So you guys are adding Adar II this year.”

“Well, no,” I break the news gently. “Here’s the fun part. Every year has an Adar II. We’re adding Adar I.”

“That’s preposterous,” you mumble, spilling your soup down the front of your sweatshirt.

“Yes, yes it is,” I smile reassuringly. “Blame Purim.”

And … scene.

Now clean yourself up. Amateurs.

That’s all true about the calendar, by the way. The Internet told me so.

At least Chanukah had the good sense to still come after Black Friday (and, apparently, Cyber Monday?) this year, though it did cut it close. However, it means we of the “hey, let’s visit Jericho and knock down their walls” persuasion were able still to take advantage of the wonderful deals corporate America deems fit to bestow upon those of you celebrating the birth of your savior by distributing Best Buy and Home Depot gift cards to your loved ones.

Do I sound cynical? I don’t actually mean to be. I like the holiday season, though I admit I could do without most commercial Christmas music. The only thing worse than getting “Here Comes Santa Claus” stuck in your head for a full week in December is getting it stuck in your head for a full week in August.

The flip side of that, to be fair, is that almost every year for nearly the past decade, you can find me on the Saturday evening before Christmas going house-to-house on a cul-de-sac in Fairfield, CT, drinking Dickel and a-wassailing. (One thing my Jewish upbringing really didn't prepare me for, by the way. Everyone's singing all the songs, and I'm semi-joining in: "Joy to the world! The Lord is ... fun...." It can get ugly.)

I do very much like the gift giving, though. And the gift receiving. And I try to put a lot of thought into the presents I buy. I won’t say I’m perfect at it – my family members can pretty much predict that they’re either getting music or a book. Except my niece, who, while she is getting a book for the third year in a row, is only 3 and hasn’t yet caught on to the pattern. But I do at least make the attempt to buy music and books that I truly think people will appreciate. Once, however, and I won’t say whom it was for, I had to play off a gift as a “joke” because the “real one” was “on back order.” It was also, by the way, the last time I ever took the saleslady’s word for it that “granny panties are in this year.”

Well, maybe not the last time.

Sadly, that's not the most awkward gift-giving incident I've ever been involved in, though. I once received a pink stuffed bear holding a heart about 2 minutes after the giver had just ended things with me. “You can save it for someone else,” she suggested helpfully. A pink bear. Actually, that might have been awkward even if she hadn't preceded it with a break-up.

However, in the spirit of the holidays, I will try to put closure on that incident; I’m sure you can all tell it was truly the defining moment of my love life – I mean this was a long-distance relationship that lasted slightly over a month 20 years ago, and we saw each other maybe four times, so obviously I'm still crying inside – and offer you the best gift I can think of:

The Sum Total of All My Collected Years of Knowledge

1. Do NOT give someone a movie they saw once and thought was okay but have never, not a single moment in their lives, ever mentioned it again. Especially if it came as a special offer with another purchase and only cost you $5. At McDonalds. On VHS.

2. Do NOT give your very recent ex-boyfriend the stuffed animal you bought him prior to deciding to end the relationship. Even if you got it especially for him and you didn’t have any use for it yourself. See above.

3. Do NOT give your significant other a coupon book containing things like “One Hug” or “A Free Day To Yourself.” This was sort of cute when you were 7. Now it screams either “I really have no idea what gift you’d actually like” or “I can only afford a marker and 10 index cards.” Either way, not smooth. If you really can’t afford more than a marker and 10 index cards, use that cash instead and go for the Starbucks gift card. Even people who don’t drink coffee drink coffee. Unless they’re Mormon. Then they’d probably like a hug.

4. Do NOT give a family member porn. That’s just really, really, really creepy. Especially if you’re his grandmother. Or starring in it. Or both.

5. Do NOT give someone something you got for free by collecting Diet Coke caps and then try to explain that it actually cost you $500 worth of soda. Yes, I nearly did. No, I didn’t.

6. Do NOT give your boss’ wife a French kiss. Even if you swear it actually came from France.

7. Do NOT give your wife a Dutch oven. Even if you swear it actually came from the Netherlands.

8. Do NOT give anything from the “12 Days of Christmas” song. With the exception, of course, of 5 gold rings. Not only is it tough to wrap 4 calling birds (you should hear what they call each other), but things start getting really messy (and noisy) when you get up there in the numbers. 12 drummers drumming? 11 pipers piping? And no one ever stops to think that 8 maids a-milking also requires a comparable number of bovines. Though as I think about it, this one probably didn’t need to be enumerated.

9. Do NOT give a gift as a hint. Free counseling session. Nicorette coupons. Deodorant. Severance pay. Gifts such as these have very little chance of going over well. Unless your loved one specifically asks for something along these lines – a membership at Weight Watchers, for example, or a lip waxing – they’re likely to be received poorly. Very, very poorly. Very, very … very poorly.

10. Do NOT give your sweetheart in Idaho a box of chocolates weighing less than 50 lbs. It's illegal. Really. On the other hand, if he or she just broke up with you but still expects the candy, you had better make sure to eat some of the contents before you hand it over, as it's also illegal in that state to give anyone else a box of chocolates weighing more than 50 lbs.

11. Do NOT give your nieces or nephews something really loud that doesn’t take batteries. Like a drum set. Or “real” pots and pans. Unless you want your siblings to kill you in your sleep two months later. (Side note to new parents: wait as long as possible to tell your children about the concept of changing batteries. “I’m sorry honey, but your bear who sings the same song over and over and over and over again is hibernating now,” is a perfectly reasonable alternative to yanking its head off and running it through the garbage disposal.)

12. Do NOT promise the sum total of all your collected years of knowledge and then instead hurriedly come up with a list of things not to do while gift shopping. I mean who does that? Really.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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lisa r
12.8.10 @ 11:01p

Re #11: Infants are smarter than you think. Once they figure out how to open the battery compartment, it's only a matter of time before they make the connection between pulling the batteries out and the toy no longer working.

Trust me--I witnessed this with an 8-month old and a battery-powered Mickey Mouse clock. It wasn't long after that that he managed to change all the phone settings by playing with the buttons. The answering machine spoke Spanish for weeks, until we gave in and let him play with the handset again.

adam kraemer
12.9.10 @ 9:55a

¿Español? ¡Que lastima!

Sorry. It's true. My niece has done things to my computer and my phone that I didn't even know you could do. It's like that theory about an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters eventually coming up with the world's great literature. Except that an infinite number of toddlers would start WWIII.

I would argue that even if they do figure out that removing the batteries makes the toy stop, that doesn't mean they've quite got the concept of "buy new batteries at CVS the next time you're in there to pick up toothpaste" to make it go again, though.


lisa r
12.9.10 @ 12:43p

I would argue that even if they do figure out that removing the batteries makes the toy stop, that doesn't mean they've quite got the concept of "buy new batteries at CVS the next time you're in there to pick up toothpaste" to make it go again, though.

True, but it doesn't take long before they equate "stopped toy, adult family member puts in different batteries, toy works again" with "batteries make beloved toys work". Then they crawl to the battery drawer and stage a sit-in until someone gives in and replaces the battery. It's always the toys that are the most obnoxious that generate the greatest insistence on being fixed, too. (There's probably a Murphy's law corollary that applies here.)

adam kraemer
12.9.10 @ 12:44p

So the trick, as I mentioned, is never change the batteries. In anything. They'll still figure it out, but not for at least another year.

lisa r
12.9.10 @ 12:48p

I take it you've never been ganged up on by infant triplets. Resistance is futile. Not fixing a beloved toy is NOT an option if you value your sanity.

mike julianelle
12.9.10 @ 12:57p

Dude. You used MY EXACT TITLE from last year. EDITOR FAIL.


adam kraemer
12.9.10 @ 1:09p

Actually, mine was originally in singular. One of our esteemed editors made it plural.

Also, excellent place to bring it up. That's not going to interrupt the flow of commentary at all. Now I can't even change the title if I want because you've announced to the world that it's the same as one you came up with a year ago.

So if they're the same, they're the same. Just think of your column as the "Blown Away" starring Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones about the IRA bomber and think of my column as the "Blown Away" starring Coreys Haim and Feldman and Nicole Eggert's rack.

mike julianelle
12.9.10 @ 2:44p

But I want to be the one with the two Coreys!

Clearly one of our esteemed editors had my superior title stuck in their head - unaware of its origin - and thought they were improving your inferior title by tweaking it, without realizing that they were actually humiliating me in the process.

adam kraemer
12.9.10 @ 3:02p

What if I change mine to something cleverer, like, "Presents Tense"? Or "Gift Guiding Away"?

(Hah. Try to get that Paul Simon song out of your head.)


jael mchenry
12.9.10 @ 4:16p

Girls, girls, you're both pretty.

(Adam, Gift Guiding Away is actually awesome. Next year, maybe.)

I feel like I've learned something here. Mostly about Adar. Am I going to be sorry if I ask what Dickle is?

adam kraemer
12.9.10 @ 5:41p

It's lead to more than a few "Who touched my Dickel?" jokes.


lisa r
12.10.10 @ 9:02a

I, too, feel like I learned something, not only about Adar but about the bizarre world that is a man's mind attempting to deal with gift selection.

Jael, I just assumed Adam was talking about George Dickel whisky. Did I miss something?

Adam, no more earworms today, please--they don't play well with others in the mental sandbox.

adam kraemer
12.10.10 @ 10:32a

I was talking about George Dickel whiskey, yes. It's just not that well known.

Oh, and you're the second person to mention ear worms in relation to this piece. Weird.

By the way, one more gift-giving piece of advice: despite what the commercials imply, there's no need to put a bow on top of the new car in the driveway. If your significant other can't already figure out that the car in the driveway was not there before, he or she doesn't deserve the hint.

steven willcox
12.20.10 @ 9:01p

When I was younger, I started writing down any really unique gift idea for quick reference. Now people from all over the world are sharing their favorite gift ideas!

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