By the time you read this, it will all be over – the celebrations, the mince pies, the holidays. A few resolutions will have gone by the wayside, too. Another year and what have we learned? Very little, frankly, and that has got to change. Despite my best attempts at innovation, I still end up battling the same demons I do every festive season.
Regular readers of this column will know that each Christmas I try to maximise the efficiency of the gift-buying process. Over the years I have finessed my present-buying protocol. Initially I gravitated towards bookshops or DVD megastores, recognising them as nirvanas of one-stop shopping. But later I freed myself of those shackles and realised that all the Christmas shopping could be done in pretty much any single shop. Admittedly this is harder to pull off in B&Q than it is in, say, Selfridges – but you should simply regard that as a creative challenge.
This year it finally got too much and I had a go at doing it all online. But it turns out that browsing with a mouse and a credit card is almost as stressful as going combat shopping down Oxford Street on Christmas Eve. If you thought rolling under the closing shutters of a high street store in the dying minutes of the last shopping day was a bit of a challenge, then have a go at waiting in to catch the delivery courier in the run-up to Christmas. It seems those guys can get on and off your doorstep with a stealth that makes the average SAS team look like a marching steel band: I now have almost as many “Sorry. We tried to deliver but you weren’t in” tickets on my shelf as I do Christmas cards. I’ve tried reciprocating with notes that say: “Actually I am in, just knock a bit louder and consider waiting for more than 15 femtoseconds this time,” but to no avail. It seems the only guaranteed way to make sure you get your gift off these guys is to lie outside in wait, camouflaged like a fir tree. Preferably armed.
Let us appreciate that gift giving is an incredibly nuanced thing, involving intangibles of breathtaking magnificence. On second thoughts, that sounds like a complete nightmare to administer. Screw it. Let’s go for a good old five-star scale
So my system of Christmas shopping is unsustainable and needs rethinking. We could all take note here. It is a national scandal. These are tough times and year after year people squander resources inefficiently. Surely there has got to be a better way.
Here’s an idea to improve the situation. Everyone should be required to submit their present-buying record to a central authority for assessment. Rate of gift buying and quality of gift should be recorded accurately. So, too, should the appropriateness of the gift-buying environment at the time of purchase. (Personally knowing whether or not my present came from an internationally recognised department store or off the back of a lorry would make a huge difference to my enjoyment of it.)
Now, to avoid the criticism that this is too narrow a set of assessment criteria, and in recognition of the fact that there’s more to a gift than its heaviness and shininess, we will try to judge the overall impact of the presents given. This is trickier to pull off because right now no one is really sure what that means, but we will iron out the creases as we go along: until then we will be willing to accept Polaroids of the face of the recipient taken within five minutes of opening their present.
OK. Now on to the scoring system. Let’s not disrespect the wonderful complexity of the endeavour here. Let us appreciate that it is an incredibly nuanced thing, involving relationships indescribable by any equation and intangibles of breathtaking magnificence. Hmmmm. On second thoughts, that sounds like a complete nightmare to administer. Screw it. Let’s go for a good old five-star scale. No wait, let’s go for a four-star scale and have an “unclassified” category for that scenario in which – upon first unwrapping – the recipient doesn’t know what the gift is supposed to be.
Despite this reduction, I don’t think we are really at risk of losing sight of the core spirit of the season. This is at heart a team game. People should compete against one another not as individuals but as families. It is all supposed to be a playful rivalry, designed to make sure we get the best out of everything. Try to calibrate your attitude more towards a warm fluffy game show such as Family Fortunes and away from something akin to a re-enactment of The Hunger Games.
And of course, not every family member has to take part in the exercise. Some people – including my Uncle Peter from Edinburgh – take so long thinking about and then choosing presents that I think they can safely be ignored (even though – if memory serves – he did come up with something bloody spectacular for all of us one year).
I think I have finally hit pay dirt here. No more fighting the crowds for the last Cliff Richard single. No more low-quality present buying. Just a simple, entirely flawless, entirely ungameable system of assessment that will let us decide once and for all who is best at the Christmas gift-buying malarkey and delegate the entire task to them. Gifts would almost certainly get much better, I think. Christmas, too. Probably.