This weird thought occurred to me this morning after the following exchange occurred between my middle son and I.
‘Josh, Josh, come here!’
‘Just come here a minute!’
[Sound of silence.]
‘I have a present for you’.
[Sound of child leaping out of bed and running down corridor towards his mother’s voice.]
‘What, what is it?’
[Eager child appears.]
‘I have something for you.’
[Mother grins, hands behind her back.]
[Mother reveals present to child, found in a coat pocket.]
[Child recoils in horror and retreats back to his room.]
My weird thought is related to this exchange. I noticed with my little joke that my son felt a strong excitement of anticipation for getting this gift (it got him out of bed at least). He had had high hopes. However, the sensation of pleasure (or in this case, disappointment) on receiving the actual gift was much less significant. That moment of emotion was fleeting. The moment of anticipation was not so. If this little exchange is indicative of most gift-giving scenarios, then the pleasure we feel of anticipation of the gift generally lasts longer, is more heightened and much more joyous than the pleasure we feel on final revelation of gift.
Think of how exciting Christmas is. The build up can last weeks (or sometimes months). I imagine the same is felt for impending birthdays (since mine occurs on the same day as Christmas I cannot relate here in the same way). I know my children look forward to their birthdays about 9 months ahead of the event. As for Christmas, they are prone to frequent exploding with excitement prior to the event (as am I).
My point here is that the excitement of anticipation is always there, irrespective of the gifts received on the day. If we could measure that excitement, I expect that there would be very little deviation year on year. If I look back, I would say I have felt equally as excited for Christmas every year since circa. 1974 (when I would have first been able to register that Christmas was a ‘thing’ of excitement). Yet, I bet most people, as do I, have years of preferred presents and years of shitty presents. I know, not many people will admit it but sometimes we do get given shitty presents. There is such a thing as the ‘shitty’ present. My most shitty was too shitty to write about here and I ought to protect the giver’s identity as I don’t think they meant harm and they may read this, but I remember opening it and being utterly gutted that someone would give me ‘that’ for a present. I threw it away a few years ago, unused.
After my mini-egg gift joke I informed my children that for Christmas this year I would be wrapping up a lot of old socks and crushed mini eggs for them and placing them under the Christmas tree. I told them there were two reasons for doing this. Firstly, frugality. Secondly, as I have explained, the excitement of the anticipation will still be there for Christmas irrespective of the gifts given so in my mind there is no need to go to all the effort of choosing special gifts for them all. Their reaction was one of disappointment.
‘But now you’ve told us, we won’t have the excitement of the build up to Christmas,’ one wise child pointed out.
‘Oh,’ I replied. ‘But wise child of mine, you won’t remember this exchange come December. It is June 1st today, and also you wouldn’t think I’d be so harsh as to carry out this evil plan. Ergo, you will still feel the weeks’ long excitement of Christmas and I will save hundreds of pounds by just wrapping up old socks and crushed mini eggs’.
‘Oh but we will remember!’ Piped up another child.
‘Is that so,’ I mused. ‘Tell me, dear child, what did you get for Christmas last year?’
The children paused for thought.
‘That book over there,’ one replied.
‘I got a book from Grandma Bertie and that old camera from Father Christmas’. Another added.
Therein followed a thoughtful pause. I waited. Then I spoke.
‘So none of you have mentioned the main present you each got last year, the most expensive, and in fact the one you played with the most in the weeks following Christmas, an Alexa each,’ I smugly replied.
‘Ohhhhh,’ they all cried in unison. ‘Yeah! We forgot about that!’
‘My point exactly!’ I responded. The children grunted.
So I think I will carry out my ‘threat’. I firmly believe that the anticipation of getting a gift, which is a combination of the pleasure of surprise, the joy of anticipation, the warmth of feeling that someone has done something for us, is far greater than the reality of getting a ‘thing’ irrespective of whether we will treasure that thing or not. I implore you to disagree with me. Go on, try it. This might have some deep philosophical message about the nature of our relationship to each other, to stuff, and the power of the capitalist economy and Guy Debord’s ‘The Society of the Spectacle’. Think about it.
I also, cannot now tell you exactly what I got for Christmas. I will have to get back to you on that. I didn’t get any old socks or crushed mini-eggs but perhaps I will this year. And I can’t wait to unwrap them.