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I started buying my own Christmas gifts a few years ago. The idea evolved the summer I came home with a replacement putter. Rather than switch equipment mid-season, I handed the new golf club to my wife and suggested she put it under the tree. It worked out great. She saved herself a lot of time and effort and I got the putter I really wanted.
The fact is she could never have picked out something so personal. It would have been tantamount to my thinking I could find her a nightgown that either fits or she might wear. It just doesn't happen.
When I announced to the family the following year that I would be doing my own shopping, the reaction was frosty. I was accused of being overly fussy and closed-minded. It was only when I held up the reindeer tie with matching socks that things got noticeably quieter.
There are many pluses in buying for yourself, the least of which is that I haven't stood in a returns line since. The down side is there aren't many surprises come Christmas morning. Well, that is not exactly true.
Because I'm exceedingly generous with myself, and my wife knows how to hide gifts well, we sometimes forget what I've purchased and where it's been hidden. We spent one Boxing Day ripping the basement apart looking for a parka we weren't sure I had bought. It showed up the following spring, tucked behind the furnace. Though it was a bit sooty, "the fam" decided to give it to me for my birthday. They just stroked out "Holidays" after "Happy" and replaced it with "Birthday."
Shopping for me begins in earnest in August. I like to take advantage of summer clearance sales to "multipack" – an expression I picked up from The Shopping Channel. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it basically means buying the same thing in every colour. The salient point here is to try one on before getting six more. Even the Hudson's Bay Company frowns on those returning year-old merchandise at 70 per cent off.
What's really nice about buying for yourself is that you are only restricted by your imagination. You can create holiday themes based on the current goings-on in your life. Last year's was called "You are only as good as your equipment." My golf game had gone south; it was time to retool.
I replaced the driver, irons and wedges before deciding that the real problem was the shoes. I picked out two pairs of Foot Joys, wrapped them separately, then filled out the greeting card to read: "To Pat. From Pat." Then, as a bit of encouragement I added: "You're one of the finest golfers I've played with."
Last year there was nothing new on the go, so I settled on a slogan. The catchphrase was: "Let's make this your best Christmas ever." And so it was.
On Christmas Eve, as everyone was setting out Santa's gifts on their assigned chairs, mine had to be relocated to a sectional couch in the corner. The following morning, everyone stood around their little mound of presents while I watched my overflow slide off the adjacent love seat. The whole scene was uncomfortably decadent, and I decided that next year's motto would be: "Small but expensive."
This was to be my third year of personal shopping, but it may not happen. My self-centred exuberance has not gone unnoticed. Our youngest came home from university and announced that she wanted money – then asked for a series of post-dated cheques. My eldest daughter – a sensible working girl – said that she was going to pick herself out a couple of "little things," then glared in my general direction. My wife added that she had had enough nightgown nightmares, and was going out to get some functional pyjamas that actually fit.
At that point I knew it was time to relent … a little. In the spirit of the season, I told them they could each buy me a shirt. A dress shirt. A blue dress shirt with a fine pinstripe. I added that it had to be 100 per cent cotton, button-down collar, sized 16 neck, 34/35-inch sleeve, no slim fit or permanent press, please. Then I handed out slips of paper, each with a different manufacturer's name on it. For a second I thought I heard someone murmur, "persnickety."
The nice thing about this clearing of the air is that I now have this year's theme. As Elvis once sang, "It's going to be a blue Christmas."
My family is right, of course. I did get carried away and I am well aware of the joys of giving. My extravagance came about because I wanted the perfect putter – not because, in the words of Charlie Brown's kid sister, I only wanted what's mine or to get my fair share.
Having said this, I'll wager that whoever was responsible for such chestnuts as "it's the thought that counts" never received a pair of festive socks or played a round of golf.
Patrick Ramesbottom lives in Toronto.