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Essay: Christmas Gifts


Tomorrrow is Christmas Eve – or maybe more accurately, tomorrow night is Christmas Eve.  Some among us will open their presents at that juncture, while others will wait until Christmas itself.

For Lake Effect essayist Elaine Maly, the timing of the gifts isn’t really the issue:

A french cooking class with a world renowned chef, a stunning haute couture dress, and a sleek black neglige that made me feel like a Victoria Secrets model. These are the gifts my oh so in love husband bestowed on me during the early years of our marriage. Tom knew me so well —my size, my style, my passions.

As we settled into married life, the gifts were still wonderful but gradually became less inspired—a food processor, a terry cloth bathrobe, a jam of the month club membership. The same was true on my end. “How many watches does a guy need?” I thought.

At around year 12, I suggested that we stop getting each other gifts and consider our annual winter vacation our Christmas gift to each other. Tom agreed. Or so I thought. Instead, he went underground. Plotting and planning super secret surprise gifts. I’d check in again and again. “We’re not getting each other anything this year, right?”

“Right,” he’d say.

So imagine my surprise that Christmas, when with our family gathered around the decorated tree, he disappeared into the basement and emerged with a giant wrapped rectangle for me. “You said no gifts!” I complained weakly even though I was completely delighted. “I know,” he said, “but this is something I really want you to have.” He sat close to me as I carefully pulled back the red and white snow flake paper to expose the limited edition numbered and autographed print from renowned artist Jacob Lawrence whom we got to meet in person the year before he died, Elmer-glued into the slightly too large $4.99 poster frame from Target.

“You shouldn’t have,” was all I could say as I tried to keep my face composed knowing that the rescue of this precious piece of art was going to cost us hundreds.

A few years later, when menopause had fully taken up residence in my body as a roaring coal furnace, Tom bought me long-sleeved quilted pajamas. “Why don’t you ever wear them?” he wondered a few weeks later.

Another year, we had been doing some holiday shopping at a big box discount store in the aisle of special gift ideas for people who have everything—electric foot massagers, whopper choppers, and fondue sets—the kind of gifts that get used once or twice and then take up valuable real estate in the back of a closet. There was also something called an instant hot tub that you put into your bathtub to make it like a jacuzzi. I saw Tom looking at it wistfully. He knows how much I enjoy a hot tub.

“I know what you’re thinking,” I said. “Do not get this for me. Listen to me. I do not want it. And I am not trying to use reverse psychology hoping that you’ll get it for me anyway. I really do not want this.”

So, I was not surprised one little bit at the family gift giving gathering when he presented me with a brick shaped box wrapped in Goofy Santa paper with a big green bow. “Wow! I wonder what he got you this year,” said my excited mother-in-law who was sitting cozy with me on the love seat.

I channeled my inner actress, tore off the paper and exclaimed, “Oh how wonderful! Now I can finally turn our ordinary bath tub into a whirl pool hot tub.”

After everyone left, Tom said, “That was a good performance. I’ll take it back tomorrow.”

“From now on, no gifts, right?” I said, relieved that the message had finally gotten through.


This year he gave me the Ellen Degeneris Dance CD.

Essayist Elaine Maly is the 2015 winner of the Wisconsin Writers Association’s humor writing contest.  She writes about her life as a native Milwaukeean at her website.

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