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Stop Buying Christmas Gifts For People Who Say They Want “Nothing”


Every year since I was a teenager, my mother asks me what I want for Christmas. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I had the courage to answer honestly.

“I don’t want anything,” I replied when she asked me, often before Halloween, because nothing is what I wanted.

She’ll nod, I’ll nod, and a few weeks after that conversation, my Garfield cross-stitch stocking will be stuffed with a gift certificate for groceries, lip balm, and chocolate.

Minimalism is only half the reason I want nothing. The other half is because “nothing” requires me to rummage through a stocking or unwrap a gift that reminds me of how little people in my life know me.

The gift certificate is appreciated because a boy has to eat, but on the sly I slip the lip balm to my brother Kevin — it almost always contains beeswax and I’ve been vegan for about 18 years.

And while plant-based chocolate is thoughtful for a reason, I have type 1 diabetes, so it’s also kind of the worst gift anyone could give me.

My mother is not alone. For years I’ve told my family, friends, coworkers, and women I’ve dated that what I want is “nothing,” but apparently a lot of people can’t afford it. “nothing” as a gift, which to me makes giving more about the giver and less about the receiver.

This dilemma is why I can’t remember a time when I didn’t receive anything, so I tried to reverse the words, hoping the new order will make literal and philosophical sense.

“Nothing is what I want.”

But nothing is ever what I get.

I don’t blame anyone for not understanding my wishes, because the concept of “nothing” is not easy to understand. Brian Gregor, chair of philosophy at California State University, Dominguez Hills, told me that philosophers have long argued over the meaning of “nothing.” Some, like the German philosopher Rudolf Carnap, suggest that the issue stems from confusion about language because we use “nothing” as a noun and then mistakenly imagine it to refer to something. “But even if nothing is not a thing,” says Gregor, “the nothingness will show itself when you look under your tree on Christmas morning and find nothing there.” And that feeling may be too much for the potential donor to bear.

Every time I tried to explain to my mother that I didn’t want anything, I used simple terms so that she understood my logic. After all, my reasoning doesn’t seem to compel us to engage in, say, the Socratic method. I explain how I am a minimalist who only wants what I need. The things I want—a working pancreas, a literary agent, cancer-free Kevin, a 1960s Cadillac—are things she can’t buy through QVC.

Minimalism is only half the reason I want nothing. The other half is because “nothing” requires me to rummage through a stocking or unwrap a gift that reminds me of how little people in my life know me.

“Nothing” does not disappoint.

Lest anyone think I’m a better gift giver than a gift receiver, I’m not. My dad is a basketball fan whose favorite player is former Los Angeles Lakers guard Jerry West. One year I bought her some socks with an action shot of #44 on them. I’ve never seen him wear them. My mother? Forget. Sure, she drinks tea, but she has enough to run a bed and breakfast in Manchester. And then there’s the question of what kind of tea does she like? Is she drinking caffeine this year?

Oh, how little I know of these people.

Or maybe not. Maybe the pressure to buy Christmas presents for anyone is a prank, a ploy created by capitalism to get us to spend, spend, spend on things we don’t want or don’t we don’t need. Maybe I know my parents well and recognize that there is nothing I can give them that can significantly improve their lives. Negatively? Sure. I often reminded my father on his birthday that I had given him the best thing a son could have for a father: another year that I didn’t go to jail. Currently I am on year 43. He seems to enjoy that.

My parents have everything they need and thanks to Kevin and his wife they have everything they want in the form of a 3 year old grandchild.

They don’t have to drive around the mall parking lot just to enter crowded stores and buy me something meant to be stuffed into an already cramped underwear drawer. I don’t need to do the same to buy socks my dad won’t wear and tea my mom might not drink. And it’s not like they’re asking for anything. They accept all the bad gifts (based on how little they use them) that I buy from them.

But I’m sick of participating in a capitalist sham, and I’m sick of giving Christmas presents that my family and friends don’t want. When I randomly see something that reminds me of a relative or friend, I buy this item because the surprise of a gift on July 12, for example, shows care, attention and thoughtfulness, this which I’m sure is the concept behind a giveaway.

To avoid the disappointment that comes with Christmas presents, I prefer to give and receive an experience, a conversation, something, anything, that cannot be thrown away. For example, in September, my 88-year-old grandmother Dolla was at my niece’s birthday party. Dolla has trouble standing and walking, so I helped her move from the outdoor dining table to my aunt’s vehicle. I opened the car door, helped her into the passenger seat and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Dolla and I don’t have much vacation anymore, so these are the kind of moments I want from her – a hug, a kiss, a smile, a “thank you”.

This is my idea of ​​a gift. This is what I want for Christmas.

nbcnews Gt

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