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December 15, 2009

Juliette Fay: A Gift Horse of a Different Color

Posted by webmaster
For author Juliette Fay, there are many highlights of the holiday season --- Christmas carols, festive decorations, egg nog. But as she shares in today's guest blog post, there is one aspect she's not so enamored with. (Visit to read more writers' stories about holiday giving and getting.)

How do you and your book members celebrate the season? Do you exchange gifts or have a holiday tradition? We'd love to know, so please share it in the comments section.

Juliette is the author of the novel
Shelter Me about newly widowed Janie and how her late husband's plan to surprise her with a new porch becomes a vitally important last gift. It's a story she had "been thinking about for years," says Juliette. "As porch construction progresses, Janie learns to create a new shelter from the ruins of her old life, now buttressed by support from unexpected sources."

I think I have giftlexia. Or would it be dysgiftia? I can express love and appreciation in lots of ways, but gifts are definitely not my strong suit.

I have friends whom I consider gift savants --- seemingly born with the uncanny ability to take one look at a person and know exactly what might fulfill deep, barely conscious wishes. They get me things I never would've considered, and now use constantly --- an interesting candle holder, a really comfortable hat, funky earrings that were not "me" until I tried them on, and suddenly they were so "me" I wondered how the earrings and I had existed separately for so long.

The above-mentioned aside, I have to admit I'm secretly not the best at receiving gifts either. I'm polite, I say a sincere thank you, I try to behave as if this thing I was given is the greatest thing ever...because sometimes it is. But sometimes it isn't, and the world is already so full of unnecessary trinkets and do-dads and stuff. I truly appreciate the gesture, but I'd be just as happy with a heartfelt note.

So, with the holidays galloping toward us, presents to buy and receive, and the inevitable proliferation of unimaginable ton-loads of stuff, my stress level is beginning to rise...

Our family celebrates Christmas, and I sincerely love everything about it --- the rich piney smell of the tree in the living room, new renditions of old Christmas carols, decorating the house with both the lovely ornaments and the unlovely ones that have nonetheless made their way into family lore and tradition. I love egg nog. I love thinking of Mary, pregnant and poor, giving birth in a barn, and knowing even still, that it was all worth it.

But I can't make myself love the gift part.

People with learning disabilities develop skills to compensate for what their brains don't do easily. Similarly, I employ about half a dozen little coping mechanisms: starting early, making lists, making my family members make lists, asking other people what they're buying for their loved ones. I blast my ungiftishness with all the power of my organizational skills which, I modestly admit, are mighty. I go out there, and I shop and check off lists and fill in my spreadsheet --- yes, I have a spreadsheet, as absurd as that sounds, and it's like a security blanket. I look at my spreadsheet, creating order out of gift chaos, and I'm tempted to suck my thumb.

On Christmas morning, I will anxiously await my family's reactions to all this effort in the same way I anticipated exam results when I was in school. Did I pass? Did I get an A? And before we all go into the living room to hand out the loot, I'll insist to myself that it doesn't matter. They know I love them. And soon it will be January and I can return to the ways that I'm good at showing them. Until then, I'll try to remember that Mary had nothing but herself to give her baby, and that was most certainly good enough.

---Juliette Fay