I give bad gifts. Size 5 shoes to size 11 feet. Yogurt makers to the lactose intolerant. Diaries to the discreet. Sheet music to the relentlessly tone deaf.

It’s not that I am thoughtless—I’m thinking, I’m thinking, believe me.

It’s just that I have this holiday weakness of idealizing my friends and family, sometimes to the point of making them unrecognizable. Since they are the finest people I know, and you would think so, too, should you ever have the good fortune to get to know them, I choose to believe that they are nearly flawless.

At least, come shopping time.

Trying to select the perfect scarf, handbag, or tie for the people behind the names on my list, I find myself unable to recall whatever annoying characteristics these folks actually possess. They must have flaws—they’re human, after all—but that which occasionally disgruntles me about them is forgotten. Whatever I’ve complained about during the other 11 months of the year is gone with the December wind, and I recall everyone’s qualities as being nothing less than stellar.

To me, somehow they suddenly become a petite-footed, dairy-loving, pitch-perfect lot with minty breath and only good hair days. Oh, they’re quirky individuals, certainly—after all, they have me for a friend or relation—but if they have physical shortcomings, dietary restrictions, or just general bad temperament, I don’t remember to take note and then later shop accordingly.

So I lead myself down the wrong path, remembering vaguely that something about hats relates to my mother and only realizing as she unwraps her gift of a natty plaid fedora that the “something” was that no hat fits her, ever. Ah, well.

Here’s the spin I’ve elected to place on this: Those seemingly ill-considered gifts from me are
breezily oblivious of only the (quite minor) flaw, never of the person.

The Munchkin-sized gloves and glamorous chapeaus are symbols of how rose-colored my
images of people are. Maybe choosing to remember family and friends with a little Vaseline on
the camera lens is a gift of sorts all by itself. If the hat doesn’t suit, at least the compliment is

And if anyone starts to wonder what I want for Christmas, I hope they think of me as a
charming dinner party companion, an exquisite ballroom dancer, an inspired chef, and a tiny
size 8.

After all, it’s the thought that counts.

This first appeared in Minnesota Monthly in December 2002.

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