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The FYA Advent Calendar: Day Two

It's day two of Advent, so come see what Aunt Alix got you to celebrate.

The FYA Advent Calendar: Day Two
You want to get something that your recipient will really love, not a cucumber melon gift basket from Bath & Body Works. Unless you really like cucumber melon gift baskets. Maybe you do. I don’t know your life.

Happy holidays, y’all! If you’re anything like me, you’re currently descending into full-blown panic about what to buy people for the holidays. My situation is particularly dire because I also have to mail everything back to the States in time for Christmas. But fear not, because this is also the time that holiday gift guides are cropping up everywhere.

Unfortunately for you, that’s not what this is. Don’t worry, Megan is currently using her mystical powers of internet research to update you on all the hot new merch this season. This, by contrast, is a guide to gift-giving. Teach a man how to fish, etc. You see, despite my current state of horror about the holidays, I’m actually really good at gift-giving. Seriously, we had to do this bull-shit capacities thing at work a couple years ago, and one of my identifiable talents was giving presents. So on this second day of Advent, I’m going to try to impart some of my gift ideas mojo onto you.

With me to discuss this topic is another gift-giving rockstar, my FYA pen-pal, Lee. Together, we’ve come up with a list of less-than-obvious tips on how to be a good gift-giver:

1. Recycle!

A common gift-giving fallacy is that something needs to be new to be good. This is completely wrong! Some of the best presents are the ones that have already been well-loved. You know it’s a good gift if the giver is loathed to part with it.

Lee: Yes! For example, I’ve owned this glow-in-the-dark dinosaur onesie for quite a few years now. I haven’t been able to put it to much use recently, however, seeing as a) I am too tall of a human for a child’s onesie and b) Houston is super hot. Luckily, Alix, you a) are short and b) live in Scotland, which has a high today of 33°. So when it came time to send you a Thanksgiving present this year, I simply washed the onesie, wrapped it around a bottle of champagne (I have a future in international bootlegging), and popped it in the mail. Problem solved!

Alix: And I have worn that onesie almost every day since it arrived, including to Thanksgiving dinner. I’m wearing it right now, in fact.

Thanksgiving: A holiday vastly improved by the addition of turkey hats and dinosaur onesies.

Lee: And for Christmas last year, you made me an ugly holiday sweater!

Lee models her ugly holiday sweater on Christmas morning.

Alix: But first, because I liked it so much, I wore it around for two weeks before mailing it to you. In my defense, it is like, the COMFIEST sweater in all the land. And I could have kept it for myself, and you would have never known! But instead I washed it and sent it away, because I love you more than I love that sweater. That is the sign of true friendship.

Speaking of creepily wearing your gifts before sending them...

2. Creepiness is not always a bad thing

Sometimes you might want to give a gift that you think is borderline creepy or inappropriate. Even if it’s a weird gift, ask yourself, “Will my recipient appreciate this gift?” and if the answer is yes, then go for it! I mean, it’s important to know your audience. I have a friend with a history of stalkers, and when she first started dating this one guy, he thought it would be a good idea to go into her apartment when she wasn’t home and clean her bathroom. She was less than thrilled. In fact, I’m pretty sure she called me in tears. But they’re married now, so I guess it all worked out in the end. See? Confirmation that creepiness is ok.

Alix: I can’t tell you how many wonderful gifts in my life would never have been given or received if we all stopped to think about whether or not it was too weird. For instance, for your birthday this year, I decided it would be a really good idea to photoshop your face into some classic movie scenes with your one true love, Patrick Swayze:

Lee and Patrick make romantic pottery together.

Was this a creepy gift? Absolutely! But you appreciated it, right, Lee?

Lee: Appreciated it?! Girl, there is no better way to ring in a 25th birthday than with pictures of Patrick Swayze gazing lovingly upon my visage while kissing my ear. (…I see where you’re going with the creepy label, actually.)

Alix: I didn’t feel... great... about posting that album of creep up on Facebook for all the world to see. I think the first thing I did was hide it from my own timeline.

Lee: But I too have been creepy! For Christmas last year, I sent you a giant homemade pop art painting of your own face! While maybe this doesn’t sound super-weird --

Alix: Nope, that sounds weird.

Lee: -- the fact that I’d just met you for the first time only to afterwards spend a very long amount of time sitting on my couch painting your face is a bit… much.

Lee spends a lot of time painting Alix on the couch.

Alix: I’ll admit that upon first receiving that gift, I was... speechless. Where does one hang a giant painting of themselves? The answer, as determined by my housemates, is apparently the front hall. We actually grew quite fond of that painting and one of them asked if they could keep it when I moved out. I said no.

Alix casually carries herself around at a party, for some reason.

3. Get others involved

Gift-giving should be fun, so why restrict that joy to one person? Everyone loves a good scheme, so how about roping others into the gift-giving process? It absolutely does not matter if you don’t really know them, or if they don’t know your recipient. It’s the thought that counts.

Alix: Last year, for instance, my Christmas gift to you involved me scattering gifts all about the country for you to find. More on this in a second, but it meant that I had to find people to take custody of all these gifts. Given that I’d only met you once at this point (creepiness factor win), this involved enlisting a lot of people I didn’t actually know. Like your parents, for instance. And also FYA’s own Erin. And your bestie, Anna Marie. All these people were happy to help, because they love you too! And you know what, I’ve since become friends with all of them. Coincidence? I think not.

Lee: Yeah, and sometimes you can even con your family members into contributing their musical talents to your gifts! You have long expressed a desire for me and my brother to start a family band.

Alix: Preferably also named after me, because my vanity knows no bounds.

Lee: Which is why, for your birthday this past year, I commemorated your quarter-centennial by composing the first song for me and my brother’s new band, “Alix and the Mimmses.” Unfortunately, my singing is more punishment than present, so Big Bro generously agreed to take over lead vocals. And thus unto the world a mediocre song was born!

Alix: Mediocre? That song is in my iTunes top 25. It’s a gem. Plus, I hadn’t even met your brother when this song was recorded, which makes this all the more special. Another point for creepiness.

4. Drag things out

The hardest part about giving gifts is coming up with a new idea for every holiday occasion. My parents, for instance, always ask for either the worst things (my mom once requested a carbon monoxide detector from Santa) or nothing at all. Around this time each year, my sister and I are always scrambling to think of gifts for them. For this Christmas, we might have to dip into our reserves and buy what has been our backup gift for the past five years. Unfortunately, if we get that, then we will actually have NOTHING left in the gift bank, and my father’s birthday in January will be an extremely terrifying prospect.

When we were younger, this was circumvented by my father always losing things. We could just keep replacing them! There is nothing wrong with giving essentially the same gift over and over. This concept has been ruined by uncreative people who consistently buy each other ugly scarves or ties every year. Don’t be discouraged by these unoriginals! If it’s working for you, why mess with a good thing?

Alix:: Take that song you wrote me for my birthday last year. You now write me songs with some regularity. Like that time you wrote and recorded a whole album of 30 second songs about my (former) house in DC, including such hits as “Where Did Emily Put the [Insert Kitchen Appliance That is Now in a More Convenient Location Than Before But You Still Don't Know What That Location is So You Have to Ask],” “Will Leslie Ever Leave,” and “Gabe Is So Nice.” (Gabe, by the way, really is SO NICE. He is the nicest.) And do you think that, upon receiving this album, I sent it back and said, “No thanks. You already wrote me a song. Think of something new.” No, of course not. I loved it!

Lee: Extending jokes and themes beyond their expected expiration date is always a great idea. For no discernible reason beyond the fact that they are the greatest band that ever lived, global phenomenon Hanson is a common motif in our gifts to one another. You started this trend last year by sending me a glow-in-the-dark, stenciled t-shirt of Zac Hanson’s face! I even got it autographed by Zac himself at a concert few weeks later! (He handled the interaction with surprising grace and aplomb.)

Lee gets her Zac Hanson shirt signed.

As if one Hanson shirt, wasn’t enough, you kindly sent me ANOTHER one for Christmas.

Alix: One can never have too many glow-in-the-dark Hanson shirts.

Lee: Oh, and because we once spent an afternoon brainstorming names for Hanson-themed beer, you also gave me etched pint glasses with our puns on them (Stout It Out! Drinking ‘Bout Something! Wheat You In Your Dreams!).

Three Hanson pint glasses.

To pay you in kind, I sent you some of my homebrewed beer, complete with Hanson labels and bottlecaps.

Stout It Out: brew of champions.

Alix: I have to interject here and say that despite your dubious culinary skills, you brew a tasty, tasty beer. Mmmhop was particularly delicious.

Lee: Thanks! This has panned out super-well for me, because as long as I can keep coming up with Hanson beer puns and you continue to enjoy beer, I will never run out of gift ideas for you. Inside jokes, people! Overuse them!

Alix: Also, beer. Beer makes a great gift.

5. Commit

GO BIG OR GO HOME. Seriously, the best kind of gift is a committed gift. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, or even necessarily a lot of time, but show that you put some effort into it. You want to get something that your recipient will really love, not a cucumber melon gift basket from Bath & Body Works. Unless you really like cucumber melon gift baskets. Maybe you do. I don’t know your life.

Alix: This one is kind of self-evident, but let’s discuss it anyway. By now, we’ve established that I gave you SEVERAL Christmas gifts last year. Thirteen, to be precise! But the number or quality of gifts is not what I mean by commitment. It has more to do with the manner in which these gifts were presented.

Lee: YES. ALIX. Let’s revisit this most delightful and elaborate scavenger hunt!

Alix: Right, this involved all the other tips we’ve covered so far. Recycling, involving others, dragging things out, and creepiness. Especially creepiness.

Lee: It all started on Christmas morning, when my mom gave me a package from you, containing the aforementioned sweater and a strange little piece of foam board (which featured Gollum’s face and an iPhone) that Mom specifically instructed me to keep and not, as I’d planned, turn into a gauche necklace. I didn’t think much of it until the next day, when Mom called me into the kitchen to present me with a second gift (shotgun shell Christmas lights! You best believe I’m busting those out in a few days.) and yet ANOTHER piece of foam board.

Alix: What you didn’t realize at the time was that I’d planned out 12 days of Christmas gifts for you.

Lee: Exactly! And so for the next ten days, my mom and, upon returning to Texas, Anna Marie continued to give me a daily gift and what I discerned to be foam board puzzle pieces.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Redux.

Alix: I found out your travel schedule from Anna Marie and sent presents to both her and your mother ahead of time, with instructions on doling them out each day.

Lee: You are the sneakiest! Anyway, on the last day, I received a blacklight and my final puzzle piece. After shining the blacklight around the apartment for a while (no mysterious spots! I’m so glad I’m not a cat owner.), I noticed some hidden writing on my newly-finished puzzle.

Blacklight reveals hidden UV ink.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered the five following mathematical equations:

o = x^3 +13
p = (x^2) + x
e = 13x +(x-x^0)13 + x^(3/2)
n = x^3 - (13-x^(3/2))
h = 13sqrt(x)

I don’t want to talk about how long it took me to solve this puzzle (...4 days) --

Alix: I felt really bad about this, because you tried to do all sorts of complicated mathematical stuff, when really it was more of a guess-and-check kind of puzzle.

Lee: -- But solve it (eventually) I did. This led me on the wildest of goose chases, in which I had to call unknown phone numbers, shine my blacklight on certain objects to find more clues, and ultimately meet up with Erin to receive my 13th gift (Hanson beer glasses!).

Alix: Yep! I had contacted Erin and sent her the beer glasses, which was also creepy because I didn’t really know her then, either. I also sent her a present for her troubles, which she then shared with all of you. Bad literature: the gift that keeps on giving.

Lee: The whole experience was, undoubtedly, the most challenging and thoughtful gift anyone has ever given me.

Alix: I’m not calling you a liar or anything, but some of those gifts were pretty shitty. I definitely gave you a really questionable Pride & Prejudice retelling wherein I’m pretty sure Mr. Darcy masturbates in thinly-veiled Victorian language. You didn’t even read Pride & Prejudice until last month, so I can’t imagine that you’ve read the sad knock-off I sent you.

Lee: No, I haven’t. But! It still served a noble purpose, as it was in the pages of that book that I found my final clue, which led me to Erin! Shamefully, I didn’t meet up with her until the 17th of January – 12 days after the 12th day of Christmas. In my defense, I was on a camping trip with a bunch of high schoolers for five days. This is, admittedly, a weak defense.

Alix: Well, you were very busy on that trip. I think you made me a miniature R2D2 plush toy out of felt for some reason I can no longer recall.

Lee: Yes, that happened. But anyway, the moral of the story is to commit to things, whether it’s to being totally creepy, or excessive, or inclusive of strangers, because it makes your gift-giving effort all the more special!

So there you have it: five simple tips from Alix and Lee on how to be a better gift-giver. Or, as some might call it, five simple tips towards getting a restraining order. I jest! Really, the most important thing about giving a gift is showing someone that you appreciate them. It’s not about material stuff or dollar signs, it’s about the value of love put into it. So don’t just buy someone an Amazon gift card this year. Put a little creativity into your effort, and have fun with it!


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Alix West's photo About the Author: Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.