December 27, 2007

Busman's Holiday

Since I pulled on my brand-coloured glasses some years ago, there's a danger that this time of year is something of a busman's holiday for me. This really is the season when brand is king and as gifts are exchanged and unwrapped, it's rare to see one emerge from under the tree without a famous label of one kind or another attached.

In some ways, this proliferation of brands makes choosing easier rather than more difficult. My own children are able to construct a list for Santa that's frightening in its detail (my own childhood bulletins seem hopelessly vague by comparison) and it's now possible to do all the shopping for Christmas astride a search-engine with credit-card in hand.

One thing that hasn't changed though is the importance of the 'thoughtful' gift. My eldest was in tears yesterday because Santa hadn't brought him all that he'd asked for (in fact, Santa and Mrs. Claus had exercised considerable discretion in choosing what they thought were more suitable presents for a boy of his age) and he agonised whether his own behaviour hadn't been up to scratch in the lead-up to the holidays.

Over the years, many of the family tiffs I've witnessed (or been a party to) have revolved around someone (not always a child) reproaching the bearer of gifts for choosing something unsuitable. There's even a seasonal ad that plays on the trials of choosing well for someone else.

Those of us on the receiving end seem to place extraordinary store on the capacity of the giver to choose something for us that matches our expectations and heaven help the one offering a gift that somehow misses the target. On the other hand, when we get it right we seem to prompt a gratitude that seems just as out of proportion.

Sometimes, it's clearly not just the thought that counts.

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