Go big to go home

2013-12-15 11:00

My family thinks I’m a millionaire. They think freelance writing is the most lucrative gig this side of tender fraud.

What gives them this idea is that I buy the most opulent, lavish and extravagantly generous gifts since Oprah needed a ratings boost.

Little do they know that after I unload my bakkieful of colossal Christmas presents and spend Turkey Day fielding tearful hugs of gratitude from my family, I go home to a year of surviving on tinned fish and noodle mugs.

On any given Christmas Eve, up to a point, I am the most generous man in Sandton City.

The reason is that in order to get a decent Christmas present, you have one of two options: shop conscientiously, or spend big. The former requires thoughtfulness, thoroughness, diligence and that most elusive of commodities, shopping stamina.

Unfortunately, I have the shopping stamina of a smash-n-grab looter, of a tobacco addict in a garage shop queue.

The long-distance shopping tolerance of a man with a court date in 10 minutes. I just can’t get out of a mall fast enough.

So I am genetically unable to spend time shopping conscientiously. You know, where you think, ‘Ah, my sister would love one of those woven wicker handbags; not too big, yellow, with a floral design on the front’ and then you scour the city for days finding just that item?

I can’t do that. That is my idea of pure and utter hell. Also, I have more important things to do for 363

days of the year. Then, somewhere around the time the summer’s first cricket Test concludes, Christmas crystallises out of the holiday mist and I am stuffed.

Generally, we are leaving for our rural stronghold in Port Elizabeth in two hours’ time when I eventually decide to go Christmas shopping.

At this point, every shopping mall in South Africa resembles the beer line at a rock concert. It’s impenetrable pandemonium.

The only way to minimise your time within the throng is to use the same policy you employ in a beer tent. Buy once – and buy big. Except here, instead of buying 18 beers, you just buy one big gift for every family member.

At least you know an expensive gift will be appreciated. With a cheap gift, it’s either got to be clever and thoughtful and cunningly remembered after a throwaway mention by your lady six months ago, or it’s a fail.

Cheap and appropriate is great. Cheap and wrong has no redeeming features. I can’t run that risk. So I go big.

For my niece? A dress from Burberry. Hope it fits. For my nephew … er, something motorised. Do you guys sell little quad bikes? For my lovely lady? Jewellery! Because expensive. For my dad, a coffee-table book the size of a suitcase. Mom gets the collected works of Paulo Coelho, boxed in gold leaf. That, or a laptop.

By the time I’ve dropped a month’s earnings on presents, I can no longer afford food, clothes or deodorant.

I report at my mom’s place in PE like a prodigal son failing at life, needing 50 bucks for petrol and a square meal. But dude, have I got presents!

Hagen Engler is a freelance writer and a great guy to have as a partner/son/uncle come Christmas time. Follow him on Twitter @HagenEngler.

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