Dear Mrs. Gift,
For the first time in more than 100 years, the first day of Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. Trying to figure out what to serve is giving some of us shpilkes. Turkbrisken? Sweet potato latkes? Pumpkin doughnuts? Can you help us figure out Thanksgivukkah?
-- Yadah yadah
Fortunately, the grounding philosophies behind these two holidays are not in opposition. Giving thanks for the harvest and commemorating the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days can both be filed under "gratitude."
The one thing that you should absolutely not do is combine holidays by establishing eight days of Thanksgiving meals. Very few stomachs can survive even one day of Thanksgiving.
On the other hand, this could definitely be shaping up to be "The Year of the Deep-Fried Turkey."
If your previous complaints about Thanksgiving have hovered over a family devotedness to mid-century warhorses like green bean casserole, take Thanksgivukkah as your license to jettison the old and tired. There has been no limit to creative combinations of the two holidays' classic food profiles, as your own suggestions of sweet potato latkes and pumpkin doughnuts proves. Why stop there? Recipes for turkey brisket, pumpkin-seed challah, pecan pie rugelach, gelt pouring out of a cornucopia, and sweet potato bourbon noodle kugel are all just a Google away. (Plus, it's not every day you have the opportunity to say "Google kugel.")
I've given my wife every gift imaginable over the years and have no more ideas; plus, she doesn't need or want anything anymore. What to do?
-- Tapped out
Mrs. Gift feels your pain. There are a couple of ways you could approach this. A) Buy something you yourself would like to have, wrap it up and address the tag on it to the missus. That way, at least one of you is happy. B) Think less about the fact that your wife does not "need" anything and more about where the gift is coming from, and if, on that end of the transaction, you can be doing some good. For instance, make a trip to the gift shop at Olbrich Gardens, or a local museum's store, or the excellent bookstore at the UW-Madison Arboretum. These can yield thoughtful gifts that will also help support these Madison institutions, causes that your wife -- Mrs. G is just guessing here -- also probably can feel good about.
I have a son who's not quite a little boy anymore and not quite a young man. What to get him for a present?
-- Father Christmas
Poetry, poetry, poetry.
Dear Ms. G:
I have a friend who is the ultimate, I mean ultimate gift giver. Everything she gives is thoughtful and specific to the recipient. When I turned, let's say 30, she gave me THIRTY gifts...all meaningful, all wrapped cutely or exquisitely, right down to the reused, eco-friendly wrap. This woman should figure out a way to make millions by doing this as a service for others. However, I sometimes get the equivalent of writer's block when it comes to finding something for her, and she's easy to buy for! Help, I feel inadequate!
-- Not enough time in this life
I'm less worried about your feeling inadequate than concerned about your pal's somewhat alarming overzealousness. How do I say this? Thirty gifts is just not natural. Or, frankly, healthy. But, as they say, you can't change others, you can only change yourself. You don't mention that she's unhappy about your gift selection or your crooked wrap job. So focus on those magic, blessed, exceedingly rare words you yourself wrote: "She's easy to buy for." Rejoice! Buy something! Wrap it in tissue paper and dump it in a decorative bag! Gift it! Onward!
I know I am not the only person out there who is completely unhinged by dealing with weird family gift dynamics over the holidays. I actually was asking myself this question the other day: "Which gift would more thoroughly express my contempt for this family member -- a cheap, mass-produced, disposable piece of popular Christmas decoration junk that she will actually like (which will in turn drive me crazy); or a handmade, locally sourced or locally purchased, one-of-a-kind item like jam or cheese or hand-knit socks, which she will not appreciate (but will allow me to feel superior, which I acknowledge is not in the spirit of the holidays)?" Yes, it has come to this.
-- Local yokel
So it has. It is a complex calculus you have set up in this equation, and Mrs. Gift majored in etiquette, not arithmetic. Thank fortune Mrs. G did take Philosophy 101 as an elective, and recalls those lectures on creating the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. It seems that under mass-produced scenario #1, only your giftee is happy (you are unhappy -- and to the factory that manufactured the gift, you are presumably a drop in the bucket). Under scenario #2, you are happy and the local maker of the gift is happy. Plus, your stated goal of expressing contempt is fulfilled. So what if your giftee is the collateral damage? Tomorrow is another day.