“A Christmas Story”: Ralphie’s Perfect Gifting Secret

Is this the face you’re going for?

There’s no better feeling than hitting the gifting bulls-eye, especially when the best gift is shared in a face-to-face moment. Every kid knows receiving great gifts feels wonderful. But we adults know giving great gifts feels even better. ‘Tis truly better to give than to receive.

Except when it isn’t.

Whether they cost precious time, energy, or money, our gifts of love and appreciation are demonstrations of how much we care. As givers, we seek precisely the right gift, the one that will elicit genuine squeals of delight. We’re right there. We can tell when we’ve delivered a winner.

When our gifts must travel to distant places, as most of mine do, we can’t deliver them with a hug and a smile and Sherlockian examination of the recipient’s body language. We hope we’ve gifted a thrill, not missed the target by twenty miles.

You know what I mean. Too often, instead of the perfect present, we unwittingly create an Aunt Clara moment. A moment hilariously funny onscreen, but in our real lives, um, not so much.

When I think of all the years I stressed needlessly over finding the perfect presents for everyone on my list, I feel a little silly. All that ended when I decided to ditch Aunt Clara for The Old Man and Ralphie.

If you haven’t seen the holiday classic movie, “A Christmas Story,” you’re missing one of the funniest, most poignant films of any season. The nine-year old hero, Ralphie Parker, desperately wants a Red Ryder BB Gun. But his mother, his teacher and even Santa say, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Hilarity and life lessons ensue.

Did Ralphie receive the gift of his dreams? Did he shoot his eye out?

Christmas morning, Ralphie can’t wait to open his presents, including one from Aunt Clara. Her gift was no doubt selected with loving care and sent dozens of miles. Imagine the stress she felt attempting to make her sister’s boy happy.

You know the stress I mean. The kind we all feel about choosing gifts. Aunt Clara searched her heart, maybe pled for suggestions (in response to which her sister probably said what my mother always says, “Oh, you don’t have to send Ralphie anything.” or “He’ll love whatever you send him because it’s from you.”).

I imagine Aunt Clara did what I used to do. She chose what she no doubt believed was the perfect thing and sent it off to her sister, fingers crossed. Maybe she over-spent, stressing her budget, creating instant buyer’s remorse, hoping her gift would make young Ralphie deliriously happy.

At first it seems possible. Ralphie fairly jumps with excitement before he opens Aunt Clara’s gift. His family watches with indulgent anticipation. So far, so good.

Ralphie rips open the package. Something’s wrong. He’s swiftly dismayed. He lifts his gift out of the box. Along with his parents and little brother, we’re disappointed now, too. Then, everyone except Ralphie laughs hysterically. Ralphie is mortified. Instead of the warm fuzzy feelings Aunt Clara wanted to deliver, Ralphie mourns, “She thinks I’m a four-year-old girl!”

What was that perfect gift, selected lovingly, wrapped carefully, presented with such pleasure? Not a Red Ryder BB gun. Instead, it was something no self-respecting nine-year-old boy would be caught dead in: A pink bunny suit that covers Ralphie from head to toe, complete with floppy ears, paws and feet. What was Aunt Clara thinking? Probably that Ralphie lived in a cold climate and the pajamas would keep him warm and be fun. Sorry, Aunt Clara, but no.

It gets worse. Mom, mindful of her sister’s feelings, adds to Ralphie’s discomfort when she requires Ralphie to try the gift on. He manfully dons the suit and endures the family’s snorts and guffaws.

It’s not over yet. Immediate disappointment and humiliation are not enough; Ralphie must agree to wear the hated suit when Aunt Clara visits and write a thank you note for the odious present to boot!

If Aunt Clara were in the room, she’d feel about two inches tall at that moment. Total gift failure. Poor Ralphie. Poor Aunt Clara.

We all know how it feels. Been there. Done that. No desire to repeat. Who would?

We know those who love us spend time and money to make us happy. We’re grateful to be remembered and it’s the thought that counts. Even worse, we know Aunt Clara won’t believe us when we thank her effusively because, let’s be honest, we’re not great actors. If Aunt Clara is in the room with us, she’ll know she failed for sure, even though she’ll pretend to believe us because, well, she loves us and it’s the thought that counts.

Writing a carefully worded thank-you note for such gifts is painful, too. How does one write a heart-felt thanks for a pink bunny suit? More importantly, who wants to make someone we love do that? Not me. Not anyone who cared enough to give me a gift in the first place, either, I’ll bet.

But we don’t need to repeat Aunt Clara’s experience at all. Ralphie showed me the best gift we can give and receive: The Old Man Moment. When we do that, everybody wins.

The Old Man

Ralphie made the Old Man’s job easy. Nobody had to guess what Ralphie wanted. He told Santa and sent a letter, too. He wrote about his wish for his school essay. He told his parents. He left hints laying around the house. Not one person in this story had any doubt about what gift would make Ralphie the happiest kid on earth.

Ralphie’s excitement and elation when he opened that Red Ryder BB Gun was a sight to behold. And Ralphie’s surprised delight was overshadowed a thousand fold by the pure joy on his father’s face. A father who knew, without question, he’d made his boy happy. Priceless. If you want to know what I want for Christmas and every occasion: I want what The Old Man got.

How many moments like that have you delivered? How many times have you received such pleasure? If they’ve been too few and far between, consider doing things Ralphie’s way this year.

Now, I do my best to give myself and everyone on my list the opportunity to successfully deliver a perfect present, Ralphie style. Every chance I get, but not quite as in-your-face as Ralphie, I casually and simply tell them something that would delight me and ask what’s on their wish list this year. Often, what they really want is easier and less expensive than the pink bunny suit I might have selected otherwise.

I try to make my list and theirs as long as possible and include items that will fit all budgets — so no one goes into debt and everyone can still be surprised. Even easier, if your crowd is open to it, simply suggest you exchange wish lists. This doesn’t make the people I love greedy and ungrateful. To the contrary, it’s a great gift to me when they make it possible for me to be The Old Man.

You may think asking is crass and distasteful. Or you may think honestly telling what you’d like lacks grace. Whenever you’re lured into those thoughts, remember Aunt Clara’s bunny suit and ask yourself if you’re willing to take that risk.

Hey, works for me. I haven’t had an Aunt Clara moment in years. Thank you, Ralphie!

What’s on your wish lists this year? Have you collected lists from your loved ones and shared what you’d really appreciate receiving? Will you be Ralphie and The Old Man, or once again — Aunt Clara?

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