Buying a Christmas gift is like arranging a blind date for a friend: if things work out, for the next 20 years, your mate will introduce you as “the pal that knew you best,” recalling how you both lovingly and masterfully deduced that his collection of 1970s eastern European football shirts would dovetail perfectly with her Master’s thesis on how the fall of the Soviet Empire was down to a failure to dictate sporting team colors at a micro level. At the same time however, after the present has been unwrapped, there’s a very real possibility that your relationship will not last much longer than the lifespan of the average Christmas turkey – your friend not realizing that you had not known about the prospective partner’s George Bush poster collection, tropical foot fungus, and DVDs of History’s Top 50 Military Parades.
In fact, it’s not just Christmas that presents such pitfalls. Kids’ parties offer an even greater opportunity to lose face, placing parents in direct competition with one another. I worry that Ariana will never quite get over the embarrassment of being the kid whose parent had clearly run to the local market that morning, coming back with a Spoth the Dog Puzzle (that really was how it was spelled).
Maybe the Chinese have got it right: You really can’t go wrong with a wad of cash in a red envelope. Or maybe the path is not to be found in the Gregorian calendar, but is in fact illuminated in its lunar equivalent, during the October moon festival. You see, I am absolutely convinced that no one actually eats mooncakes. Instead, it is my contention that the Chinese have devised a Confucian masterstroke where, come October, one simply digs out of the cupboard the last box of mooncakes. One then simply passes the box onto your leader/mother-in-law/compound manager, who in turn passes it onto their superior, and so the process continues until the current Party Chairman’s office reaches capacity. In an act of seamless socialist planning, the sweet salty tennis balls, masquerading as food, are then redistributed to shops across Beijing for the process to begin afresh.
I therefore tentatively suggest that we attempt a similar mass passing of parcels at Christmas. Admittedly, some of the sparkle may be lost and initially at least, the world economy may take a dip as the number of presents circulating would drop. I’m sure, however, that this could be offset against the exponential rise in global productivity, as workers around the world cease worrying that cousin Maria might be irrevocably offended by your assumption that her little Dennis might like a toy gun and not a 5D Rubik’s cube. At the same time, divorce rates would tumble, as the possibility for partners “not feeling understood” would vanish.
I realize that my proposal will be ridiculed in some quarters, the result being a trickling up of presents from children whose parents are less well-off to those already more fortunate. However, I contend that this will provide children with an annual reminder of the harsh realities of life. So, there you have it. We have it in our power to save face this festive season. I’m off to break it to Ariana that her bike is being sequestered for the greater good. Good luck, comrades!
This article is excerpted from the beijingkids December 2012 issue. View it in PDF form here or contact email@example.com to find out where you can pick up your free copy.