Unlike our American cousins we in Australia have no Thanksgiving nor Hallowe’en to stand between us and the onslaught of Christmas, so Seasonal¹ decorations are appearing already in our shops. I went in to a supermarket yesterday and found cheap mince pies² on display. So I am gloomily contemplating the task of choosing thoughtful gifts for nieces and nephews about whose lives and interests I am blissfully unaware. They in their turn may soon turn their minds to buying me orange polyester polo shirts one size too small, more gadgets for my overstuffed kitchen, and things that my sister has said she wants.
I have a nephew who bowls quicks in A grade³, but I don’t know what you give a cricketer or what kit he already has in better quality than I would buy. Another is a naval officer and keen on winter sports — my mind is blank. A third is (a) a bit of a dandy, (b) suffering a brain injury, (c) the strongest man in Australian power-lifting, and (d) teetotal. A fourth is mad about SCUBA diving, and teetotal. A fifth is reclusive and farouche — I think he likes beer and cannabis. And as for nieces, God knows what they want (I guess that gift vouchers for babysitting wouldn’t go astray). I don’t know what to give these people, and they don’t know what to give me. There is a lot of SF, fantasy, and RPG material out there and they don’t know which of it I’d like and which I already have.
So, comrades! What is to be done? What can gamers do to guide their muggle relatives towards worthwhile gifts at Christmas? How can we help our loved ones buy us stuff that we will appreciate? Can the madness of gift exchange ever be laid to rest?
Hell is other people!
— Brett Evill
¹ In Australia it is considered seasonally appropriate to decorate with evergreens, tinsel, and imitation snow and icicles — and to eat a traditional English midwinter feast — in 40°C heat. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun; Australians eat hot ham and plum pudding at mid-summer.
² I quite like good mince pies, such as I make myself. But nothing disappoints like a cheap luxury.
Here in southern California, the Christmas paraphernalia is already showing up in the stores. C was bitching about it to me earlier this week when we were in a drugstore (one of the ones that sell a wide variety of merchandise and have the pharmacy tucked into a corner, not an oldstyle specialized business).
I don’t think I’ve ever tasted mince pie; it’s not a common dessert hereabouts. But I believe firmly that “It is a sin to eat inferior ice cream.”
Do any of these connections, who are presumably mostly younger than you are, have Amazon wishlists or anything comparable? C’s and my Christmas shopping characteristically involves looking at wishlists for people we can’t come up with anything clever to give. And composing your own will at least let you keep a record of stuff you’d like to have, and may actually get you some of it; several of our friends clubbed together a year or two ago to give me the Discworld RPG, which was on mine. . . .
If all else fails, may I recommend that you put on Tom Lehrer’s “A Christmas Carol”? It won’t be any help but it ought to lighten your spirits. I think much of the humor will translate well enough out of American cultural idioms.
“Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and BUY!”
More seriously, I think that if people haven’t asked for specific things, it’s better to give cash or gift vouchers or some such than to guess at a thing which is likely to prove to be a mathom. Yes, I know, this cuts out most surprise presents, but these days most gift-giving is in the range that people can afford for themselves anyway.
A friend told me last week that his local independent bookshop has just had its first shipment of Christmas books.
I can give Amazon gift vouchers for birthdays and for Christmas presents for my niece who lives in San Francisco.
But Christmas means gifts that have been wrapped and can be handed over at the family pre-Christmas lunch.
I tend to give my brother books, my nephew small games I think he’d like and my nieces and sister in law get some scarves, bags, purses or other stuff for them to choose which one they’d like out of the four offerings.
They do much better giving me gifts at least since I’ve persuaded them that there is a limit to how much port a diabetic can drink.
This year I have managed to persuade my sister not to invite houseguests for Christmas, though there remains a possibility that my eldest bother will invite himself and maybe some of his friends. Which means that Christmas festivities will be confined to a cocktail party for forty of my sister’s closest friends on the 21st, and visits to my second and third brothers on Christmas Day.
C and I are planning to be down in San Diego for a friend’s Cthulhumas party. That will be the main festive event. Her family of origin may do something, but that won’t be what I’d call festive, and we pretty much agreed not to do gifts a number of years back.
We’re in drought: during the last three years we have received 40% of average rainfall in my area, and the last month that had average rainfall was October 2018. The last three weeks have had daily maximum temperatures up to 38 C and usually 31 C: about 6 C warmer than average.
As you probably know, we have a lot of lot of large bushfires burning at the moment. About fifteen kilometres west of here is the eastern edge of a half-million-hectare fire; in my local government area alone 120,000 hectares of forest and pastures have burned or are burning. Today I saw blue sky for the first time in three weeks because the smoke has only just cleared. Some of my friends have described their properties as looking like moonscapes or like the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse.
Today I went shopping in a Woolworths supermarket. The muzak was Walking in a Winter Wonderland.
Once upon a time I got angry calls from two of my friends about a particularly nonsensical Greenhouse-Effect-related finding that had been reported in a newspaper. The headline was “Animals to blame for Greenhouse warning: transport expert”.
It turned out that my research manager had named me as co-author of a paper that I didn’t even know he was writing.