The Christmas Gift That Kept On Giving

I grew up in post-war Germany when it was all the rage to buy girls practical gifts—in other words, a dowry. My aunt and uncle doubled as godmother and godfather and it was custom to make the rounds over the two Christmas holidays to pick up our gifts and a bag of cookies.
To my great disappointment, my godfather’s wife was very fond of ornamental china (Sammeltasse). I was just two years old when she put a cup, saucer, and plate in front of me. The colors were wild, the top of the cup was so wide that the coffee would get cold in a minute, and the handles were so unwieldy that you could not put a finger through them. After a few minutes, I whispered to my mother, “When will I get my gift?”
She replied, “But this is your gift.”
“No,” I said, desperate by now, “this is for you.”
My child’s brain worked that way: Household items were for mothers, not little girls. It was no use, though. Year after year, I got china – each in a different design. Sadly, of all the presents I received over the years, this is the one I most vividly remember.
At that time, I would have been overjoyed to receive a sweater, toys or books. Instead, every Christmas I got useless cups and plates that took up precious space in our living room cabinet. My confirmation finally put an end to this thoughtless gift giving.
When Frank Cross gets five pounds of veal in the movie Scrooged, I always think that at least he could eat his gift.
Many years later, I learned from other women who received silverware or bed linen for Christmas as children. Didn’t anybody stop and think that you shouldn’t buy anyone a gift she cannot possibly use for twenty or more years?
This experience has taught me to be a thoughtful gift giver myself. When my brother’s children were little, I went to great lengths to find a gift they would like. Part of that was fear. I didn’t want to be remembered as the “Aunt who gave me useless china,” but the “Aunt who knows what I like.”
I never forgot the disappointment of the two-year-old girl who thought her aunt had made a mistake.

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