How holiday gifts should be

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
December 23, 2012

I don’t remember much from my childhood Christmases. We went to my grandmother’s on Christmas Eve, where she always gave me a re-gifted Hickory Farms meat and cheese gift box. The re-gifting became a running joke between this strong woman and her adoring grandson, culminating when my aging grandmother entered a nursing home – and McCulloch Appliance Sales and Service sent the box directly to me.

For years she had bragged to Mr. McCulloch about her grandson. He was, unknowingly to me until then, part of our deeply anticipated Christmas tradition. It was one of my most anxiously received gifts, although it had little to do with the summer sausage and smoked cheddar cheese.

Assuming a kid begins to remember things at about age four to six, I had 11 or 12 potentially memorable Christmases before going to college. I only remember two of the gifts my parents gave me: a coat my mother made when I was in the 1st or 2nd grade and a shotgun my father gave me when I was 13. The gun was significant because it’s the only time I remember my dad having obviously been involved in the selection of a gift. He was at least as excited to give me that gun as I was to receive it.

The coat was only significant with the benefit of a few couple of decades of hindsight. A homemade winter coat can emanate from a lot of different things, not just a Dolly Parton song. I’m still not sure if I understand its complete context, but I doubt a North Face Denali fleece would have been nearly as memorable.

Over the past 11 years my wife and I have given our own kids a bunch of Christmas presents. I don’t remember many of them and I doubt they do, either. That’s sad. It’s sickening. That’s 11 wasted December opportunities to do or create something meaningful.

A couple of years ago I wrote a Christmas wish list column. Interspersed among sometimes caustic business commentaries (such as the wish for a new Treasury Secretary or a long jail sentence for some scoundrel) were silly personal items, such as a dump truck and a big fluffy, fancy hotel housecoat.

A good friend of mine, but yet someone with whom I do not exchange gifts, sent me a big fluffy fancy hotel housecoat.

That is a memorable gift.

Tomorrow is my favorite day of the Christmas season. We host a lunch for my homemade family: my sister and a handful of friends with whom we’ve been sharing Christmas Eve for years. For a couple of hours this month, we all stop. We laugh, tell stories, take account of the aging process. We pledge not to bring gifts, but invariably someone violates the rule.

When they do, it is usually the emotional equivalent of that fancy bathrobe or homemade coat. That’s how gifts should be, I think, although the Simon Mall people might not agree.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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