A Gift Refused?

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Gifts are meant to make the receiver happy. That’s probably a universal truth about gift-giving.
But, as Forrest Gump so famously reminded us, “My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” That’s true for gifts, too. You never know.
Good manners and basic kindness tell us to respond to a gift with some kind of “Thank you.” After all, if somebody is giving you a gift, it’s likely out of kindness, from the heart, or the best they can offer, even if it isn’t much.
So what do you do if somebody gives you something as unexpected or strange as:

  • An avocado pit tree starter kit? Your young niece is very proud of this clever gift to her fave auntie. You probably won’t say, “Yucch! I hate slimy old avocados. This offends me.”
  • A pair of rosewood kuàizi. These elegant Chinese eating utensils are what we westerners call Chopsticks. But I bet you won’t respond to the gift by saying, “Chinese food gives me gout and the fortune cookie never tells me what I want. These sticks are only good for fireplace kindling.”
  • A “Drone-pipe,” an authentic didgeridoo. A native Australian friend presents you with this ancient musical instrument, a status symbol given only to valued friends. You, of course, are too kind to respond, “Great! A foghorn that belongs on a tugboat. I live in Jamestown. This is insulting.”

Only a Grinch, an Ebenezer Scrooge, or a mean spirited Curmudgeon would give such replies to well-meant gifts. When a giver proudly gives you their best, most heartfelt gift, the best he or she has to offer, they are not being rude, impolite, aggressive or – now listen carefully – they are not being politically incorrect. It’s not even a “micro-aggression.”
Yet we have been told that saying “Merry Christmas” is offensive. In the same spirit, so is Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy Holidays, to some people. How any of those sincere well-wishes became politically incorrect and offensive is an enduring mystery, at least to me. I have heard the rationalizations for being offended, but they seem to say more about a mean-spirited receiver of the gift than about the giver. It seems odd that one person’s joyful expression could be taken as an offensive gift.
Over the last 10 years of Red Kettle bell ringing and Christmas shopping, I have not been told by a single person that they are offended by the “Merry Christmassing.” And if a person replies to my “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” why not thank them too? That is their best gift, just as sincerely given.
This week, Bob Houston’s cover story for the Jamestown Gazette recounts many cherished local Christmas memories, nostalgia for Happy Holidays past, and sincere well-wishes of the gift-giving season that is upon us once again. We hope you will receive all of them in the spirit of a well-meant gift.
True bigotry and bias, of course, are offensive and politically incorrect and must be resisted. But joyful well-wishing is simply not in that category.
Even one of the 20th century’s most notable philosophers and atheists, the late Ayn Rand, once told her readers,

“The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: “Merry Christmas”—not “Weep and Repent…Merry Christmas to all of my readers…”

So, please join Bob this Christmas, and all of us at the Jamestown Gazette, in the Joy of the Season. Saying Merry Christmas is always an inclusive gift, never exclusive of anyone. You are welcome to share in it.

Enjoy the read.
Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.