Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Red Envelopes

Don't be shocked by this revelation: until I was twenty-three years old, I have never, ever received a Christmas present from my parents or my siblings. The closest I got to a Christmas present was when I was fourteen, my dad gave me a girlie calendar he got from the auto parts company he did business with that year, still gift-wrapped. I think he was trying to teach his queer boy something, you know, like maybe how to straddle a five foot long spark plug in a bikini and red, stiletto heels.

No, my parents are not horrible or stingy. Quite the opposite: they would help you up if you slip and fall; politely laugh at your lame jokes; sue your ass when you rear-end them. They're real salt-of-the-earth kinda people. They don't put on false airs--they own up to their farts, even the real stinky burrito ones.

I grew up in a Third World country. To my traditional Asian parents, Christmas gift-giving is much a western concept, like "tipping," "driving in your own lane" or even "getting an allowance." For a little pocket money, we kids had to get straight A's, do household chores and assemble a few hundred garments for export to the USA.

Still, we had it good. On a good day, I made 70 cents. And at least we worked for a major designer label like Kathie Lee Gifford, sold exclusively at Walmart. The Cruz girls from down the street always looked enviously as we walked past them on our way to the sweatshop; they had to glue on plastic "Proda" labels on ersatz leather goods (tacky!). Oh, how I felt sorry for them.

My parents, born to Chinese immigrants, subscribed more to the tradition of giving "red envelopes" or ang pao during special occasions like birthdays, graduation, your first prostitute. Christmas, though not a Chinese tradition, fell into this category. My grandparents, aunts and uncles would visit our house and present us with red envelopes containing small bills.

My mother, who wanted to teach us the value of money, would tell us that we could go spend it on toys now or save it for our education. She would tell us, "if you go to college, you make enough to have nice crib, have Cris in the fridge, maybe some nice bling."

I guess when she put that way, it made sense. I handed over my ang pao to her and she put it in my Hello Kitty savings account. Years later, I used my Hello Kitty savings to move away to Chicago.

I know that many people think that money or gift cards are a such a thoughtless gift to give, but I really think otherwise. What could be better than giving somebody the power to buy whatever they want?

But you know, sometimes I get really excited when I open a carefully wrapped gift and find a gift receipt taped inside the box. The bulky reindeer sweater inside was a really thoughtful gift--for someone else.

Also, people always think that they know you better than they actually do. I mean, I mention one day that I thought that pez dispensers are cute, next thing I know, I have a shelf full of pez collectibles. I don't even like pez candy! Maybe one day I will casually mention that I think giant buttplugs are cute and see what happens.

After I moved to Chicago, I have gotten more into the holiday spirit of maxing out my credit cards. I spent last weekend driving around looking for a parking space and standing in lines, just to get that very special gift that says "I hope you enjoy this thoughtful gift because I will be filing for bankruptcy next year."

But even though my family and I never exchanged gifts on Christmas, I never felt that was missing anything. The money filled the emptiness in my heart. And I never thought about it before, but I really think that I enjoyed the holiday season more.

These days, I am not sure how much time I am going to have to feel any peace-on-earth and goodwill-towards-men; I still have a lot of shopping to do.

No comments: