The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the state can celebrate Christmas all it wants, provided it's celebrating the economic, seasonal holiday, and not some particular religious observance. Hence the National Christmas Tree, but no National Nativity. Holiday parades full of Santa and snowflakes are altogether encouraged, notionally as a mechanism for bringing tourists into downtown commercial districts during the great National December Shopping Spree, whereas e.g. San Antonio's Las Posadas pagent is operated by a private society. Thus the state-sanctioned holiday season pretty much comes down to saying "Look, it's dark and cold and wintery! But hey -- snow is kind of pretty! Let's brighten things up, so string up the lights and remind people that we like them by spending money on each other." (Alternately, you could blame Santa and his Black-Ops Elves.)
You could do worse. And for evidence that the alternative really is terrifying, invest some time in imagining how the current administration would probably like to commemorate the season.
I've been universally labeled as difficult to shop for, which might be related to my ascetic tendencies that make me rather stuff-averse. Thus, I've been asked to provide some guidance to those for whatever reason still inclined to spend money on me. Read on for general suggestions:
- Time is money. More personal, too. Use your imagination.
- Books are tricky. Books which are carefully selected, highly appropriate to myself and my collection, and unlikely to appear in the (public/university) library are acceptable. But I've already got two walls of bookshelves in my bedroom and as many books on my office shelf as the rest of the lab combined, so exercise restraint.
- Travel is fun. This is a recent discovery on my part, chronicled in large part in the archives of this blog. Small items of cultural or personal significance from continents other than North America are enjoyed.
- Technology is hard. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to acquire items of high technology for me, except for objects I have specifically requested. I speak from experience. You may consider anything fusion-powered to be automatically approved.
- Philanthropy. Memberships in / donations to Doctors without Borders, the EFF, Habitat for Humanity will earn high praise. Memberships in the NRA will earn being set on fire.
- Absolute power / world domination. Because I'm pretty sure I could do a better job than the current bunch of jerks. And at the very least, nobody could say that I'm in it for the money.
- Books! No, don't give me books; we've been over that. If you were thinking of giving me a book, try this instead: make me a reading list. Suggest a handful of things for me to read in the coming year that you think I'd enjoy, but which would never occur to me on their own.
And some specific items, mostly for the benefit of my parents, who are by long experience the most leery of buying me anything unrequested:
- One of these dual-band laser pointers. Just cool in general, not to mention terribly useful for pointing at stuff on the sky, which for some reason is a trick that people often request from astronomers found in the wild.
- Winter clothes from those fancy catalog houses, because that's the sort of stuff I'm frankly just too cheap to spring for myself. A set of Land's End's Fleece clogs in size 12/grey would be handy for long nights in the lab. L.L. Bean imports some very nice wool hiking socks (midweight/large) that do wonders for winter bike trips. As do their fleece-lined jeans (40/30).
- Kitchen appliances: my year abroad without an oven reminded me of the mind-boggling utility of a good toaster oven. Also, I have realized that for the forseeable future I'm just not going to regularly have time for long cooking projects, and am therefore grudgingly desirous of a breadmaker machine.
And that should keep anybody well-stocked with gift ideas. Which brings up the following dilemma. Do I, as an anticonsumerist (I could really use a nice punchy, positive word for "devotee of long-term sustainable civilization") get to feel like a complete tool for basically telling my friends and relatives to spend money on me? Or do I let the urban scavenger take charge, and simply revel in the prospect of free stuff, even if said stuff hasn't previously been discarded?