The incomparable Saki on Christmas presents.
Reginald on Christmas Presents.
I wish it to be distinctly understood (said Reginald) that I don’t want a “George, Prince of Wales” Prayer-book as a Christmas present. The fact cannot be too widely known.
There ought (he continued) to be technical education classes on the science of present-giving. No one seems to have the faintest notion of what anyone else wants, and the prevalent ideas on the subject are not creditable to a civilised community.
There is, for instance, the female relative in the country who “knows a tie is always useful,” and sends you some spotted horror that you could only wear in secret or in Tottenham Court Road. It might have been useful had she kept it to tie up currant bushes with, when it would have served the double purpose of supporting the branches and frightening away the birds–for it is an admitted fact that the ordinary tomtit of commerce has a sounder aesthetic taste than the average female relative in the country.
Then there are aunts. They are always a difficult class to deal with in the matter of presents. The trouble is that one never catches them really young enough. By the time one has educated them to an appreciation of the fact that one does not wear red woollen mittens in the West End, they die, or quarrel with the family, or do something equally inconsiderate. That is why the supply of trained aunts is always so precarious.
There is my Aunt Agatha, par exemple, who sent me a pair of gloves last Christmas, and even got so far as to choose a kind that was being worn and had the correct number of buttons. But–they were nines! I sent them to a boy whom I hated intimately: he didn’t wear them, of course, but he could have–that was where the bitterness of death came in. It was nearly as consoling as sending white flowers to his funeral. Of course I wrote and told my aunt that they were the one thing that had been wanting to make existence blossom like a rose; I am afraid she thought me frivolous–she comes from the North, where they live in the fear of Heaven and the Earl of Durham. (Reginald affects an exhaustive knowledge of things political, which furnishes an excellent excuse for not discussing them.) Aunts with a dash of foreign extraction in them are the most satisfactory in the way of understanding these things; but if you can’t choose your aunt, it is wisest in the long-run to choose the present and send her the bill.
Even friends of one’s own set, who might be expected to know better, have curious delusions on the subject. I am not collecting copies of the cheaper editions of Omar Khayyam. I gave the last four that I received to the lift-boy, and I like to think of him reading them, with FitzGerald’s notes, to his aged mother. Lift-boys always have aged mothers; shows such nice feeling on their part, I think.
Personally, I can’t see where the difficulty in choosing suitable presents lies. No boy who had brought himself up properly could fail to appreciate one of those decorative bottles of liqueurs that are so reverently staged in Morel’s window–and it wouldn’t in the least matter if one did get duplicates. And there would always be the supreme moment of dreadful uncertainty whether it was creme de menthe or Chartreuse–like the expectant thrill on seeing your partner’s hand turned up at bridge. People may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die.
And then, of course, there are liqueur glasses, and crystallised fruits, and tapestry curtains, and heaps of other necessaries of life that make really sensible presents- -not to speak of luxuries, such as having one’s bills paid, or getting something quite sweet in the way of jewellery. Unlike the alleged Good Woman of the Bible, I’m not above rubies. When found, by the way, she must have been rather a problem at Christmas-time; nothing short of a blank cheque would have fitted the situation. Perhaps it’s as well that she’s died out.
The great charm about me (concluded Reginald) is that I am so easily pleased.
But I draw the line at a “Prince of Wales” Prayer-book.
Reginald, Saki, 1904
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As the receipient of many ill-advised Christmas boxes, Mrs Daffodil is not surprised to find that there was once a movement (with, it must be admitted, an absurd acronym) to aid the victims of Christmas atrocities such as pictured above.
SOCIETY FOR PREVENTION OF USELESS GIVING IN N.Y.
New York, Nov. 5. The S.P.U.G., which may be recognized as the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving, met with such success in its campaign last Christmas that it is on the warpath early again this year against the useless Christmas present.
“The Spug” are mainly department store girls, who under the leadership of Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont, Miss Annie Morgan, and others who found the years’ savings annually depleted by the obligation to contribute towards presents for men and women “higher up.” The idea of freeing themselves from this “Christmas graft” and all forms of useless giving spread like wild fire and many others joined the crusade.
The leaders liken the movement to that of the “Safe and Sane Fourth” idea which has been so widely adopted. The campaign this year is to be begun with a great rally on November 11. The object of the society is “to eliminate by co-operative effort the custom of giving indiscriminately at Christmas and to further in every way the true Christmas spirit of unselfish and independent thought, good will and sympathetic understanding of the real needs of others.”
Winston-Salem [NC] Journal 6 November 1913: p. 7
A slightly later article added: “Every Spug must wear a membership pin and pledge himself to aid in the fight against the useless Christmas present. The cost of the pin is covered in the membership dues, which are 10 cents a year. Five hundred persons enrolled in Washington in one day, according to reports received by the Spugs’ headquarters here.”
Mrs Daffodil has previously written on little Bertie’s quest for hand-made presents, choosing presents for soldiers, and hints for gentlemen attempting to choose presents for ladies. That generous person over at Hauntedohiobooks.com tells of “Leeches, Radium, and a Corpse in a Box:” strange Christmas presents of the past.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.