EGAN: Bleak weeks, holiday cheer

As the days grow shorter and we march onward into these last dooming few weeks, toward exams and holidays, and then beyond them to the apocalypse, our thoughts turn toward break.

Winter is my favorite season. I love the way the air smells, the ground hardens and the trees silhouette against a gray, snow-baring sky. And I love the holidays — I love the candles, the lights, the red noses, the carols and especially the gift giving.

I get so excited to give gifts it’s hard for me to wait until they are supposed to be given. There was a time long ago, when I used to happily purchase my dad exuberantly colorful neckties. Ridiculous neckties, the kind that play kitschy music, light up or, even better, did both and had some sort of baby animal smiling up from their silky fabric.

He would gamely wear them to breakfast. Later he would cradle a takeaway coffee mug in his hand and wave as he backed out of our driveway, a garish tie flashing between the lapels of his suit. Somewhere between our house and his law office, stuck in morning traffic, he’d juggle his coffee and the steering wheel while he changed his tie.

I’ve become a bit better at gift-giving. For my dad’s birthday this year I ditched the neckties and purchased a one-hour massage from LivingSocial. Unfortunately I didn’t pay enough attention to the address, but after a ninety-minute drive to the masseuse I’m sure he’ll really enjoy that massage.

Finding the perfect gift is difficult, and everyone is subject to getting it wrong. A few years ago my mom proposed that we all get our genomes mapped for Christmas. Nothing says it’s the holidays like knowing your risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.

In cultural anthropology and sociology, gift-giving is understood as “reciprocity,” characterized by the informal exchange of goods or labor. This is the basis of most non-market economies, and is common in most every culture. There are whole ethnographies built around the exchange of gifts and the resulting relationships.

Although I am sure there is some neurological, psychological, biological, sociological, something-ogical reason for why we enjoy giving gifts, I don’t feel the need to dissect it. This is interesting because I like to understand the underpinnings of nearly everything. This just feels like one of the instances where we should let it be, like goofy, sentimental kid magic.

Maybe I’m a little bit ridiculous. And, okay, maybe the holidays are overly commercialized to the point where gift-giving doesn’t seem so genuine. Hallmark has put out another ridiculous singing animal, or, more likely, another ridiculous set of animals, and maybe some irrelevant politician is gearing up for The War on Christmas take two.

But the Salvation Army started ringing their bells as soon as Halloween past, and Starbucks was quick to follow with their red holiday cups, but sometimes these reminders of our impending break are nice. My Facebook newsfeed was overrun by friends heralding the return of their beloved peppermint lattes. I did try to convince my 19-year-old little sister to get our photo taken with Santa at the mall over Thanksgiving break, and I make my family wait until I get home before we can go cut down our tree, never mind decorate it. I do get really excited about gingerbread men, and hunting for the perfect Christmas gifts and Christmas morning cinnamon buns.

The thing about the Holidays, although the weather turns bleak, is that people seem to be a little warmer. Even in Boston, where greeting a stranger will surely lead him/her to eye you peripherally for signs of madness, people become friendlier. Wrapped in woolen coats, colorful scarves and holiday cheer.

After this week, there is only one full week of classes left before we taper off into those purgatorial three days before study period, and then exams, and then the holidays. I guess what I’m getting at, maybe mostly for my own benefit, is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. All those end-of-semester to-do lists will soon be replaced with grocery lists, and the smell of day-old coffee lingering around your desk with dissipate into the warm smell of gingerbread at home. Everyone around you will become a philanthropist, and, all right, maybe we should be giving year-round, but for now I’m going to bask in all those cheesy sentiments about “good will toward men.”

Arielle Egan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Fall 2012 columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at aegan@bu.edu.

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