Who invented holiday gift giving?
“A guy with a store.”
Too cynical? Maybe. Though perhaps not entirely off the mark. Historically – if we can regard the Bible as history, and who’s to say it’s less accurate than anything else written back then – the gift-giving tradition originated on “Day One”, if by “Day One”, you mean “Day One” of A.D. rather than “Day One” of B.C. I actually don’t know when “Day One” of B.C. was. Billions of years ago? It was way back, I know that. Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with this story.
Hovering over the event, from that very first occasion, there loomed the darkening presence of gift-giving anxiety, the gut-eating worry that your gift will resoundingly fall flat.
Allow us now to peek in on that initial foray into heartfelt but emotionally turbulent generosity.
Ext. Holy Land – Night
(Note: In the Jewish tradition, which was in force on this first day of Christianity, all holidays begin on the night before. I don’t know why. Maybe they couldn’t wait.)
THREE WISE MEN ARE CAMELING TOWARDS THEIR MIDDLE-EASTERN DESTINATION.
(Note: Because I have no idea of their actual names, the Wise Men will herein be designated by the gifts they are delivering: Gold, frankincense and myrrh. Sorry for all the Notes.)
THE NIGHT IS QUIET, SAVE FOR THE SOUND OF THREE CAMELS, CLOMPING OVER SAND.
FRANKINCENSE: I could use some reassurance here.
GOLD: What about?
F: (STANDING FOR FRANKINCENSE, SO I DON’T HAVE TO KEEP WRITING FRANKINCENSE EVERY TIME) I’m a little worried about my present.
G: (DITTO ON THE INITIAL ) How so?
F: I’m concerned about its appropriateness.
G: What is it you’re giving them again?
G: And remind me what that is?
F: It’s an aromatic gum resin.
G: Uh-huh. And you believed that was appropriate because…?
F: Frankincense is known to have soothing properties. I thought after the turbulence of childbirth, the participants might appreciate a calming influence.
G: I suppose. But have you noticed how quiet it’s been? – a starlit firmament, the absence of a breeze, not a peep out of anything? If I were a Weather Man – or a songwriter – I’d say, “All is calm, all is bright.”
F: You’re saying they won’t need a calming influence?
G: It seems somewhat redundant.
F: You’re right, they’re going to hate it! I know exactly what’s going to happen. They’ll be all nice about it and everything. “Look, Joseph – frankincense! What a beautiful present!” And then, angling for reassurance, I’ll say, “Are you sure you like it? I could take it back.” And they’ll say, “Oh, no, it’s perfect! We were just talking about how we were really low on frankincense and my husband said, ‘Maybe I should pick some up’, and I said, ‘Hold off a little. We might get some as a present’, and here we are! It’s like a miracle. I mean, it’s no ‘Virgin Birth’ or anything, but it’s still amazingly timely.” I despise that excruciating charade. I wish I had brought something else!
MYRRH: You wish.
F: Oh, yeah, I forgot. With you around, I am guaranteed no worse than “Second Most Terrible Gift.”
M: Well that’s not very supportive.
F: Your gift makes no sense whatsoever.
G: What was your gift again?
M: It’s not that bad.
F: Oh, really? First of all, myrrh is also a gum resin. I mean, three gifts, and two of them are gum resins? These guys are going to have to be really good actors. “You can never have enough gum resin.” This is a train wreck!
G: A what?
F: It’s bad.
M: It may be okay. There is actually a substantial difference between my gum resin and your gum resin. Yours in an aromatic gum resin. And mine is a bitter gum resin.
F: (TO G) You know what bitter gum resins are used for?
G: No, what?
F: Embalming. He’s bringing them a burial spice. (TO M) I hope you kept the receipt.
M: In a little pouch inside the myrrh pouch. But the store’s in Samarkand.
F: Remember now, you promised. I give my gift first. I go after you and it’s like, “Oooh, more gum resin.” No way. I want to be the first gum resin they get.
M: I don’t know, after my bitter gum resin, aromatic gum resin might be a step up.
F: I’m going first!
M: Okay! Okay!
G: You know, you Wise Men – and your behavior puts the title into question – are both making too much of all this. Remember: “It’s the thought that counts.”
F: Spoken like a man who’s giving gold.
G: What! It’s simply what came to mind.
F: Yeah, right, you big showoff.
G: You could have brought gold.
M: “Gold, gold and myrrh.” They’d certainly remember me then.
F: Why do you always have to be better than everyone else?
G: That’s not how I thought about it.
M: “Let’s see. What gift should I bring them? I know. Something that makes everyone else’s gift look terrible and cheap!”
G: It’s not a lot of gold.
F: (To M) Did you see the pouch it’s in?
M: The pouch alone is better than my present.
G: If you’re so unhappy with your gift, you should have brought them something else.
M: Like what?
G: I don’t know. Booties.
M: “Gold, frankincense and socks.” That’s much better.
F: Why didn’t you get booties?
G: Because I brought gold! Dear Lord – who was just born. Do I have to apologize for being the only one who’s bringing a decent gift?
F/M: (TOGETHER) YES!!
F: You know, in truth, we have no idea who we’re bringing this stuff to. They could be loaded. They could open the pouch and it’s like, (BLASÉ) “Oh, gold. Throw it on the pile.”
M: F’s right. Your gift could be the least appreciated gift of all.
F: “He put zero thought into it. ‘Gold. Done!’”
G: I think we should stop talking for a while.
F: You’re the boss, Mr. Moneybags.
THEY CAMEL ALONG IN SILENCE. FINALLY…
M: Are you sure we’re going the right way?
G: I am following the star.
M: Maybe we should stop and get directions.
G: That’s not necessary.
F: Oooh, Mr. “Gold Giver.” Too good to ask directions.
G: Directions to where? Are you kidding me? We have no idea where we’re going!
M: Okay! Take it easy! You’re turning all red.
F: (TO G) Would you like a little frankincense to calm you down?
M: I’d like slip him some myrrh.
F: Oh. For “embalming.” I get it.
G: (DRYLY) Hilarious.
M: You know, all this bickering. It’s because of the presents.
F: You’re right. If only we could honor special occasions in a less competitive manner.
G: A celebratory song, perhaps.
F: Could that be because you’re an exceptional singer?
F: He won an encampment citation. The guy never stops.
M: Let’s just stick with the presents. And hope that they’re big resin gum fans.
F: That’s gum resin.
THE THREE-CAMEL CARAVAN PROCEEDS ON TOWARDS BETHLEHEM, AND INTO NEW TESTAMENTAL HISTORY.
G: (TO HIMSELF) Everybody likes gold.
F: Not if they’re loaded.