Underwear and other gifts children don't want for Christmas; Dilemma: how to sound sincere when saying thanks

What don'tm you want for Christmas?" I asked some elementary school children recently. "Underwear!" said Alison. "I hate to get underwear. The President should make a law that no one can give underwear for a gift."

Jill agreed wholeheartedly. "One year I got seven underpants for a present," she explained. "Each one had a day of the week printed on the seat -- which is real silly, because if you forget what day it is, you can't look there.m"

"And anyway," she continued, "God made calendars so you wouldn't have to."

"I don't like it when people send groceries for a gift -- like cheese or nuts or fruit," said Christina. "Groceries are OK gifts for parents to get, but not children."

Sara agreed. "The worst present we get is fruitcake. I never heard of one child who likes it. So, when people send fruitcake to families, they should send chocolate-chip cookies for the children."

Jason feels there are assorted unpleasant possibilities lurking in toy stores. "Sometimes," he explained, "you don't knowm what you don't want until you get it, because you didn't even know there were such things in stores. The plastic bowing set I got once was one of those things. When my father was a boy , he loved plastic bowling sets, but there aren't many boys like him in these modern times."

"What I don't want is a stuffed animal," said Susan. "Last year I asked for a cat. My mom got me a stuffed one. She says stuffed cats are much cuter and they don't leave puddles on the carpet."

Some gifts, children suspect, are intended to promote the enthusiasms of the giver.

"I don't want more sports stuff," said Matt, "but I'll probably get more, because my dad is crazy about sports and wishes I'd be, so he keeps buying me stuff. He hopes it will make mem crazy about sports, too.

"It doesn't," he added firmly.

Laurie knows all about presents with strings attached. Two years ago she was given a musical instrument -- and lessons. Last year she received a tennis racket -- and lessons.

"Whatever I get this year," she said, "I hope it doesn't come with lessons. But my grandma loves ballet, and the other day she asked me what size shoes I wear -- so I'm afraid it's going to be ballet shoes -- and lessons."

A junior high student I know, the son of Democrats, received, from his Republican grandfather, two subscriptions to conservative publications -- and a book by William F. Buckley Jr.

"I think," Gregory observed with a twinkle, "Grandfather was wishing me more than 'merry Christmas.'"

Gifts that disappoint create a challenging moral dilemma for the recipient. How does one seem grateful -- without being dishonest?

Melissa faced this last year. "Aunt Alice gave our family opera tickets," she said. "So my mom said we had to go to the opera, and we did. Then we had to say we liked it -- which we didn't -- because my mom doesn't like us to tell the truth if it is too rude.m"

Consideration of her grandmother's feelings was a concern of a young neighbor when she wrote her thank-you note: "Dear Grandma, Thank you for the dress. When it fits me in a couple of years, I'm sure it will look a lot better."

And certainly, seven-year-old Charlie, who wrote my friend a prompt thank-you note for his Christmas gift, knows more about diplomacy than dinosaurs.

"Dear Uncle John," he wrote, "Thanks for the book about dinosaurs you sent me for Christmas. I have read it all. They are so interesting I can't wait to see some real ones next time we go to the San Diego Zoo. Love, Charlie."

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