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Karen: "Grace, it's Christmas, for goodness sake. Think about the baby Jesus, up in that tower, letting his hair down so that the three wise men can climb up and spin the dreidel and see if there are six more weeks of winter."

-- Will & Grace

'No, I am not going shopping with you," said my friend Ollie in his gruffest voice. "Absolutely not." I remained silent, contemplating my options. I did not want to brave the psycho Christmas shoppers at Fashion Valley alone; I needed to persuade Ollie to join me. This was the year my thoughtfulness would blow them all away, and obtaining the necessary gifts required backup.

"I'll pick you up around nine," I said matter-of-factly. How could Ollie argue with that? My master plan was set in motion. I hadn't looked forward to Christmas this much since I was a child: this year, I was excited to give rather than to get. As kids, my sister Jenny and I would stay awake at night, wondering aloud if Santa would bring us everything we'd asked for. We were never disappointed.

Later, I found out that an overly generous "Santa" (known as "Mom" for the remaining 364 days of the year) helped put Dad into debt each December, or what he has described as "a horrible maelstrom of debt, which went further down and down, until it was overpowering, overwhelming, out-of-control, fucking crazy." The financial stress did nothing to enhance Dad's holiday spirit, and getting everything we wanted did nothing to expand our ability to appreciate our good fortune.

I like to think that even though we were quick to toss our new toys aside in search of the next colorfully wrapped box, we knew how lucky we were. Despite our abundance, we sensed that at one time in the incomprehensible past our parents had each experienced what it is to lack. Along the way, we learned not to take things for granted, and though we would most likely achieve our wishes and dreams, we should not expect either to pull up in a limo.

This year, I wanted to be Santa. I collected Ollie right on time, and after kvetching for a bit, saying things like, "Can't we just get from the car to the store without having to encounter the flotsam and jetsam of Western society?" he resigned himself to the role of a proper "shopper's assistant" -- adopting a mostly neutral attitude with a pinch of cheer. With three days to go before Christmas Eve, I was shocked (and relieved) to find the parking lot near empty; we had beaten the mob by minutes and had to act fast.

The Apple Store was first on my list. Jenny is back in school, working hard for high grades and making plans for her future career -- she needed a laptop, and my family agreed to chip in for the 14-inch iBook G4. I refused to "consider the benefits of an extended warranty," and we escaped the overcrowded Apple Store before I became so irritable that I slapped around the more noxious of my fellow shoppers.

Next, I marched Ollie to Tiffany & Co. to find a gift for Jane, my eldest sister. Jane is what I call a Nordstrom Mommy; her baby is as stylish as she is: they tool around in a fur-lined stroller for those long days of shopping for the latest fashions. Only the finest jewelry befits such a woman. Tiffany was packed. I had to put my name on a list and wait half an hour to be helped. Ollie, with his large, fully tattooed muscles, carried my growing stash of gifts as he helped me peer through glass cases for the perfect gift for my sister. While doing this, I came upon the most fabulous ring I'd seen in months.

"Do not buy yourself something here," Ollie said, as I eyed the ring. "Remember how much you've spent so far? You can't get that; I won't let you shop for yourself before you've finished shopping for everyone else." He actually thought his scolding was working until I told the saleslady to add the ring to my purchase of Jane's set of earrings and necklace. Ollie looked at me disapprovingly, but when I forked over the payment in cash, he said, "That's pretty rock star, to walk into Tiffany & Co. and pay with cash." With that, we absquatulated, eager to put space between ourselves and the hordes of people who began to fill the mall from one end to the other.

My other gifts did not require a visit to the mall. This year, Faye and her family celebrated their first Christmas at home, with their own tree and two boys -- Liam, almost three and just old enough to get the idea of presents, and Brian, too young to do anything but smile, fuss, and poop. In honor of this occasion, my family spent Christmas Eve at Faye's. Sean, my brother-in-law, prepared our dinner (as is custom with any of my sisters: the men do the cooking). After the meal, we gathered in the living room. I had insisted that they open my gift that night, rather than waiting for Christmas morning, because I had gotten them something for their home.

When they lifted from a small box the intricate, glass-adorned elephant ornament from India, they placed it on the tree, gave me a hug and a kiss, and smiled at the object while David snuck outside to fetch the real gift. When he stepped back inside with the large wrapped present, they could tell by the box's shape and size that this was most likely a framed picture. But they would never have guessed that they'd be receiving one of David's limited-edition photographs. Upon seeing the photo, entitled New Moon, Sean said, "You really shouldn't have." Faye said, "We are not worthy." But we did. And they are. The next morning, Faye told me that after everyone left, she and Sean sat by the image with a glass of wine and stared in awe and excitement.

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