The Christmas Arms Race

Gotta love a good old fashion arms race and the promise of mutually assured destruction.

(Note: This was written in the days leading up until Christmas)

It all started out innocently enough.  Over the summer several of my friends and co-workers started coupling up.  Between May and July we all found ourselves in relationships.  Then came the couples dates.  They were a fun alternative to hitting the bars after work.  We all became pretty close.  Even my girlfriend, who does not work with the rest of us, is a full-fledged member of the circle.  It became a little odd that my friends would go out with my girlfriend without me, but it is really a pretty cool circle.  On any given night I can find myself hanging out with any or all of them as couples or individuals.

This all was going very well until Christmas.  For those of you who are not servers, Christmas is when anyone working as a server in a retail area sees their income skyrocket.  Even the old guys like me who focus on saving year round start feeling a little bit generous.  You start to feel like you can keep up with people who have greater incomes for at least one month of the year.  This plays a very important part in what happens next.

At most any point in a relationship there is the question of how much is proper to spend on your partner.  This is significantly more complex on the first Christmas as a couple.  You don’t want to spend significantly less and feel bad.  You also don’t want to spend significantly more and make the other person feel bad.  This is made infinitely more complicated because we all work together and earn roughly the same amount of money.  Does anyone see the perfect storm brewing?

It was November when the questions started.  At first it was, “How much should I spend?”  It rapidly turned into “Can you find out their budget?”  It seemed universally accepted that everyone set a budget around $100.  Then everyone began thinking up gift ideas.  No one in this circle would be considered cheap.  Nearly anything we would ask someone else to buy for us, we would simply buy for ourselves.  This spawned numerous brainstorming sessions within the circle.

I fired the first shot.  After my first ten ideas were shot down, Emily came up with a great present idea.  I decided to buy my girlfriend a e-reader.  She always has a hardbound book in her purse, and I thought this would be an easier way for her to read.  Emily’s boyfriend Senor Esparza went with me to buy it.  It turns out you can’t just buy the reader.  I got a cover in her favorite color and a gift certificate to buy her first several books.  A few other small presents and I was set.  All just tripling the initial budget.  This set into motion a chain reaction I could not have predicted.

Suddenly Emily and Senor Esparza started reconsidering their budgets.  Brainstorming conversations became more frantic.  Finally through bouncing ideas back and forth Emily and I came up with the ideal gift.  We immediately headed to the store only to find anything remotely close to the original idea was twice the original budget.  A few days of scouring the internet and she found the perfect gift for the guy who wants nothing: an autographed picture of Captain Kirk and Mr Spock.  After framing and matting, the original budget was also tripled.

Soon word started filtering back to Senor Esparza that Emily had bought him the perfect gift.  Panic ensued.  The guy who does not celebrate Christmas was pulled into this arms race.   As the day came closer, he did what he knew would work: diamond necklace and earrings from Tiffany’s.  We won’t even discuss what happened to that budget.  Finally we were all set and happy with our purchases.  Well at least one of them.

You see there is another set of presents to worry about too.  I think my girlfriend may be the one who started it.  Emily is a big fan of owls.  My girlfriend saw an owl ornament back in November and bought it for her.  Because it was a Christmas ornament, it got classified as an early Christmas present.  You mean we are buying presents for each other?  I picked up a dozen wine glasses for Emily because I thought she could use them.  She is the youngest in the group and any gathering of more than five at her place requires drinking out of flower vases.  I got Esparza a nice cast iron skillet from the same store.  I didn’t expect anything in return.  I just thought they were small gifts that would be beneficial for the whole group when they host the rest of us.

Now I am getting frantic calls and texts from my girlfriend trying to figure out not only what to buy for my family, but also my friends.  I made it clear that we were giving couples gifts and she could just put her name on the card.  Then in helping both Esparza and Emily figure out what to get me, she began to panic.  She was afraid that his gift for me was nicer than mine.  My Jewish girlfriend who does not even celebrate Christmas and was the first one done shopping is spending her time off from two full time jobs frantically shopping for presents for this circle I have brought her in to.

Next year we are just drawing names.

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