Patience is a virtue best learned cold. At least for me it was.

Every Christmas morning when I was growing up, my family would gather in a circle and…wait for it…take turns opening presents!! It was truly Rockwellian if Norman Rockwell painted scenes of family torture.

You may be asking, “Keith, how could that possibly be tortuous?” Because we’re Catholic. That’s why. Most nations have army brigades that are smaller than Catholic families. It felt like an eternity for another turn opening a present.

I wanted to dive in and rip everything apart like a vulture on a ribboned carcass. But instead, I would unwrap a gift, express my gratitude, and then recite the entire Twelve Days of Christmas in my head. It was my turn again at around the time the twelve drummers drumming were breaking down their equipment and selling merch by the exit.

Each year, I had to look at our humiliated dog in an elf-costume and tell myself that it could be worse.

And I have to admit, the older I got, that slow tradition became something else to appreciate in life, along with black coffee and exact change at the grocery checkout.

Some Christmas traditions don’t ever take (I’m looking at you, Barking Jingle Bells). But this one managed to tolerate my impatience and stick around. I can’t thank my parents enough. The true meaning of Christmas, after all, isn’t getting a ton of gifts or checking your Visa bill after shopping at Target like it is nowadays. It’s about watching the faces of disappointment as your family opens what you bought them on a tight budget.

As much fun as it is to watch others open a gift you got them, it’s more fun if you know more about what you’re doing in the gift-giving process. With that in mind, I’ve picked up a few ideas about the art of giving gifts to help guide you for next year.

*When someone says “You really don’t have to get me anything”, the best thing to do is get them something, especially if that person is a woman you would like to have sex with at some point.

*The good-ol’ gift card. Be careful with this because it could backfire. I personally love getting gift cards, so they can make awesome gifts. But it’s been brought to my attention that some people have big yuletide sticks up their chimneys when it comes to gift cards. Apparently to these people, a gift card says, “If there’s a minimum for caring, here it is.” That may be a bit harsh, especially since the champions of “minimum caring” have always been the Chia Pet, the Clapper, and any CD from the Cracker Barrel bargain-bin. But factor out fancy weeds, lazy home owners, and Rudy Gatlin, and gift cards could top the list for some people, at least until they make a Chia Rudy Gatlin.

*Giving to charity in someone’s name. Some people roll their eyes at this idea but I’m in favor of it, especially if you give to organizations your friends don’t like. If one friend is a vegan and another is a hunter, donating for them to the NRA and PETA, respectively, will produce hours of hilarity and heartfelt Second Amendment dinner conversation. God bless us…everyone!

*Gift wrap. Men, listen up. Never try and wrap a gift if there is a female anywhere nearby. Even if the gift is for her, ask her to wrap it. I don’t say this with any sort of sexist tone. I say this because we males have no clue how to wrap anything unless it’s a gift card, and we’ve already covered that. Complimentary gift wrap is available not to make life convenient. It’s to save someone the breath of saying “Oh, this has a pound of tape on it and I can still see half the box. Thanks, Keith!”

*You’ll often hear the phrase “Makes a great gift!” Don’t trust it. Everyone says this, including whoever invented crocs. The best barometer for what makes a great gift is to ask yourself, “Have I ever heard my loved one say they wanted this?” The next question should then be, “Is this something besides shoes with holes in them?” If the answer is “yes” to each of those, wrap it up. Well, get a woman to wrap it up. (Duh)

*Making your own coupons. Married couples do this for stuff like “backrubs”, “a night out”, and “intimate stuff we used to do before we got married”. Needless to say, everyone should stop doing this immediately. It’s very disturbing, especially when your kids think you sat on Santa’s lap and asked for a book of weird vouchers. Besides, it’s 2014. Either get that on a plastic barcode card for your keychain or buy a bottle of wine and let nature take its course. Save a tree. Stop with the coupons.

These ideas are merely suggestions. Regardless of how you give your gifts, you should always keep in mind the true gift of Christmas. It’s about gathering as a family and enjoying time together. In fact, you should enjoy your time together. Otherwise that trip around the circle to your next turn will make Barking Jingle Bells sound divine. And nobody should be that nuts on Christmas.

Have a very happy new year and Merry Christmas 2014!

Categories: Columns