The Spirit of Giving

It’s Christmas morning in St. Joseph, Michigan, and Caroline Hubbard peels away layers of thick, silver wrapping paper to reveal a heavy, yellowed wheel of cheese. Odor, rich and fetid, spreads across the living room in a wave and her husband looks up, frowning from his easy chair.

“Good god, Caroline, who gave you that?” he asks then covers the lower half of his face with the sleeve of his camo Snuggie.

Caroline’s smile fades and she buries both of her hands deep in the discarded paper, searching, until she finds the card. She stares at the tight, floral script, tosses the card aside and looks at her husband, “It’s from Santa.”

In Vancouver, Canada Yvonne Cheung puzzles over a series of the Dr. Who DVDs. In Bangkok, longtime expat and art dealer, Patricia Goldman, places a box containing Rosetta Stone for Portuguese into her re-gifting pile. In Glasgow, Heather Dent, squeezes herself into a bikini three sizes too small. Her curses can be heard throughout the building and, on the first floor, Mrs. Drummond blushes at the picture, and violence, they describe. Around the world thousands of women - married, single, of all ethnicities and ages - shared confused looks with their loved ones and wonder what they did wrong.

“What, baby?” Santa’s bifocals are perched on the end of his nose and he looks over them at his wife. “What’s the matter?”

Mrs. Claus is settled into her favorite chair, half-buried in wrapping paper, a steaming mug of spiced eggnog foaming at her side. The elves pause in their merry-making around the tree and the moment is elastic, stretching while they focus on the scene. Their eyes, bright and magical, flicker between the Clauses and a pure, undiluted wrongness exudes from the gift on her lap. The elves packed the presents so they realize, even before Santa, what has happened and they shudder.

Mrs. Claus exhales and pulls a slim, black riding crop from the slender, wrapped package on her lap. Tooled into the handle, black and polished leather, are the words Bad Girl. The card is to someone named Hiroko and it’s signed Love Santa in a tight, floral script. Mrs. Claus takes a tentative swipe with the crop.

“Oh balls.” says Santa.