The Scary Scary Christmas Story of When My Brother was a Cheap Skate.


photo by Julie Waterhouse

Degifting:  The act of replacing useless and pointless merchandise with something more meaningful, such as a charitable donation, service project or holiday party.


My brother has always been into “degifting.” It is actually a swell idea … especially if you do not have any money for Christmas … make it all seem like a big political choice or some benevolent act on your part.  Like who actually checks up on whether the village in Africa actually got a new well so everyone could have clean drinking water or counts how many of those turtles swimming the ocean are tagged with your name??

A couple years ago my brother said he was not buying a conventional Christmas gift. He was going to plant a tree in my name. So he said, “Hey I wanna show you your tree, can you pick me up in about an hour and take me to the mountains?”

It was Christmas and I had not reached that part in my therapy where we undid the programming my parents did concerning family obligations, so I said, “sure.” He was waiting for me with about 3 suitcases and his new ski gear. Seeing as we were going to the mountains anyway, he thought he might as well take advantage of the trip and take a ski holiday there.  He wanted to “bond” with me which was really scary because the last time he used that word it involved me, his pet goat that always tried to kill me, and crazy glue.

So we drove into the mountains and he told me when to stop.  We got out and we waded into the forest through the chest high snow and he pointed … “there she is.”

“Ummm … YOU planted that for me?”

“Sure did.”

I snorted.  Sorry could not help myself.  “That tree is about 100 years old and has been here forever.”

“Nope, just this last week, I had it planted, for you … for Christmas. . .  your tree….see?” And he took out a post-it note, wrote my name on it and stuck it on the tree.

We stood in silence watching the stick it note fall off the tree and flutter to the ground, snow flakes falling on it and melting, blurring the ink to look like A-I-EE.  Oddly it matched the voices in my head who I can only presume, were also banging their heads against brick walls, given the continuous thumping sound that accompanied their cries …

I considered planting something for him too, but it was too cold and it was almost Christmas, so I just got in the car and drove away and left him there.  But the spirit of Christmas is not something that can be denied, not even by me when it comes to my brother.   I threw out his skis and his suitcases before I drove off.

I could hear him swearing over the roar of the car engine as I raced back down the mountain.   I don’t think there was anything Silent or Holy about that night despite the fact Christmas was the next day, especially when I saw a herd of  really scary looking male caribou come to attention and then charge up in the direction of where I left my brother.  Now that I think about it … his strangled sort of screaming does sound a lot like a caribou in heat ….

I felt a lot better knowing he would have animal companionship during the long cold winter.  Animals always make Christmas seem so homey somehow.  I mean if you can’t find a fluffy kitty or a big eyed puppy you go with sheep and donkey’s right?  And if they aren’t available … I am pretty sure the next best choice is a caribou.  At least in Canada it is.

I figured if they found him in the spring thaw it would make for a great homecoming Christmas for next year.  We could do like a You Tube movie that makes people cry and stuff of him being rescued . . . us running to meet the helicopter when it landed and then us sitting around the hospital bed that we all decorated where we  could all catch up on how he survived, ate snow and dried twigs, and where he buried each toe as it fell off etc …

But he never came out.

He probably refused to eat the twigs.  He was never a big fan of salad.

So, now we have a new tradition … every year we visit my tree at Christmas, and think about him and the wonderful year when he degifted me with a tree.

And then we all go skiing  and take lots of pictures of the caribou.

I love traditions.

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