(translated by Peter Hala)
So you see, it’s Christmas again, as if one painted it. Above all, you are smarter and wiser. Now you know what to do next year. You will get your gifts much sooner. Yes, that is the best. To buy gifts in September or October, when you still have plenty of money. But you must also remember that merely buying gifts and placing them under the tree is not enough. You can disappoint the giver, and take his joy away, if you don’t know how to receive his gift properly.
To receive a gift is an art similar to ballet or to bell ringing. It is a ceremony similar to being knighted or married, or like the blessing of wells and springs. So remember, somebody was racking his brain to please you, perhaps denied himself food or luxury, and now is all uneasy whether his gift will give you at least as much pleasure as it has caused him grief acquiring it.
Above all you must organize your Generous Evening by entrusting somebody to pick up the gifts from under the tree and to hand them around. If your tree is standing on the floor delegate somebody who is as thin as a twig and to whom bending and squatting is not troublesome. If your little tree is on a table, appoint somebody who doesn’t drop things. You also need a person who can sneak away into the hallway after the Christmas supper and make ding-a-ling with a little bell. It ought to be somebody who can make a wide-eyed face, somebody who can act most surprised when he shows his head in the doorway and announces: “Do you know Baby Jesus was here?!” Then it is up to you to be astonished when you reply “No! Really?” or something similar, but polite and suitable for the occasion! This is a holy day, so no swearwords or profanities.
Then you walk to the tree and the gift-giving can begin. When you receive a gift don’t hurry to unwrap it, as it can indicate you expect to get all the gifts from under the tree. First ask: “What? Is this for me?” Then you look at the label and say: “This isn’t for me.” And as they are trying to reassure you, “It is, it is, it’s for you…”, read the label again and hesitatingly correct yourself: “Indeed, it is for me.” You must keep in mind that the prelude, the eyeing of the gift, is more exciting than the actual gift-gazing. So even if it is clear that the gift is for you, you cannot jump at it like your anxious pooch when you throw it a piece of sausage. Even when you are finally reassured, just keep turning your head in disbelief for another moment or two: “Now that’s odd, what can it be?” And still don’t hurry.
Untie the bow slowly and gracefully, curl it into a neat ball with the intent of keeping the pretty ribbon for the next Christmas. Do exactly the same with wrapping. Only now comes the moment, more anxiously awaited by the giver than the receiver of the gift. Open the box and take out the gift. Don’t forget, this is the most important moment of all. So don’t show your face to me if you merely say “It’s an aftershave,” or “It’s a scythe blade,” (if it is a new razor), or “Look, a hat.”
Learn how to first exhale in disbelief, “Ahhh…” or “Nooo…”, and after three seconds brighten your eyes and add: “A truly fine aftershave! How could you have known I really needed it?” Continue to look at the gift from every side and angle, examine it, allow somebody to show you how to unscrew the cap and make the fluid flow, sprinkle a few drops on your face and praise the gift a few more times. Then kindly thank Baby Jesus, and before you or somebody else receives another gift, calmly keep examining the bottom of the bottle, even though there is usually nothing interesting to be found there. She who gave you the aftershave will see you even if her back is turned towards you. And, please, don’t forget that the worst brutishness is to put the gift aside unwrapped.
It can happen that a hat you have received and placed on your head will be stopped only by your nose. Well, somehow it happens to be five sizes too big. That can happen, but what shouldn’t happen is that you impetuously blurt out like a real ass: “Gee, it’s too big!” Learn to be tactful. Learn to say kindly, for example: “See, it just about fits my head.” It means the same, but it sounds so much more acceptable. This much I wanted to tell you for the moments like these, when a fiasco can hardly be averted.
So now you know what to teach your children on Christmas Eve. Finally, and this is a catharsis for me, the purifying of my conscience with respect to all who have ever given me a gift which I failed to receive properly. May they all forgive me during these Holy Days of Love that only today I know how to appreciate gifts, now, when I can hardly see the gifts I receive.
František Nepil (1929-1995) was a popular Czech storyteller and writer of humorous stories, novels, and numerous fairy-tales for children. The original radio broadcast and the transcript in Czech can be found at “http://www.rozhlas.cz/vanoce/slavnych/_zprava/22069”. It was a part of Nepil’s regular radio programs called “A Good and Even Better Morning to You” which were published as a book in 1983.