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diplomatist/[di'pləumətist]/ n. 外交家, 有外交手腕的人, 外交官 ...

一辆旧单车的圣诞祝福

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When I was 6 years old, my parents got me a used bicycle for Christmas.

A year or so later, I badly wanted a Sting-Ray, a tricked-out bike that was wildly popular in the 1960s. So my father took my old bike, slapped a new coat of paint on it, and equipped it with a banana seat, monkey handlebars and a sissy bar.

It didn't matter to me that some friends had new Sting-Rays straight from the Schwinn factory. Or even that my dad put the sissy bar on backward, which exposed me to some teasing before we fixed it. I loved that bike.

So it was for my childhood. We weren't poor. But we always had modest Christmases. And I expected to do the same when I got married 27 years ago.

My wife, Clarissa, had different ideas. She, too, had some modest Christmases growing up. She vividly remembers when she was 14 or 15 years old and her father lost his job in the construction industry. She overheard her parents talking about how broke they were.

So when her parents asked her what she wanted that year, she said, 'Nothing.' When her mother insisted she had to get something, Clarissa asked for socks. 'I felt very good about myself afterward,' she recalls.

But as her family's finances improved, Christmas went back to being a much bigger production. By the time I arrived on the scene, the entire family -- more than 20 people -- would gather at her grandmother's house in Mexicali, Mexico, on Christmas Eve. Around 10 p.m., Santa (my future brother-in-law in a costume) showed up with an enormous bag of presents and stepped into a roomful of children shrieking with joy.

'It was all about the children,' says Clarissa, who thought the experience was priceless. And she has spent hundreds of dollars on presents every year to duplicate it.

I, in turn, kept trying to relive my childhood. When our oldest son turned 5, I got him a used bike for $35. He seemed happy enough with it.

I've had my victories over the years. Still, Clarissa has generally decided which presents our three kids got. And while their take hasn't been outlandish, they have certainly received their share of videogames and other yuletide paraphernalia.

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just the five of us. But there are my parents and my brother's family. And Clarissa comes from a much bigger family, with three siblings, multiple aunts, uncles and cousins, and an ever-expanding population of nieces and nephews. At one point, she was buying presents for close to 30 people, plus friends, neighbors, even the garbage collectors.

That costs money.

One year in the early 1990s, when Clarissa was still working, she recalls spending $2,000 on presents, the Christmas tree, food for family gatherings and the like. Thankfully, I didn't know the extent of it or I would have blown a gasket.

In recent years, as her nephews and nieces have grown up, spending has been more restrained. A few years ago, the adults in her family switched to a gift-exchange system, in which everyone gives a gift to one other person, instead of giving gifts to everyone. That saved a lot of money.

This year, times are tougher. Clarissa's sister works in banking, and one of her brothers does construction. Both industries are laying off workers.

So when Clarissa and I talked a few weeks ago about her family's annual gift exchange for adults, we both thought it made sense to restrict gifts to children. She broached the idea with her family, and it fell flat.

'We have to have something to unwrap, even if it's just the ribbon,' one of her aunts told her.

That was enough for Clarissa. 'If you want to drop out of the gift exchange, go ahead,' Clarissa told me the other day. 'But the rest of us are going ahead.'

Well, I might as well paint a target on myself. Count me in.

我6岁的时候,父母给了我一辆旧单车作为圣诞礼物。

大约一年后,我渴望能有辆Sting-Ray牌单车,在60年代这可是非常时髦的靓车。于是,我父亲把我的旧单车拿过去,仿照Sting-Ray的样子,涂了一层新漆,装了一个细长而后部翘起的车座、一个直把,座位后面还装了一根保护杠。

我并不在乎有些朋友骑的是从Schwinn厂子刚出产的崭新Sting-Ray单车,也不在乎父亲把保护杠装反了,在重新装过之前我还受到了一些取笑。我非常喜爱那辆单车。

我童年就是这样子。我们家并不穷,但我们的圣诞礼物总是很有节制。27年前我结婚的时候,我想以后也照此行事。

我妻子克莱瑞萨(Clarissa)却有着不同的想法。她小时候,有几年的圣诞节过得也很节俭。她仍清晰地记得,在她十四、五岁的时候,从事建筑业的父亲失业了。她无意中听到父母谈论家里生活有多拮据。

所以那年当她的父母问她想要什么圣诞礼物时,她回答说,什么也不要。当她妈妈坚持让她选件礼物时,她要了袜子。她回忆道,过后我自我感觉很好。

但是随着她家经济状况的好转,她又回到了更大的排场。我认识她之前,她们一家子(有20多人)会聚在墨西哥墨西卡利市她祖母家里过圣诞夜。晚上10点左右,圣诞老人(我未来的小舅子扮的)会拿着一个装满礼物的巨大袋子现身,走进满屋子快乐尖叫的孩子堆里。

克莱瑞萨说,我们做的一切都是为了孩子。她认为这种经历是无价之宝。每年她都要花数百美元买礼物重温这种经历。

相反,我则在不断试图重温我的孩提时代。当我们的大儿子5岁的时候,我用35美元给他买了一辆二手单车。他看起来对此很知足。

过去几年中,我也曾占过上风。不过,通常克莱瑞萨才是决定给我们三个孩子买什么礼物的人。虽然礼物并不奢侈,但是孩子们无疑收到了想要的电子游戏和其他圣诞节个人用品。

如果只有我们五个的话,情况还不会这么糟。但是还有我的父母和我弟弟的家人。而克莱瑞萨的家族则更加庞大,她有三个兄弟姐妹,很多个叔叔、婶婶和表兄弟姐妹,还有一大群不断壮大的侄女和侄子。曾有一度,她要给将近30个人买礼物,还有朋友、邻居,甚至垃圾清洁工。

这都要花钱。

克莱瑞萨回忆说,90年代初的某一年她还在工作的时候,她花了2,000美元准备礼物、 诞树和食品用于一家团聚和其他活动。谢天谢地,我当时并不知道花了这么多钱,否则我早就暴跳如雷了。

这几年,随着她的侄子和侄女都陆续长大了,圣诞支出也得到了控制。几年前,她家里的成年人转向了“礼物交换”机制──一个人只需要向另外一个人送礼物,而不需要向每个人送礼物。这样就省了很大一笔钱。

今年,形势更加严峻。克莱瑞萨的妹妹在银行业工作,她的一个弟弟从事建筑业。这两个行业现在都在裁员。

所以,当几周前克莱瑞萨和我讨论她们家每年的成年人礼物交换时,我们两个都觉得有必要限制给孩子的礼物。她和家人说了这个想法,不过没有得到响应。

她的一位婶婶对她说,我们必须有个包装的礼物,即使只是包装带也好。

这对克莱瑞萨已经足够了。有一天她对我说,如果你想退出礼物交换,你可以退出;不过我们其余的人还会继续下去的。

好吧,这样我还不如干脆在自己身上画个靶子。还得算我一个。
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