Bet No. 1: A month from now you won't remember half the Christmas presents you received, and in two months you'll have forgotten all the ones you gave.
Bet No. 2: The day after Christmas all you'll remember about the stores you were in the day before Christmas is that you wanted to be out by noon but you didn't make it home until 6.
Avoid it all, plus save money for a rainy recession, by giving presents that no store sells and all who receive them will say, "Thanks, what took you so long to know I needed this?"
These are gifts of time or service, all of them deductible because your heart won't be taxed with shopping-mall stress and you'll get a write-off for sharing the only wealth that matters -- loving attention to another person.
Here are a few no- or low-cost Christmas presents, no wrapping needed:
Send a note promising to dig a friend's garden in April, weed it in July, and manure it in October, and tell him to read Henry Mitchell on gardening so he'll learn how to savor vegetables, fruit and poetry.
Phone someone you love on Christmas Day and ask her to send you all the junk mail she receives in January, because you will write to the companies to get her name off the mailing lists.
Bake an apple pie for a friend who hasn't had a homemade one in years and has given up hope because he thinks only Mrs. Smith makes them anymore.
If you are home from college for the holidays, announce on Christmas Day that you will clean the dishes every night until you go back to school -- and do them without being asked. Don't promise to dry. The shock that you're washing them is enough for this Christmas.
Go into a used book store and look for the book of an author you like and if it's selling for 85 cents on the remainder shelf, look around to be sure a clerk isn't watching. Cross out the 85 cents and write in $5, and drop a note to the author saying he's as hot as ever.
Promise a friend you'll take her car to the safety inspection station, and then, if it doesn't pass, to the garage to get the left-turn signal fixed, the brakes lined or air in the rear right tire, and then back to the inspection station for a second try.
Whomever it is that you have the most arguments with, announce you no longer will. You'll begin to be a listener, not a confronter.
To a friend who puts on message buttons, paint a button saying that wearing buttons isn't enough.
Give a series of lessons in a sport you are good at to a friend who isn't.
If a neighbor has an elderly parent, promise to visit once a month to cook dinner, have a conversation or do errands.
Introduce a friend who is out of work to a thrift store, where high-quality clothes can be bought at low cost.
To the person who seems to keep getting into scrapes with those he lives or works with, give a book to educate him in the art of settling disputes creatively, not violently or domineeringly. There is "Conflict Partnership" by Dudley Weeks, "Resolving Conflict With Others and Within Yourself" by Gini Graham Scott, "Conflict Management: The Courage to Confront" by Richard J. Mayer and "Active Nonviolence" by Gerard Vanderhaar.
Go regularly to a soup kitchen, not just to cut carrots, ladle soup, pass the bread or wash the dishes, but to go over to a lonely bag lady at the corner table to try to find out how her day has been. Then try to leaven it by saying something amusing, or by helping her in some meaningful way.
Ask your children who are their favorite teachers, then write a letter to the teachers thanking them for giving your kids a love of learning.
Promise to baby-sit, house- or pet-sit for your friends and relatives who need a little rest and solitude.
Offer a few of these and you'll have a Merry Christmas and probably a merry year until the next one.