It's not as pathetic as it sounds: the fake gift.
After I got out of college, I got my own Christmas tree. I think it I actually got my own tree. I remember feeling so adult about it. Of course, it was artificial, as that's what I grew up with, and while a real tree is nice and all, it's too high-maintenance for me.
Anyway, I got the tree, and I got decorations for it (and put some decorations I already had on it), and I think that may have even been the year where my major ornaments were Pepsi cans with the holiday themes (there were like eight different ones, and were very easy to make into trashy-looking ornaments: you just put the small end of the hook through the tab.
I had a dream of making a tree out of Dr. Pepper cans and Mountain Dew cans (brown for the trunk, etc., and green for the branches), and then hanging the Pepsi (and Diet Pepsi) cans on it.
I didn't say it was a beautiful dream.
Anyway, the next year I got the tree out (which was probably '92... and I think the first year with the tree was probably '90... I'm pretty sure I was living in Center for Christmas of '91... or staying with Danny just off the Plaza (maybe that was right after Christmas of '91). I don't know, that whole depressing "post college working jobs I didn't need the college degree for" time is just a huge awful blur.
Where was I? Oh yes, huge awful blur.
No, wait, Christmas of '92, I got the tree out, and friends were helping me put up the tree. Heather saw the can ornaments and said, "Oh, Mark. No."
Now, I don't know if it was '90 or '92 (I think I noticed the problem in '90 and came up with the solution in '92) when this tradition was actually born. I just very strongly remember wrapping up some empty boxes to put under the tree because I thought a tree without presents under it looked really depressing.
I'm sure the tree at my home growing up didn't have many presents under it before Christmas morning. Maybe it was the knowledge that come Christmas morning as an adult, it would be just as bare under the tree as it was leading up to it.
Add the fact I had little budget for gifts to others, and the odds of there ever being gifts under the tree of '92 were slim to negative.
So I wrapped the boxes. I actually kept them for a while. I don't know that I used them again under any tree ('93 I was living in L.A. with no tree to call my own, and '94 I was living in the holey trailer in that dinky village near Jefferson City... and in '95 I don't know if I still had the apartment in Jefferson City or not, but I'm fairly sure I didn't put up a tree if I did. In '96 I was living on Grant with Ruth. I don't remember if that was the year I was in "The Eight" or not, but if it was, that would be the next time I had a tree. I have no idea if I had the fake gifts or not, but I have pictures of the tree going up. That could have been '97 as well. Again, we're still in the "jobs I could have got without a college degree" years, so: blur.
Probably the first year I had my own tree was the year after Kevin moved to NYC--and I have no idea what year that was (if Kevin or someone who remembers what year that was would like to fill me in, I'd appreciate it)--the fake gift concept returned to my tree. However, I figured out it would make more sense to use the fake gifts to store things you need to have near the tree: hooks, bulbs, fuses, tape, scissors, and so on.
Now I'm so fancy with my fake gifts, I have bags that match the color of the bulbs they store. And it looks like I have presents under the tree until Epiphany, when it all comes down!
So, yes, kinda pathetic. I admit it. But it's a functional pathetic. So that makes it better.