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On The Second Day Of Shopping…

Today is Small Business Saturday. Yesterday was Black Friday and in a couple of days it will be Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. Yes, it’s a lot to keep track of, but we’re an odd/even day gas, opposite side of the street parking kind of people. If we were to create a timeline of seasonal consumer events; Black Friday would be on the far left and Giving Tuesday on the far right. Cyber Monday is more towards the left but is only as old as clicking technology. What is wonderfully fascinating/encouraging is that right side of the timeline and the recent creation of Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday.

Shopping local independent shops and artisans is always a great way to support communities and their individual residents. Local independent shops stock unique, lovely things that are often locally made. Many communities hold arts and/or craft holiday fairs and local restaurants and pubs are always happy for the foot traffic. Today (and for the next five weeks) we can shop meaningfully and give creatively. Giving (and receiving!) a framed watercolor, a glass pendant, a crochet miniature giraffe is more memorable than the exchange of a chain store gift card. If gift cards must be exchanged, consider a certificate to a restaurant or shop in the recipient’s neighborhood.

In the tri-state area, Small Business Saturday comes at the perfect time. Yes, there are businesses still struggling to open, but there are plenty that are up and running. Find a community (perhaps your own) that suffered in the storm and shop a little (or a lot.) (And while you’re there think about local restaurants for on-site holiday parties or catering.) Consider gift certificates to theatre companies and performing arts organizations forced to close for days or weeks. Is there someone who’s been particularly nice this year? Perhaps a season subscription to a downtown theatre is in order.

On Monday office productivity will plummet as workers click their way down their gift list. This Tuesday will be the day to take a closer look at that gift list and consider a charitable gift. You needn’t worry about sizes, makes or models, colors or cuts. Not for profit organizations large and small, international, national or local will be a grateful recipient. This is the best holiday grab bag opportunity ever created. You choose what to give to whom. The gift feels meaningful to you and the recipient and you needn’t pretend to love the bath beads or Santa coffee mug you receive in exchange. You can broaden the reach of your gift by giving in someone’s name. Is there someone on your gift list who loves animals? A gift to the The New York Aquarium will help to repair the damage of the storm and delight the ‘benefactor.’

We like to think of leisurely slow roasted family dinners, skating parties at twilight or evenings by the fire with a glass of port and a musty smelling Dickens this time of year. But the reality is that it’s mostly several weeks of frenzied shortening days. Our social lives ramp up (or sputter back to life), our workloads increase in preparation of days off and our to-do lists prod us awake at 3:00 AM. There isn’t much resting or merry gentlemen/women to be found this time of year. However an interesting thing happens to our innards when we feel we’ve done some good. There is an underlying tranquility beneath our frenzy. Things might not go as planned, crowds might wear us down but we’ve coated our soul with a thin layer of “I made a difference.”

Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday make it effortless for us to do some good for ourselves and for others. We needn’t limit ourselves to these two days but they are a great start to a wonderful habit!

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Holiday, Well-Being

 

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All I Want For Christmas

Any moment now we will enter into the acceptance stage of the holiday season. The music is already being piped in. The displays are up and the ads are out. Our bodies and souls will catch up (probably around the same time we realize there really is no such thing as a perfectly browned turkey and who cares anyway, carving should be do in the privacy and sanitizing friendly confines of one’s kitchen.)

So what better way to herald in this magical time of giving than to remember holiday gifts past? There have been so many wonderful gifts over the years: the thought of them still causing me to smile. There was my first handbag (with matching scarf and hat) that made me feel terribly grown-up. I was rendered speechless by the baby bunny shyly hopping into my bedroom one Easter morning. The toys I remember most fondly were not ones I had requested but ones that were selected by people who knew me better than I did. It is these memories that fill my being with warmth and gratitude and offset the seemingly endless bestowing of dreadful gifts.

The maternity sweater (for my most definitely non-pregnant size four self), and the Winnie-The-Pooh sweatshirt (for my 35 year old self) are offset by the fabulously posh stockings a boyfriend’s brother once gave me. The countless teddy bears given by well meaning if not very imaginative boyfriends are tempered by the excruciatingly romantic gift of a Harry Connick Jr recording. For my 30th birthday my parents and brother gave me crystal champagne glasses and a Waterford ashtray; I’m not sure I had ever felt so fully understood! (To be fair my brother does have a gift giving super power that few can rival: He was still in college when he gave me a dramatic yet work-appropriate hounds tooth suit.)

It’s a ridiculous generalization but here we go: women don’t really care for gadget gifts. A VCR (back in the day) is an unromantic gift from a boyfriend (unless it comes with a stack of favorite films.) Installing a CD player in my car (and tossing the only cassette player I owned) is not such a great gift either. In fact stay away from my car. That loving gesture of a remote starter (when I lived in a cold climate)? It shorted out my car. A good rule of thumb is that if the gift comes with batteries, we’re likely to be offended (seriously; think about it.) You can run the risk of offending with the gift of; “I think you should be doing X” as well. Cross-country skis and all of the necessary accessories would be a fantastic gift if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a consummate indoorsy gal.

Some of the greatest gifts I ever received involved time. A friend once planned an entire weekend in L.A. for me (including lots of brushes with celebrities, dinner at Spago and long chats in our jammies.) A workaholic boyfriend swept me away for a surprise birthday weekend in between two business trips.  Shortly before Christmas, a bronchial me spent the entire afternoon playing board games with my (non-custodial) father. These gifts of time and attention accomplish the very best intentions of gift giving. They say in a clear and distinct manner; I care about you and I’ve put thought into what would make you happy. We feel that we are seen, that those who matter most to us in fact ‘get us.’ It doesn’t get any better than that.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Holiday

 

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The Mother’s Day Mystique

Mother’s Day is coming around. Even if you don’t own a calendar app, you would know. You can not open a newspaper, walk through a pharmacy, or click on anything, without a pinkish flower festooned banner reminding you that the day is near. The ‘holiday’ was first conceived as a call to disarmament (a family friendly version of Lysistrata) and later revised as a way to honor mothers. But it did not take hold in the public’s imagination until an enormous department store got behind it (evidently the miracle of motherhood takes place on 34th street too.) So it really should come as no surprise that the day is seen as such a major retail event.

What always does take me somewhat by surprise is how marketers and publicists view mothers and motherhood. If you were to try and understand motherhood by reading greeting cards (presumably created for adults to give to their mothers) you would believe that throughout her entire lifespan a mother gives selflessly of herself, denying herself to the extent of needing a ‘special day’ on which she can put up her feet. You would be hard pressed to find even one card that speaks to how an adult may feel about his/her mother (ex. “Thank you for helping to make me the person I am today.” OR “Isn’t it nice we’re still speaking?”)

The gift suggestions that have been bombarding consumers since midnight on Easter would have us believe that every woman who has ever parented is in fact Donna Reed (who in fact is not even Donna Reed.) Her interests (if I can use that term) include; decorative scarves, perfume, manicure devices, make-up sets or cardigans.This time of year is when any and every version of “chicken soup for the postnatal soul” is strategically placed on a table front and center of the store. (Noticeably absent from the displays are copies of Mommie Dearest or that lovely book by Bette Davis’ daughter.) There are stores that offer specially decorated (cue pink and roses) gift cards for the day. You know, for the person who’s never actually met his/her mother.

Mother’s Day is one of the more profitable days for retail. Some of that cash is coming out of husband’s wallets (which from a psychological perspective seems a bit icky.) I suppose when a macaroni necklace simply won’t do… Grown men purchasing gifts and passing them off as being from their children (which is kind of the inverse of Santa, isn’t it?) might explain the Mother’s Day marketing of some youthful apparel. An adult is not buying his/her mother “whimsical/retro apparel” unless there’s a biologically improbably minute difference in their ages. Nor are most adult children buying mommy a diamond tennis bracelet (I said, most; I can just hear the dissent of professional athletes, captains of industry and show people.)

Many of us have (or are) mothers who have actual interests, and who read books not pitched to them from a mass retailer or talk show hosts. We delight in the many gift options we enjoy giving and receiving, and don’t use promotions or advertising to guide us. But isn’t it just mildly offensive to walk through these few weeks with a vague sense of being caricatured? If we were to jot down each and every message being broadcast (re: Mother’s Day) and try to distill it into a portrait of motherhood, we’d find ourselves with some sort of apron wearing, vapid drag version of motherhood. Isn’t the whole point of this holiday to honor the woman (not the cartoon) who has played an important part in our lives?

*Photo – Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Judy Garland

 

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Fill Up The Stockings*

Have you written your list?  Checked it twice, choosing to ignore who’s been naughty or nice?  Are you still at the “I’m giving only lovely gifts this year” stage?  The panic has yet to set in and you’re still looking at the gifts in the chain drugstore with condescending disdain?  Perfect!  We can calmly discuss the season of gift-giving.

Giving and receiving gifts should be a simple and joyful expression, but it has a tendency to get a bit muddled, especially during this frenzied time of year.  Receiving an utterly thoughtless gift can smart, particularly when some well-meaning, if a bit daft person, reminds you that “it’s the thought that counts.”  Exactly!  That is precisely why it stings to receive a maternity top when one is a size four single woman with no thoughts or signs of pregnancy.  What were they thinking?  Probably the same thing the giver of the coconut/banana scented lotion gift basket thought; “It’s December, I think I’ll clean out my closet!”  So before we go one tiny step forward, I implore you dear reader to try not to see gift-giving as retribution.  If you do not care enough to give a thoughtful gift, do not give a gift.  It’s really that simple.  Gifts are not contracts.  It is an act of generosity and thoughtfulness not obligation.  Your list will be shorter, your focus sharper, and your heart fuller, if gift giving feels meaningful.

So with our edited lists in tow, we head out to fill up our sacks and sleighs.  If you are (like me) not blessed with any gift making skills whatsoever, it is time to shop.  Let’s pause for a moment, yes?  Shop does not mean buy a gift card.  Gift cards are the work of the devil.  Many cards come with an expiration date(!) and teeny tiny print which when deciphered states “ha ha ha ha ha ha.”  Also, how is a gift card less offensive than cash?  It is not.  Sometimes it is far worse.  I don’t want to know what discount chain you think I would enjoy.  Our relationship is not strong enough for that.  So to be clear, we are shopping for things, not cards.

The easiest and most fun shopping is that for recipients who share our tastes!  Narcissistic?  Perhaps a tad.  But isn’t it fun to stroll though a holiday market, vintage fair, department store, museum shop, and think: “I would like that!” and buy it?  For the recipient who doesn’t share our taste or gender, it’s a bit more of a challenge.  The better you know someone of course, the easier it is.  Never underestimate the power of sentimentality.  Was there a favorite childhood toy or book?  Imagine the look on Uncle Stephen’s face when you “Rosebud” his behind!  Is there a cause that really means a great deal to your partner’s father?  A donation in his name is a beautiful gift.  For older recipients, a drop of nostalgia will yield joyful results.  Old photos scanned into a photo book or a single photo restored and framed makes a fine gift.  Teenagers (or savvy adults) can give the gift of technology navigation.  A gift certificate for: setting the DVR, setting up the contact list in the mobile, making the computer stop doing that thing it does, will be truly appreciated.

And the children, what about the children!?  I could talk until I’m blue in the face (not an attractive color on me) and people will still buy children simply horrid things.  There is no more than 5 minutes of enjoyment that can be derived from any gift which does not engage the child whatsoever.  Try and remember the gifts that gave you exquisite joy when you were young.  I’m guessing they had little to do with cross-marketing of television or film.  They might have been something you hadn’t even known you’d wanted.  That element of surprise and wonder is what we’re after here.  Consider books (I still recall the weight of the entire Little House collection) toys made from something other than plastic (what I would give to have that dollhouse again,) games which engage the mind (Miss Scarlett in the Conservatory, anyone?) music (such sweet memories of torturing my parents with my Creative Playthings instruments) or a beautiful item of clothing (I miss my first big-girl party skirt!)

Gift giving should be fun.  Truly.  Beyond the mall (real and virtual) there is an embarrassment of lovely possibilities.  You may still be the unfortunate recipient a theme sweater or prepackaged “food gift” this year, but you will feel a lightness of spirit knowing you a part of the solution.  Happy Holidays!

* We Need A Little Christmas – Jerry Herman (1966)

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

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