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)