At Holiday Shopping

If the quality of gifts exchanged at the holidays were as important to interpersonal relationships as the media makes it look, my friends and family would have kicked me to the curb quite some time ago. I’m a great shopper for myself, and I like to think that I maintain pretty close relationships, but for some reason when it comes time to select gifts for people I know, I just… can’t… do it. There have been some successes—most notably the red velvet cheesecake cookies I made for a good friend’s Chanukah gift, the quality of which actually caused his eyes to roll all the way back into his head upon taking the first bite—but for every well-baked cookie or snuggly scarf I can name off the top of my head, I’ve given three gifts that were wholly unsuccessful. Accessories I’ve given have gone unused; handmade bracelets have fallen apart in my pocket before I got a chance to hand them over; well-meaning souvenirs have gotten strange looks and unconvincing expressions of gratitude.

hannukah cookies

The legendary cookies. Original photo by Ira Stecher.

I may never get in the habit of buying excellent gifts all the time. However, what I lack in present know-how I make up for in Christmas spirit. I may not be great at it in every situation, but gift-giving is one of my favorite things to do, and in my opinion it’s one of the happiest parts of Christmas. Plus, after nineteen years, I’ve learned at least a few ways to make sure your gifts to other people don’t get smiled at to your face and exchanged right away behind your back.

What is not sucking? In the world of holiday gift-giving, not sucking is defined as giving presents that are thoughtful and desired or appreciated by the receiver.

  1.        Ask outright. “What do you want for Christmas?” is almost never an unwelcome question. (One notable exception is people who do not celebrate Christmas. Ask these people what they would like for Chanukah/Winter Solstice/Kwanzaa/Festivus.) However, some people (significant others are a great example) would prefer not to answer this question and be “surprised”. In this case, proceed to:
  2.        Ask somebody else outright. The only situation in which it is okay to sneak around and talk about somebody else to their friends behind their back is figuring out what they want for the holidays. Best friends, partners or close family members are sometimes the best resources for discovering the one item that somebody really wants. However, if these resources prove to be no help (“Uhh, I think she likes Doctor Who. Maybe. Or she hates it. Anyway, she technically told me not to tell you anything”), proceed to:
  3.        Think about what this person is a fan of. A sports team? A comic book hero? A book series? A TV show? If the person you’re buying for is a big fan of something, basically anything related to that thing will be a welcome and appreciated gift. If the person you’re buying for somehow isn’t a fan of anything cultural, proceed to:
  4.        Think about your relationship with this person. What have you and your friend/significant other/family member done together that you both enjoyed? If you went to a Disney movie together a year ago and they loved it, get them a copy of the DVD. If you have the kind of relationship that can withstand a few dollars spent on something useless and hilarious only to the two of you, you can buy a gag gift as long as it’s well-thought out, at least not totally tasteless and personalized. Anything to do with an inside joke between the two of you is better than a singing fish. Actually, anything at all is better than a singing fish. If the two of you are romantically involved (or you’re hoping that the two of you will become romantically involved), then something like perfume or cologne is appropriate as long as the person is not allergic to it. Been there, done that.
  5.        Consider making something. If you’re crafty at all, giving a homemade gift is a great option. Homemade baked goods, jewelry, tchotchkes and scrapbooks require a lot of time and effort, something that their recipients will inevitably recognize. You’ll get extra points, they’ll get extra happy. A couple of words of caution: regardless of your skill with crafts, make sure you really do put a lot of time and effort into any homemade gift you put together. If you make something by hand and do it by halves, it shows. Always. Also, homemade gifts tend, in general, to be better for people who really love you already, like parents or significant others (though I will say that everyone appreciates good food).
  6.        If all else fails, buy them a book. A book is never a bad idea. If they like to read, they’ll love it. If they hate to read, you shouldn’t be good enough friends with them to be buying them stuff anyway. Make sure it’s one you’ve read and liked, and that you have at least a 10% suspicion they will like as well. If you feel like it, include some good chocolate to eat while reading.
  7.        And, as always, be kind to retail employees. We’re doing our best.

Merry Christmas! Happy belated Chanukah! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy Solstice! Happy Festivus! And a happy new year to everyone. 🙂

Did I miss your holiday? Want to send holiday greetings to me? (Aww, how sweet of you.) Comment on this post, like How Not to Suck on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @hownottosuckblg (not blog. Blg. It’s Welsh for “the o wouldn’t fit in my Twitter handle”). 

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