Presents are Hard

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holy crap, my finals are over and as such, so is the semester. I thought it would never get here. That means that this weekend is full of all of the holiday preparations that I haven't been able to do for the last few weeks because I've had my head buried in many textbooks and study guides. So, to celebrate the end of the craziest semester and the beginning of being able to think about the holidays (for me), I thought I'd talk about the holidays. That magical time where time seems to move both faster and slower, as you run out of time to prepare and also can't wait until you get a few days off to relax. Everyone knows that the holidays aren't about the gifts... it's about the food spending time with your loved ones and reflecting on the season and giving back and celebrating traditions, regardless of which ones those are. Me? I'm a confusing one. (Shocking!) I grew up celebrating Christmas with my mom and brother, but my dad, who is Jewish, always sent us Hanukkah presents. The holidays meant Christmas, and Christmas meant getting a tree (we always had a real one when I was growing up), going to church on Christmas Eve (I sang "O Holy Night" with my brother or my best friend Mike every year for a few years), sleeping in on Christmas morning, making cinnamon rolls, and opening presents.

Up until when I was in high school, it meant Christmas night was spent at Mom-Mom's, usually my mom's brother and sisters, eating ham (among other things), and opening presents. Things started to change after my Mom-Mom died in 2004, and everyone kind of fragmented. We spent a random Christmas in California with my mom's brother and his family (which was fun, but weird), and we started not having family dinners on the actual day of the holiday because it was too stressful. Things got even more complicated when Ken and I started dating, because then the day after Christmas, I was up in NY with his family. THEN I converted to Judaism, which further confused the issue. Ken has always celebrated Christmas, but he does so secularly, so he's cool with celebrating Hanukkah with me. Last year, we did Hanukkah presents and lit the candles etc. This year, Hanukkah was stupidly early and we couldn't get our proverbial excrement together for presents in November, so we just did the candles and the prayers... so presents will come at Christmas.

And presents are hard!

Gift giving itself isn't complicated. You go out, you buy something, you wrap it or throw it in a gift bag, and you give it to its intended recipient. But GOOD gift giving?  That, my friends, is a talent. My friend Julie is a gift-giving-ninja. She loves giving the perfect present, and she is always spot-on. I also love buying people presents, but I often get stuck trying to figure out exactly what would fit. Fortunately, I haven't given any completely terrible presents (as far as I know). It's not easy and there are a lot of people out there who just do not have a clue. I'm here to help! Here's what I think helps in giving someone the perfect gift.

1. Listen! (And pay attention.)
After about the age of 10 or 12, most people stop asking directly for presents, I've found. Sure, your parents might ask you for a Christmas list (mine still do, and I'm almost 28). I've noticed that, at least for me, if I want something, I tend to either just go get it. That happens most of the time, with regards to clothes, shoes, books, music, etc. That being said, people will often tell you what they want without saying, "Hey, I want (insert thing here)." For example, the fact that Ken constantly says that his phone is dying and doesn't have a car charger means that a long time ago, I made a mental note to get him a car charger for his phone. (Ken, if you're reading this, pretend you don't know that. I honestly don't know if my husband reads my blog, haha.) Last year at Thanksgiving, my brother barely had any cooking/baking vessels and no prep bowls (which made cooking dinner at his place super interesting), but I instantly knew what to get him for Christmas. If you listen and pay attention, people will tell you what they want/need without directly saying anything at all.

2. Don't be afraid to give a gift card.
"But it's so impersonal!" is the cry I always hear. Some people are really hard to shop for specifically, but more generally, shopping for them can be a snap. Last year, I was hard to shop for, even for my best friend, Victoria. However, Victoria also knows me really well, so she knew that if she couldn't pick out something specific for me that she wanted to get me something I'd love anyway. She got me a gift card to Amazon, because she had remembered hearing me say (see, listening!) that I wanted to download more books for my Kindle. Because of that gift card, I was able to download some great books, and if you've read this blog at all, you know I love books. I've given gift cards/certificates to restaurants that I know people love, or spas for massages or facials, as well as plenty of clothing stores. People sometimes get weirded out by the fact that you're effectively giving someone cash, or that you can't give someone the value of an entire massage or an entire dinner out for two. Your gift will help your gift-ee do something for themselves that they might not normally do (like get a facial) or will help pay for the dinner, and that's a nice gift in and of itself.

3. When in doubt, use the list.
This is mostly for family members. If you request a list of potential gifts that someone wants, don't turn around and then not buy anything on that list because you deem it "boring" or "lame". If your family member wants a subscription to Car & Driver, but you know nothing about cars and think magazines are stupid, well... it's a good thing that you didn't ask for that, then! If your gift-ee's list includes a Neat Desk Document Scanner, or a poster of the periodic table, or a set of measuring cups, or Rosetta Stone, or... whatever... then don't go out and buy someone something totally random and when they act confused say, "Well, all of the stuff on your list was boring, so I didn't want to get it for you..." because, well... that's insulting. If we learned anything from my Target link-up, it's that people can often be very practical in what they'd purchase or what they want, and even if you think buying someone an electric toothbrush is totally weird, it will probably make your friend/family member very happy to receive something that they really wanted.

NB: This also goes for bridal registries and baby registries, perhaps double for those lists. Usually, when people go "off-registry" it ends up multiple gifts of the same item, a plethora of ugly picture frames (usually engraved so the recipient can't return them even if they wanted to), 5 sets of toasting flutes that the couple will never use again, and bizarre baby clothes/toys/items that the couple doesn't have room for/want/need. The only time I have ever been glad that someone went off registry is when Julie (yes, the gift-giving ninja) secretly purchased a set of Honora pearls for me for my shower and they were gorgeous and beautiful. Other than that, stick to the list!!

4. It really is the thought that counts... 
I'm sure I'm not the first to say it, money is tight these days. I really love giving people presents, and I wanted to show my favorite coworkers how much I like them and appreciate working with them. What's a girl to do?? Well, this girl is going to bake. And give nice cards with thoughtful messages. I used to be concerned that homemade gifts (whether knitted, baked, or otherwise) were sad and unappreciated, but people really do like to know that you thought of them. Bonus: I always include the recipe when I give something that I've baked. I like to print it up in a nice font, or if I'm feeling fancy, I'll buy cute recipe cards and hand write it.

5. Give experiences.
Let's say you don't want to get someone a book or a sweater or whatever. Or let's say that the person you're shopping for doesn't like things. They don't like clutter, they don't have the space, or they think Christmas and the holidays are materialistic and don't want another thing. Give them an experience! Give them a handmade invitation that's a voucher for dinner and a movie, or tickets to a museum, the zoo, or an aquarium. I've done this for a few people in my family, and it's always been very well received.

Do you have any shopping or gift-giving tips? I'm going to try and wrap up my own shopping tomorrow, as well as getting all of the holiday baking done for the office. I hope you have a lovely weekend! What's everyone up to?

- A


  1. Excellent guide! I've never commented before, but this is Chris from Cherry Hill (now living in Maryland), and I just wanted to say that these suggestions are brilliant. I hope I can come back next year and read it again for inspiration!

    1. Thanks, Chris! So glad you stopped by my little corner of the internet. Glad the suggestions were helpful!

  2. I really love the give experiences advice. I keep trying to figure out what experience I want to give to my sister this year. Last year it was Mardi Gras. I think I set the bar too high.

    1. That does seem difficult to measure up to, haha. Let us know what you come up with!

  3. You are speaking my language, Lady. But I did finally get that document scanner. This is the year of going paperless! Woo!

    1. Our conversation was part of the inspiration for this post!! I'm so glad you got the document scanner. FINALLY!


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