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Five Simple Steps to Give Holiday Gifts That Mean Something

Christmas, Entertaining, Home & Garden | December 12th, 2008 1 Comment

We may decry the materialism of the Western world’s version of Christmas, but I’ll be really honest: I like gifts. I like presents. I love seeing a beautifully wrapped gift with my name on it. I love the anticipation. I love that someone thought of me, remembered me, wanted to bring me joy with some thoughtful item.

Then I open the gift and find, oh, I don’t know, a toothpick holder shaped like a hedgehog, or a sweater in a color I never wear, or a picture frame that is completely incongruent with the way I decorate, or a box of white chocolate candy. I hate white chocolate.

Western Holiday Traditions May Need Tweaking

Misguided gift giving happens. It happens often. Sometimes it happens even though perfectly intelligent, well-meaning people (such as ourselves) think they are doing a pretty fair job of picking out presents, not going way over-budget, and having a balanced holiday celebration. Ah, the reality. If only we could step back and compare to something outside of our own culture. I’m not necessarily strong enough, or good enough, or objective enough to throw all the holiday traditions of my culture out the window. In fact, I like traditions (to a point). So my suggestion is to tweak the gift-giving tradition, rather than discard it altogether. Read on for my five simple steps to give more meaningful holiday gifts.

Step 1: Simplify The Gift List

Reduce you gift list into something that makes sense. No great-aunts and great-uncles and second cousins and friends from high school that you never really see. Are you still buying gifts for all of those people? Why? You don’t know them well enough anymore to know what they will like, appreciate, need, or hate and throw away as soon as they legitimately can. Instead of wasting your time, energy and money on a gift for someone you hardly see, spend a little extra on the loves of your life.

Step 2: Include Only Real Friends and Family Members

In other words, include people who meet these criteria:

You have a strong, current relationship with them;
You know a lot about them;
You see them on a regular basis;
And most importantly, you really like them.

Step 3: Spend More Time Thinking Than Shopping

What do most of us do when it comes time to buy holiday gifts? We run to the nearest mall or superstore and wander around, eyes glazed, mouth slightly open, purse dangling off one shoulder, ears buzzing from the muzak and the incessant cash-register beeping. We enter a shopping trance. We must find the PERFECT THING! Where is the PERFECT THING? Eventually we lose sight of the PERFECT THING and buy a lot of IT-WILL-HAVE-TO-DO THINGS.

Step 4: Make a List and Check it Twice

Brew a cup of your favorite coffee or tea. Sit down in a comfortable spot with your notebook and your simplified Christmas gift list. Then you think, and write, and maybe call up a friend or two, and chat, and drink another cup, and you end up with a list that looks like this:

  • Cathy: Loves knitting and sewing and all that crafty stuff I never figured out. She’s always talking about going on a trip to Jamaica, even though she will fry like a little lobster with her fair skin. She loves cinnamon-flavored anything, apples, cheese, and really slow, soulful music.
  • Brian: He just graduated with his degree in photography, but he isn’t sure now what he wants to do. He really like portrait photography but he is interested in photojournalism as well. He is living alone in his apartment now that his roommates also graduated and left and his girlfriend just moved to Seattle. I have no idea what kind of music he likes. He eats a lot of pasta – does he like it, or does he not know how to cook anything else? I know Skittles are his favorite candy. He needs new gloves; his have holes in them.

And your list will continue on, down the line, to cover the people you want to buy gifts for. You don’t have to write out full paragraphs for each person. You can brainstorm, jot down key words, draw pictures, write poetry, create collages, whatever. Have fun. Do your thing. When you get stuck, just call the person up and have a conversation. Don’t say: “I need ideas for your Christmas gift.” Just chat. Take notes while you chat.

Step 5: Be Simple and Thoughtful

Come up with some amazing, wonderful, stupendous, simple, only-you-could-do-it gift ideas from your gift notes. Forget “expensive” or “store-bought” or “perfect.” The point of a gift is to communicate love, thought, and appreciation, not dollar amount, shopping habits, and status symbols. Have a look at the gift ideas for Cathy and Brian.

  • Cathy: A new set of knitting needles and a skein of that really expensive yarn she never buys for herself; or maybe a great photo-travel-history book about Jamaica (and a bottle of sunscreen!); or a big jar of my homemade cinnamon applesauce; some artisanal cheeses from that little market downtown; or a CD I make for her of great slow, soulful music.
  • Brian: A pasta recipe book, or better, I’ll copy out my own best pasta recipes into a recipe book for him, and maybe include a few non-pasta but easy recipes too; a subscription to Photography magazine; maybe some movie tickets, and a big bag of skittles; or a few individual containers (frozen) of homemade chicken pot pie that he can heat and eat for dinner.

The better you know a person, the more ideas you will have. The more ideas you have, the more creative you can get. The best gifts I have ever received have always been the result of someone putting thought and time into me, who I am, not the result of someone plunking down lots of money for an item that looked pretty and shiny in the store.

Photo by: Saquan Stimpson/monstershaq2000.

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