My favorite part of Christmas has always been giving gifts. In my teen years, I happily took over the “Santa” duties, frequently teasing family members with hints of what I had gotten them. The build up is my favorite part, waiting for that moment when their face lights up with surprise. Perhaps that’s one reason I love celebrating Advent and St. Nicholas Day in the weeks before Christmas, it builds anticipation for everything we hold dear about the holiday. If you find yourself dreading Christmas shopping (or any present shopping, for that matter), I’m sharing my top tips on how to be a great gift giver and actually enjoy the entire process. But first, we need to address …
The Problem with Gift Giving Today
I tend to take a different view of modern gift giving. While it’s true that we should be thankful for those who remember us when the holidays come around, it’s becoming a frequent habit that we pick something up out of politeness, just to get that last name off the recipient list without any care at all for the whole person getting the gift. I frequently say that I would rather get a hand written card with well wishes than a plastic bauble that was picked out in 10 seconds. “It’s the thought that counts!” doesn’t hold a lot of water when the thought was, “Be grateful your name even made my gift list.”
The Wisdom of Children
The greatest inspiration for me comes from the giving and generous nature of young children. Watch them painstakingly craft a handmade card and present it with a great big grin. Staring at a wall of items with $5 in their hand, mulling over each thing to find something they’re sure you’ll love. These gifts may not seem grand by outward appearances, but kids tend to put a ton of care into what they give to others and they genuinely want to see the recipient be happy. Gifts don’t need to be expensive or fancy, they just need some thought.
My advice generally applies to those who are close to you and you cherish their presence in your life. I think it’s great when people have the ability to give small gifts to everyone they know – coworkers, a favorite hair stylist, extended family who are never around, acquaintances, etc. – they’re not the people I’m talking about here. While I would discourage the buying of plastic dollar bin baubles for environmental reasons, there’s nothing wrong with buying a simple gift, especially in bulk, to give to those folks without putting a ton of thought into it.
My Gifting Philosophy
My thought process usually begins months ahead of any holiday or event. This is so I have time to change my mind if I find it’s not really an appropriate gift or come up with multiple options depending on what my budget will be when the time comes. Doing your planning early also helps if you want to do an activity as the gift so you have extra time to pull everything together.
Gift giving should always begin with the recipient’s values in mind. Some people really love frivolous, whimsical things no matter how impractical. Other people really only want practical gifts. Still yet there are others who ride the line and want something fun, but only if it’s practical. There are all manner of personalities in between. It’s not necessary to nail down exactly how a person feels, but take a few moments to think about this before moving on.
The best place to start is picking out something useful for the recipient. Pay attention to complaints or daily activities the recipient might struggle with. While there’s totally nothing wrong with socks if that person is in desperate need of socks, don’t get stuck on needs only. A massage is a very useful thing to give, even if a person would be fine without one. Going with a useful gift is a safe bet because even if the gift isn’t that great and not perfectly tailored to someone’s personality, everyone is thankful for something that makes life easier. Don’t completely abandon thinking about the recipient’s personality though. Some people would be enormously thankful for a new vacuum cleaner, other people would just as soon chuck it at your head for reminding them of chores!
Memories & Experiences
If nothing works there, another pretty safe bet is to think about things meaningful to the person. Childhood memories, things that were lost or broken, unfulfilled wishes, etc. While this is a safe bet, it’s a lot harder to do because it requires either a good memory or a lot of research. If you can’t think of anything off the bat, try talking to other relatives or old friends, ask questions about the recipient’s past, or look through their stored boxes with them.
When all else fails, start thinking about personality traits, interests, likes and dislikes, or defining characteristics. It’s especially nice to go with things you enjoy about the recipient so it’s meaningful for both of you. Just be careful not to confuse a gift you would like with what the other person would like just because you share an interest. Again, dive into some research if nothing comes to mind easily. Talk to other people, pay attention to things the recipient stops and looks at when you’re out together, maybe even take a peek while they’re on the computer, or if you’re particularly close, their browsing history. Pinterest is actually a great place for this sort of thing because you can not only research easily, but you can also drop some big hints for someone else. Find a theme and look up anything that would fit. As an example, my husband collects Transformers, but instead of just getting him another toy, there are board games, art pieces, books, clothing, or what I finally went with one year was completing his tattoo set.
Another option is to give an experience instead of a physical gift. Memories will last a lifetime, but many physical gifts will not.
Have Fun and Give from the Heart
One last note: gift giving is not entirely about the recipient. While you shouldn’t confuse your own values, feelings, and interests with those of the person you’re giving a gift to, you should still honor your personality and what matters most to you. I really enjoy the struggle of finding the right gift, figuring out the puzzle, and the thrill of the chase. But not everyone does and gift giving should never be a chore. If figuring out a gift for someone is causing you huge amounts of stress, readjust your approach. Gifts are about expressing your love and care for another person and that expression can come in many, many forms.
Does gift giving overwhelm you every year? What are some ways you can eliminate the stress and bring more joy into the process?