I’ve been around for a few Christmases now. I know how it works. I’m not taken by surprise when December 25th rolls around and gifts are exchanged. When I was just a child and had little money and just as little experience, I found successful gift giving to be a near impossible challenge. So, as a child, I took solace in the cliche of “It’s the thought that counts.” As an adult, I’ve come to view that statement as an excuse.
Here’s what makes a good gift: 1) You give it of your own volition. 2) It suits the recipient. 3) It is appropriate to the relationship between yourself and the recipient. There are some additional factors that bumps up a good gift to a great gift: 4) The recipient wouldn’t get that gift for themselves, but would like. 5) The gift is one that the recipient wouldn’t have thought would suit them; it’s a surprise!
You’ll note that there are several things I don’t list above. Does it have to be for an occasion? Nope. Does it have to be on time for an occasion if that is why you’re giving the gift? Not necessarily. Does the gift giver get anything back? Doesn’t matter. Should the person who’s getting the gift deserve it? Again, that doesn’t matter.
The point of a gift is that it is a thing that you give to a person to whom you want to express your feelings. If you don’t want to bestow a present on someone, then you’re going to find it almost impossible to give that person something good. I firmly believe that if you don’t really want to express your positive feelings toward a person, then any gift you give them is just a lie.
Since the point is that you’re expressing some fondness towards the receiver of this gift, your gift should reflect something of that person, displaying your recognition of some characteristics in this person who means something to you. If you don’t know a person well enough to know what would make them happy to receive, then your gift won’t be that great. It’s very easy to fall victim to the mother syndrome of gift giving: well, little Suzy may not like it, but she could really use this home electrolysis kit for that upper lip of hers. That horrible tendency to give what you think a person needs or deserves can result in your receipt of the gift of a slap to the face. Just as bad as the mother’s approach is the mooching brother’s technique of gift giving: I’ll give my sister a new toy machine gun, so that if she doesn’t like it, at least I’ll want to use it! Again, this foolish approach has cleft families in twain. These very important truths can be ameliorated by point #3, but it’s a dangerous line to walk. The point of this paragraph is that the present you give should be one that the other person would like, regardless of your own opinions on the matter.
The third point is really the greatest consideration to your gifts; it is your relationship with the other person that matters. If you give your mother a hand painted ceramic napkin holder, she might really like it because it shows that you really don’t hate her after all. If you give that same gift to your best friend, then I hope you can play it off as a gag gift or it may end up shoved in your ear. Now, if you’re close enough to someone, you may have some success in giving a gift that you’d like. Your favorite book or your favorite art might appeal to your best friend … but not if you’re opposites who just happen to get along. Regardless of your method of choosing a gift, you also have to make sure that the message that gets delivered along with the gift is one that’s appropriate to the relationship you have with the gift getter. An elliptical trainer might be fine for your sister if the both of you together have been trying to get in better shape recently. It would not be so good for a typical woman you just started dating. A nice necklace can be appreciated by almost any woman you date, but not so good for the woman that one of your friends is dating. If your boyfriend could really use a nose-hair trimmer, you’d be better off getting him a subscription to a general men’s magazine like Men’s Health than the device itself — unless you really don’t want him ever to look you in the face again. And for crying out loud, don’t give a special gift to someone on whom you have an inappropriate crush. Nobody’s fooled when you give your sister’s boyfriend the video game system he’s been saving up for. Everyone knows that means you’re a harlot.
This also brings up the question of cost. Here’s an equation I made up: SUM of [ (awesomeness of gift x 2) + cost of gift ] >= how much you value that person * your yearly salary / 1000. So, let’s say you make $50,000 a year. Let’s say you value your girlfriend an arbitrary amount of 50. Then, twice the (made-up) awesomeness value of your gift, plus the cost of the gift, should be greater than or equal to $250. If you only make $20,000 a year, but you value your significant other the same amount as above, then your dollar amount should equal $100. This makes the awesomeness an important consideration. If you can come up with a super awesome gift, then it doesn’t matter how much it costs. This might sound ridiculous, but try to think of someone for whom you have no problems getting a gift and then put in some numbers to make the equation work for you. So long as the rest of your numbers are scaled appropriately, this should allow you to figure out some good guidelines for your expenditures. And if you have no problems with figuring out amazing gifts, then none of this matters anyway.
Greatness in gift giving is really tough to achieve. It’s easier to give an example of the last two points I listed than to try to explain them. One of the best gifts I ever got was a TiVo from Carrie. Before I owned one, I thought it was a foolish waste of money since I was perfectly capable of programming a VCR and reading TV listings on my own. I would never have bought one for myself. But the first month or so of use lead me to realize that as an avid television watcher, this was the keystone to my entertainment life that I had been missing all along without realizing it. Some things that the TiVo demonstrates are factors in greatness of presents are: the giver has to know the recipient well enough to know their day to day routines, their little annoyances in life, their unrequited wishes, and their priorities. It helps if the gift giver enjoys exploring stores and the internet to find out about tons of different possible gifts. It also helps to get involved with and understand the activities of that person to whom you want to give gifts.
Now, I’ve been pretty dirt poor in years past, and at some of my worst times in the red I realized that I could give cards instead of presents. Especially for people whom I like enough to remember but not so much that I’d rather spend money on them than on food. The act of taking time to find an appropriate card and maybe even writing a little personal note can really, surprisingly, move people when they open those cards up. The same considerations apply as for gifts, but on a smaller scale. I like to find cards that are funny or touching in ways that would appeal to each of my friends, individually. I even make cards, sometimes, if I think they would be well-received.
So, let’s say that you try to take all of this advice (or someone else’s advice) to heart and you put lots of effort into giving a gift and it’s still a present that’s not loved by that person in the TO: section of the gift tag. Well, at that point, and only at that point, the thought does count. The distinction here is that you acted on your thoughts. Anyone can sit around and have grand ideas, but acting on them shows that your affection for that person to whom you gave the gift was enough for you to overcome the momentum of the laziness that affects us all. In a way, the effort you put in might be the most significant gift of all.
These words I’ve written cost me some time and some effort. I wanted to write them because I know I have some friends who have a hard time shopping at Christmas. I’m not forcing this on anyone so people who choose to read this blog are interested in my thoughts on the matter. I send these words out into the world for all the people who matter to me, and maybe for some people who would matter to me if I met them. I don’t know how well this article will be received, but I hope you all liked it. It’s a small gift from me to you. Merry Christmas!