Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ungifted: A Christmas Conundrum

Ah, it is that magical time of year. The time of year where we stress out about what the hell to buy for everyone on our gift-giving list. From your kid's teacher to the mailman to your mother-in-law, everyone needs shopping-for. I don't mean to sound Scroogish. I love the trees and the lights and the snow and the family and the food! I just don't love the gift-buying process.


For one thing, you are usually expected to get a gift that costs around $10 to $20, and it has to be something physical, something someone actually wants, and something they don't already own. What $10 object does someone really want that they aren't going to already own? Also, who buys physical objects anymore? The cool stuff we used to buy each other in The Good Old Days is now all digitized. Think about it: books, music, and movies. Those were the perfect gifts, and they've all run off into the cloud. Unless you want to put a piece of paper with the gift code for the digital thing inside a box and wrap it, you're screwed. In general, I fully approve of storing all entertainment in the cloud and getting rid of 90% of household clutter, but this one aspect makes gift-giving much trickier.

Gift cards are, of course, an excellent option, and most people like receiving them. I know I do. But they're not that much fun to give. What you really want, when you give a gift, is the pleasure of seeing the other person's face light up with joy and recognition when they unveil that quirky-but-thoughtful thing you selected. Plastic just doesn't evoke this response, even if it is a $20 card to shop at Williams-Sonoma. (Hint: I will not turn down a gift card of any amount to Williams-Sonoma.)

My extended family has found one way out of this trap, which works because we live close enough to actually get together physically on Christmas day. We do a white elephant exchange. I love these, because the point of such gift exchanges is the laughter and the fun, not the stuff. But also, because you are able to exchange things with the other participants, you usually end up going home with something you want. (Or at least something you can give to someone else at the next white elephant, like this one. Or this. Or this. You're welcome.)

Redneck wine glass
Stocking stuffers are equally challenging. This year I told my kids we were only going to fill stockings, no more gifts under the tree, which they were totally cool with. (I have since broken that rule about 20 times; we will have packages under the tree. Of course.) My teenage daughter insists that nobody get her anything at all—she only wants people donating to this, her favorite charity, in her name, thank you very much. (She's in a bit of a Mother Theresa phase.) My tween son only wants gift certificates to Game Stop. But who cares what they want? It's not about them, it's about me, and I want/need to get them objects! After all, I have to put something in their stockings. This has been trickier every year. It was easier when they liked Matchbox cars and Polly Pocket.


So now I turn to crowdsourcing: what are your holiday-shopping tricks and tips? Have you figured out a way to stay creative and keep people happy without losing your mind or breaking the bank?

8 comments:

  1. I think your daughter's charity policy is laudable: kudos to her.

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  2. I've already started collecting 'stuff' for your birthday.

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    1. You are the best at finding stuff! :)

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  3. I remember the story on homemade gifts that you did for me once (I think it was you?) It sounded like Christmas was wonderful at your house....

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    1. Wow, good memory! We usually do a craft-thing or two, it's true. Soap-making and cookie-baking are pretty standard for us. We used to do a neighborhood exchange, and everyone had something special they created, but as those little kids have turned into teens, we've let it go. :/ (Although I'm holding out hope that I can get *all* the teens over to my house for a soap-making party before next Wednesday ...)

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  4. Kiva is an awesome organization. You have raised a good child. Still, one wants to give something in a box, right? I have this same issue. Not gonna call it a "problem," just an "issue" which is a step lower. All 3 kids got a gift card (funded by excessive reward points from my credit card company), but that was super-unsatisfying. Heck, I didn't even BUY the damn things. So one child got front &back bike lights so he doesn't get himself killed on the streets of Boston when he goes to work. Daughter, who in the past got frostbite on her toes from going on sub-zero runs, got some $20 wool socks, very nice. And other son actually wanted books, really good titles too, which I will borrow and read. A gift that gives back:)

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    1. Those sound like very practical gifts for a set of practical kids! And YES to the book thing ... both my kids have requested books I also want to read. Score! Going shopping at the locally-owned bookstore today. Can't wait!

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