Monday, December 13, 2010

The Best Gift Of All

It's the most wonderful time of the year...for crappy gifts and hurt feelings.  No matter how much we talk about it, or read about it, there always seems to be some glitch in the gift giving process.  The Guilt Trip curtesy of your mother-in-law, the Material Trip coming from your kids, or maybe it is the Useless Gift coming from your spouse.  We still laugh at the year my dad gave my mom a square egg maker-as if the eggs taste different when they change shape.
Thanks to a person in my life who shall remain nameless (even though they claim to never read this, it is a public space), I have been elevated to "EXPERT OF CRAPPY GIFTS".  That is my official title after "Head Maid" my kids bestowed on me.  For many years in a row, I got horrible things-things that made me growl and howl at the injustice of it all.  But when all is said and done, I learned a couple valuable lessons from "Gertrude", that I am now passing onto the rest of the world.

A. Gift Giving isn't about the giver, it is about the receiver.  Sometimes we feel pressured by business, sometimes we feel pressured by social customs, but either way, when I pick out a gift, it isn't about me.  Truly think about the person you are buying for-what do they like?  What would make them smile?  What floats their boat?  I have stood in line for over 30 minutes to buy my mom perfume I think stinks, but mom loves it.  I have searched high and low for Oregon State Univ. items for my black and orange husband, even though I cheer on their rivals, the Univ. of Oregon Ducks.  It is always with the same motto in mind-what will make the other person happy.
B.  Every year, I seem to get a request for "what's on my list", whether it be in jest (George Clooney), or seriousness (World Peace), or affordable (books).  Right after that, I get the complaint from Gertrude,"lists are so impersonal-I want to get something special."  The first time I heard that, I thought it was sweet-like going above and beyond the duty of buying and putting something extra special in the whole process.  Now when I hear that from her, or anyone else, I cringe.  Very few of us claim to have psychic powers, and even those that make the claim admit the power can be sketchy at times (no lottery winners amongst that bunch).  Unless you are absolutely sure, stick to the list.  Now when someone says "I am not using their list", what I hear is, "I could give a rats ass what they want."  When you purchase something using a list, you are getting someone what they want.  What can make a person happier than that-getting what they want?  It is a shoo-in for happiness, and you blow it by assuming your ego can out think the gift recevieree (okay, maybe that is not a word but it sounds good.)  There is no shame in sticking to a list-it means you care to get someone something they want and if you think I am repeating myself , you would be right.  Stick to the list!  Make someone happy!
C. Now, what if you don't have a list?  It happens, and it is no reason to panic.  Some families like to go off the fly, and sometimes it is a work party.  However, put on your thinking cap, and use some self-honesty.  My first piece of advice still holds true-the gift is NOT about you.  What makes most people happy?  Food?  Luxuries?  World Peace?  (My second mentioning of that-let me know if you can make it happen.)  Think about what you ALWAYS get at little parties (ie. bridal and baby showers) and do the exact OPPOSITE!  No more candles, no more bookmarks, no more teachers dirty looks...or something to that effect.  My favorite "go to" gifts are gift certificates/cards.  They get a lot of flak because people forget to use them...not my problem.  Somehow I have NEVER had a problem collecting free stuff.  Starbucks is popular, and I wouldn't sneer at their gift card.  Baskin and Robbins is great for gift certificates because they come in $2 increments-great for a tight budget and their ice cream is yum yum yummy.  Think locally too though-the mom/pop theater is another one of my favorites.  Locally is always nice, and the buzzword right now, but don't worry if it ins't practical.  When I sent a wedding gift out of town, it was much easier to get a gift card to a chain I knew we both could get to, rather than research what was available in an area had I never been too. 
D. People seem to think that gifts should scream individuality, life long purpose, and the best thing since sliced bread.  But the truth is, we are really just bringing brief moments of thoughtfulness.  I said it once before, however it bears repeating-truly stop and think about the person you are buying for.  The year my aunt and uncle moved to a new town, we got the them gift certificates to three different restraunts.  They loved trying new places.  My sister and I both love receiving our zoo passes, a place we couldn't afford to continually take our children otherwise.  One of the best gifts I ever got was a used book, with writing all over the front page.  A very hard to find book, Katie knew the series was one of my favorites, and picked out the book as a bridal gift for me.  (Okay, that wasn't on any list, but I didn't know it existed-score A LOT for Katie's psychic powers.)  Also, in this tight economy, think about the little things people need, or the little luxuries they might enjoy but are scrimping on.  Pedicures and Starbucks are just plain fun, but for someone on a very tight budget, they might really appreciate stamps or public bus tickets.  Those things aren't fancy, but when money is so tight you are debating between those bus tickets or some groceries, the strain of not having to worry about those items for a few months is a gift in and of itself.
(If you noticed a pattern to the above gifts, gold star by your name.  Not one thing I mentioned is "stuff".  Most of us have the things we need-another decorative snowman or Menorah is NOT what I need, and lots of you are in the boat.)
E. A quick word on homemade gifts.  Every year, Martha Stewart and magazines trot out homemade gifts as the cure to all Christmas woes.  They aren't.  For one, we all have a Gertrude on our list who is not happy unless you hand them the moon.  And while I am not upset when I don't meet Gertrude's "demands", I can understand her aversion to homemade gifts.  I once made my aunt a bracelet from yarn, in part to show my kids how great homemade gifts can be.  Yep-the braclelet looked like what it was-yarn in knots.  Plus, unless you are Bob Villa or Martha Stewart, what you make will not look nearly as good as you think it should.  If you are crafty and can make things look special go for it, but for the rest of us with 9 thumbs and a pinkie, the amount of time, money, and effort it takes to make something homemade, it would be just as much fun to invite someone over for a "drinking" buffet and call it good. A nice time out is never out of style and spending time with people is a great "gift" idea. (I did this-rather than make myself cook, I invited people to just relax and hang out.  I offered hot cider, a bottle of wine, some water, beer, wine coolers, punch, milk, and some type of juice.  WAAYYY easier, gave me time to chat, and clean up was a BREEZE!)

So, after an article like this, people always want to know what was the best gift, and worst gift I ever received?  Well, luckily, the best gift is to hard to nail down to just one.  I got ski's when I was 13-I was so excited to get them I fractured my ankle and had to wait almost 2 months before I got to use them.  And my first Christmas with my new boyfriend (now graduated to husband), instead of getting me jewelry like his friends told him too, he got me this really nice book I had wanted.  He and the book were a keeper-I hate jewelry.  I am sure the first gift my kids truly pick out will put a tear in my eye.
The worst gift I got is much easier.  I won't describe it here-it is too distinctive and the person who gave it to me would recognize it.  And the item itself isn't bad-it is on the expensive side and many people would enjoy it.  When it was handed to me, all wrapped up on Christmas Eve, the Giver said to me "I know Dena won't like it." WOW. Nothing makes you feel respected and well-liked as knowing the person is purposely handing you a gift they know you won't like.  Did you shop long and hard for that, or did it come to you out of the blue?  That is when I learned that if you really want to make someone's holiday special, shop and give with the receiver in mind.

Regardless of what you are celebrating this time of year, may your days be merry, your evenings cheery, and family and friends by your side.  Best Wishes to all.