Sunday, December 6, 2009
You know those Secret Santa group gift exchanges, where each person gets the name of one other person, and buys a gift for him or her? And then you get the name of someone you barely know?
Or do you know someone who has a collection of "emergency" or "just in case" or "stand-by" gifts stashed away? Is that person you?
Both of these situations can lead to the generic-gift problem. If you give a generic gift, how likely is it that the gift will be something the recipient will enjoy? I've looked at some of the standard suggestions for such gifts, and few of the items would be a good gift for me, personally.
Candles: I have cats. They jump everywhere. You understand the problem.
Flowers: I have cats. They jump everywhere. They think flowers are toys, and drag them all around the house. (And some plants are poisonous.)
Picture frames: I just don't use them.
Chocolate: Yummy, but not so good for someone watching her calories. (OK, a couple pieces of a really good chocolate would be a nice splurge. But a bigger box of not-so-special chocolate is another matter.)
Scented soaps: Hit or miss. Your taste in scents and my taste in scents might match, or might not. I've been given soap that I just adore - but the person giving it had heard me comment on how much I liked one she had in her home. Someone who doesn't know me isn't nearly as likely to find a good match.
Scarves: Another hit or miss. I've had my colors done, and know which ones work best for me. Do you?
Gift cards: Hit or miss again. Do you know I strongly prefer independent bookstores to the big chains? Do you know which coffee shops I like, and which I try to avoid?
Gift certificate for a massage: Great, assuming it's anywhere within a reasonable distance! But who gives a generic gift that costs that much?
Of course I understand and appreciate the generous impulse behind the gift-giving, and will always accept a gift with gratitude, appreciating the thought if not the gift itself. (And I can always find another good home for anything I don't want to keep.) But are there other ways to handle this type of holiday gift-giving? Yes, there are.
1. Instead of a Secret Santa gift exchange, try a white elephant gift exchange - where all participants bring something useless they already own. No one spends any money, everyone declutters a tiny bit - and even if you get a useless item in return, you're no worse off than you were before. And I've never seen a white elephant gift exchange that didn't get everyone laughing.
Another option: Get the group to adopt a family instead of giving gifts among themselves.
2. Decide it's OK for someone to give you a gift, and for you to not give one in return. Perhaps the other person loves to make her special pumpkin bread and give it to everyone she knows. That's great; she's doing what makes the holiday season special for her. Thank her, and enjoy the treat! You don't need to have the same inclinations; your favorite holiday traditions may be totally different.
I don't want this post to make me sound like a grumpy Scrooge; I happen to love giving gifts. But for me the joy is in finding something that seems ideal for someone I care about. My best friend and I have a tradition I like; if we happen to find a "perfect gift" we buy it; if not, we don't buy anything. Because we both have plenty of stuff.
Photo from a white elephant gift exchange: