I have usually made out pretty well as a holiday gift recipient. I can't complain about the tradition of gift giving in my family (except for that time I got a vacuum cleaner for my birthday and wept quietly, for it was clear I was being seen as an adult): If you make clear what you want, you'll get it. The trouble is, once you can buy for yourself anything you want, and once you learn that consumer products can never fill the sucking black hole in your chest where your heart used to be, there isn't any point in making a list. Even at the point of a sword, no one can give you what's gone forever. As Inigo Montoya said to the six-fingered man, "I want my father back, you son of a bitch."
And so I declared forthwith the establishment of Rule #1: I refuse to make a list.
Shortly thereafter I formulated Rule #2: If you have a list, I will probably ignore it.
If I have to ask you what to give you, I'm being incredibly lazy, or I just don't care; and vice-versa.
But this ritual is one of the last vestiges of the family we once were. I can't opt out. So I choose to be a force for change. I decided not to ask anyone what they want. I give them what I want them to have. It's a bit like the MTV business model: as we learned from an edition of Frontline (the PBS current events series) titled "The Merchants of Cool", we promote what we have to sell, not necessarily what the audience wants, and that is an important distinction. But not totally. I think about each recipient, what I know of them, their hobbies and habits, and shop accordingly. I feel this makes for a more meaningful ritual.
- A and B (a married couple) like puzzles. I will give them a beautiful wooden puzzle made by Artifact Puzzles and a fruitcake (a good fruitcake, I promise!).
- C is in the publishing business. She's getting an "Ex Libris" stamp block (with ink pad) made by a guy who sells them in the town market.
- D likes to cook. He's getting something for the kitchen, I don't know what yet. Maybe a pineapple corer.
- E is elderly. She's getting a card. A very nice card! And mince pies.
My general guidelines are:
- Keep it simple
- People like unique (handwoven mittens?) or timely gifts (like a copy of The Hobbit if they haven't read it, since the film is coming out this season)
- Try to find something locally produced
- Don't go out of your way, it isn't necessary or expected
- Don't give something you yourself would hate to receive (the golden rule)
- I read somewhere that people enjoy consumable gifts (food, tickets to a show) more than persistent ones
If all else fails, a cool card will do fine! I have seen some very neat 3-dimensional pop-ups and cards that have stereoscopic lenses and images (like a View-Master, but just one picture).
- gifts for their cats and dogs
- coffee table books
- ordinary household items
- AS SEEN ON TV
- clichés (ties, perfume)
- anything passive-aggressive, suggestive of future life choices - get married! have a baby!, and otherwise critical. I don't care if you did give birth to them, you can take your opinion and shove it back up in there.
- movies, music
- gift cards (uh geez, thanks, boss)
Of course, rules are made to be broken. Take it with a grain of salt!