So … gift cards. The hip, hassle-free gift, the only thing that you KNOW your recipient will appreciate, etc.
In theory, I have no problem with gift cards. Newlyweds can head to Bed Bath & Beyond and purchase the exact items they need, freed from the burden of first returning three s’mores sets. Teenagers can purchase the songs they want, without the worry that some hipster relative has decided to help them “improve” their musical tastes.
In reality, gift cards have become a way for adults to simply swap money at Christmas.
It’s ridiculous. Adult A buys her daughter-in-law a $30 gift card for Barnes & Noble. DIL in turn buys her mother-in-law a $30 gift card for the Pottery Barn.
Two adults have just exchanged $30. Merry Christmas.
I know it’s a hassle to purchase Christmas gifts. But I think it’s a hassle mostly because the gift-giving has gotten out of hand, along with the season’s celebrations in general. We have unrealistic expectations for Christmas, and we buy spouses, children, siblings, in-laws, co-workers, nieces and nephews entirely too much stuff. (Note: When your small children have a meltdown on Christmas morning simply because they have run out of packages to hastily unwrap, you have bought them too much stuff and they are clearly overwhelmed. Rethink your generosity.)
Many times, giving someone a gift card means that you simply haven’t been paying attention. People eat. They drink. They watch TV and listen to music. Many wear jewelry (not necessarily the expensive stuff). They wear bathrobes and slippers. They cook. They read.
Afraid you’re going to get someone the wrong thing, or a duplicate of something they already have? Include a gift receipt. (I am continually amazed, BTW, at the number of people who will pretty much hand someone cash in lieu of a gift, but refuse to enclose a gift receipt when they have actually purchased a gift. What is that?)
I LIKE finding the perfect gift for somebody. I get a little shot of adrenaline when I realize that someone I care about has inadvertently dropped a hint, whether they’re complaining about an item that needs replacement, pondering something new they’d like to try, or describing something they love and would like to have more of.
When I try to name gifts that I remember most, the list doesn’t have a single gift card on it. It includes things like the set of springform pans my mom got me the year she heard me saying I’d like to learn to make cheesecake. It also includes a fun, funky old vase my mother-in-law picked up at a garage sale and decided was perfect for me. To this day, I can’t open a bag of Cafe L’Orange coffee from the Fresh Market without thinking of a friend in Mobile who would give me a pound of it without fail on birthdays and at Christmas. Never mind that it wasn’t some rarity that I couldn’t get for myself. He knew I loved it and would appreciate it – in short, he paid attention. A $10 gift card to the Fresh Market wouldn’t have carried the same message.
Truthfully, the gift I’d like most to share with friends and family is the gift of time, a few laid-back hours to talk and eat and drink and just enjoy one another’s company, without the zero-sum exchange of money that Christmas gift-giving has become.
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