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December 16, 2008

'Tis The Season For Hoping You Don't Get a Really Crappy Gift

Gifttag_copy Awhile ago I did a post on my personal blog about one of the worst gifts I had ever gotten.  People left me comments detailing their own gift nightmares, everything ranging from a woman who received a bathroom scale from her fiancé to another person who received $1.75 in change as a wedding gift.  This being the holiday season, I’ve been thinking about what really makes the perfect gift, and how everyone has their own opinion about the whole process of gift giving. All I know is that during the time when we should be celebrating joy and hope, the whole idea of Christmas shopping and having to find the perfect gift usually makes me feel like punching the first person I encounter in the mall.  I think you’re starting to get the picture.

Some people really put a lot of effort into finding that one special item for each recipient, and I envy you.  While you spend hours trolling the aisles of funky boutiques and one-of-a-kind stores looking for that beautiful piece of antique jewelry for your aunt, I’m heading to Costco to buy twelve of those jumbo cheese selections to give to half of the people on my gift list. Of course I always include a card that says, “I saw this and immediately thought of you” and it usually works, although I did get a strange look one time from my 80-year-old lactose-intolerant uncle. 

The thing with this technique is that you’ll find out who really knows you and who doesn’t.  For several years after I got a cat, a friend whom I’d known for many years gave me feline-themed items for every occasion – birthdays, Christmas, even my wedding anniversary.  I got earrings shaped like cats, calendars with a different cute kitten for every month, a few picture frames with cats pictures decoupaged onto them and sayings like, “You’re purrfect.”  The problem was, I wasn’t really a cat person.  Sure I was a cat owner, but that’s entirely different from the person who lives and breathes kitties and who would actually wear a sweatshirt with a Siamese appliquéd onto it. Oddly enough, the cat presents ceased after we got a goldfish, but for years I was bracing myself for an onslaught of sea-themed gifts.

Some people will only buy you a gift after asking exactly what it is you want, and while ruining the element of surprise I think this works the best.  I have a few friends and relatives who will ask for gift requests from me and my kids, but I will never send out gift lists unless specifically asked, especially those of my two daughters which usually contain up to a hundred items and are color-coded by desirability (I wish I was joking. Seriously – their lists are awesome in in an alarming, frightening way.)  Even then  I play coy for awhile, only answering with, “Whatever you get I’m sure they will love” until they keep asking and then I send them the URL of the item on Amazon.com, or give them the exact satellite coordinates of the item on a rack at Macy's. 

I think one of the tackiest things I've ever seen was a crazy system at one of the toy stores, where kids were given their own scanners and could run through the aisles aiming it at everything they wanted.  This information would then be emailed to as many addresses as you supplied them with.  This might be a convenient way to shop for some people, but what about the unsuspecting neighbor who was planning on buying little Johnny a Matchbox car and instead gets an email telling him that what Johnny really wants is a $600 motorized replica of the Batmobile? 

The most grievous method of gift giving is what I call The Gift Closet, named in honor of a friend who really did have a gift closet, a large armoire in her den that was filled with odds and ends and unwanted gifts.  She took re-gifting, and the art of the un-thoughtful gift to a new level.  If there was an occasion that required a present, she would look no further than those four shelves, searching half-heartedly through the stacks of boxed note cards, obscure books and a curious number of ceramic-handled hors d'oeuvres forks.  As you can imagine, this didn’t always prove to be the most efficient technique, as in the time she tried to convince me that a set of Playboy swizzle sticks was an appropriate gift to take to a baby shower. 

I’m not saying the idea of recycling gifts is a bad one.  In fact, I recently gave a lovely set of towels to my friend Julie for her birthday and she seemed to really like them and even bought my story that the ‘M’ monogram stood for ‘Mom.’  But beware becoming the friend who always shows up at an event with the dusty tin of cookies or the set of wine glasses that has a gift receipt taped to the box...from three years ago.  We've all been the recipient of one of those gifts, when you're excitedly opening that beautifully wrapped package on your birthday but are stopped dead in your tracks by the forgotten card inside the box that says “To Grandma – Happy Retirement!”

But in the end, I guess what I truly want to believe that it really is the thought that counts. A gift is merely just a token or a gesture, and doesn’t necessarily represent what a person thinks or feels about you.  And I'll keep telling myself that when I find that gift from my longtime friend under the tree on Christmas morning and unwrap it to find that set of handmade pot holders silkscreened with seahorses.

This is an original post to Los Angeles Moms Blog.

When she isn't stressing over what gifts to buy, Marsha posts on her personal blog Sweatpantsmom, things she likes over at Views From The Pants and skewers celebrities over on FameCrawler.

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