How to give great Christmas presents
Courtney Phelan | Wednesday, November 16, 2016
It’s officially halfway through November, which means that it’s close enough to Christmas for me to get excited without sounding too insane. I love and cherish Christmas, and excitedly wait for it every year. However, I am not one of those people from department store commercials who purchase new Christmas sweaters each year and mutilate Christmas carols to sing about the deals they got.
I love giving Christmas gifts, and birthday gifts and all types of gifts. And I’ve been told I’m a very good at giving gifts. And lucky for you, I’m going to tell you the secrets of my success. So in the spirit of the Magi, here it is — Courtney Phelan’s anecdotal guide to giving great Christmas presents:
First, clear your mind of any preconceived notions about giving gifts — even the notion that you have to give gifts. Gift-giving is never required; that would be taxation or bribery, not gift-giving. Of course, there are times when gifts are expected and recommended, but by their very nature, they cannot be required. If you do want to give someone a gift, but aren’t sure what, clear your mind of any ideas about what is or isn’t a good present.
Second, pay close attention to your friends and family — do they ever explicitly say that they “really need a new … ” or “keep forgetting to get … ” something? I actually have an iPhone note that I keep all year round. Whenever a friend says something about what they would want or need or I get some inspiration, I jot it down. My mother once spent most of October and November lamenting that our kitchen didn’t have any good rubber spatulas. On Christmas morning, she opened up a package of new rubber spatulas and was thrilled.
If none of your friends or family have made such announcements about what they’d like, move on to the third step: think. Think about the person you want to get a gift for. Are they the type of person who values little trinkets and keeps them in their bedside drawer, like I do, or will they be annoyed by “crap”? What do they spend their free time doing? What kinds of things do they wear or carry with them? Do they have any obsessions or infatuations, like an animal or a sports team?
If you can think of a beverage or food they enjoy, and a thing they like, you’ve got a present. My own roommate, for example, likes to sit and drink coffee out of big mugs. She loves dogs, specifically pugs, corgis and French bulldogs. Last Christmas, I got her a mug with a pug on it. Another friend of mine enjoys going out and spends her time with her three roommates in a tight-knit little squad. Two Christmases ago, I got four shot glasses and puffy-painted their initials on them. It cost me around $6 and they still use them today.
Going off that, my fourth piece of advice is to get crafty. Puffy paint, paint makers and Sharpies are your best friend. A simple object like a wine glass or a picture frame can become your wine glass or picture frame with a few words or symbols.
And lastly, keep it simple. Think about the gifts or gestures that have meant the most to you. Think about your drawer or your box of important things — what’s in there? Is it scarves and gift cards? Or is it hand-written notes, pictures and small objects that have been marked as important to you? Things like that can easily be created. Try printing off some pictures of you and giftee and writing notes on the back about how much you care for them or how fun that day was. It’s simple, yes, but things like that can be the most meaningful gifts, and they’re things your friend can look back on during tough times.
Remember that experiences, even simple ones, can be truly magical gifts. Christmas spirit at colleges is marred by final exams and stress, but you can use that to your advantage. If you know a day is going to be tough for someone, have their favorite food or drink waiting for them at the beginning or end of it. A bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese with a post-it note congratulating them on their hard work and scribble of a Christmas tree could very well be perfect.
Experience gifts do not have to be as big as concert tickets or as lame as coupon books. A nice-looking card or a note promising a nice dinner date or a trip to the zoo count. Just make sure to follow through on those promises if you make them.
Good gifts should say that you love them, either because you care enough to provide what they need, like the rubber spatulas, or because you’re giving them a reminder of why you love them, like the little notes I recommend. Keep a creative mind and an open heart when giving gifts, and they’ll know you love them.
And that’s my gift to you.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.