It seems like such a simple thing, but Christmas gift-giving can be fraught with difficulties. (Photo credit: Mohamed Hassan/pxhere)

It seems like such a simple thing, but Christmas gift-giving can be fraught with difficulties. (Photo credit: Mohamed Hassan/pxhere)

The Editor’s Desk: Giving the perfect gift

How to pick your way through the holiday season gift-giving minefield

Ah, Christmas! That magical time of year when our rose-tinted ideas of what the season should be like run head-first into messy reality. For many people, this will be the first “normal” Christmas since 2019, and like anything you haven’t done for a while, you might be a bit rusty, particularly when it comes to gift-giving. Never fear; I’ve got your back.

Gift cards: A perennial source of controversy, with the “They’re so business-like!” types squaring off against the “But they can get what they want!” faction. For every person who loves giving and/or receiving gift cards, there is someone who thinks they’re only slightly less impersonal than just putting some cash in an envelope and calling it a day.

I’m in the “I like gift cards” category, myself, as long as the gift card is for a place I actually shop or eat at. Let’s face it, that’s not a difficult thing to find out about somebody, and it can save a lot of potential grief. Let’s take The Body Shop as an example.

Now, you might be in the position of buying a gift for a woman in your life, and you know she likes The Body Shop. So you stop in there, and are immediately overwhelmed by the variety. Unless you have access to her bathroom cabinet and/or shower, you might not know if she’s a tea tree oil kind of gal, or one who’d prefer something in the Vitamin E line. Does she like big scents, and the fruitier the better, or something more subtle? You have two choices: grab something and hope she likes it, or get a gift card and let her pick out what she wants. If you choose the latter route, you won’t be giving a “subtle scents” woman a bottle of satsuma body wash that she will never use in a million years.

The gift you really want: Humorist Peg Bracken said her family called certain types of gifts “sidesaddles”. These are the things you really want, or would appreciate, yourself, but that you get for someone else in the family: a book you want to read goes to your husband, a kitchen gadget you really want goes to your wife, the hockey enthusiast gets the whole family tickets to a Blazers game. There is a slight chance that the gift might also be appreciated by the recipient, but usually sidesaddles can be spotted a mile away.

Gifts for children: Be very, very sure about what you’re giving, especially with young children. They know precisely what they want, and they want it with the burning hot intensity of a million blazing suns, so going with a “surprise” gift is almost certainly going to backfire spectacularly, no matter how wonderful you thought the surprise gift was.

Gifts for co-workers: You don’t need me to tell you that workplaces are a bit less free-and-easy than they used to be in terms of gift-giving, which often takes the form of a “secret Santa”. The “secret” is a complete misnomer, of course: everyone will know precisely who gave what, so it’s crucial that you get this one right. Steer clear of “joke” gifts, or anything to which the word “whimsical” could be ascribed, or a gift that costs way more (or, even worse, way less) than the set limit.

Gifts for the hard to buy for: We all know at least one person who has downsized and doesn’t want any more “stuff”, or who has a very specific hobby and has already accumulated most of what they need, or who is just generally difficult to please. Here’s where (sorry, gift card haters) gift cards really come into their own. A possible alternative is a gift certificate for a one-of-a-kind shop or restaurant or place that might not do gift cards. These are often small, local retailers, and they will appreciate the business as much as the recipient will (it’s hoped) appreciate the gift.

Ah, Christmas! Remember: It’s better to give than to receive. Here’s hoping that when your gift recipients rip open the wrapping and say “Oh, but you shouldn’t have!” they mean it in the best possible way.

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