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Giving With Meaning Nine Hints to Keep in Mind when Shopping for Presents

Veena Thomas

In recent years, society has deemed it socially acceptable to kick off the holiday season the day after Thanksgiving. For those ambitious enough to battle a post-Thanksgiving hangover and rise at 6 a.m., early-bird shopping opportunities abound. Many major department stores advertise sales -- “Up to 50 percent off!” -- for those bleary-eyed shoppers who want to get a head start on their holiday shopping. What could be more fun than cavorting around a mall in the early morning listening to piped-in Christmas Muzak more than a month in advance of the holiday, carrying whining Junior as he presents his list of his fifty “must-have” toys of the season?

Everyone knows by now that the real meaning of the season has been lost amongst the consumerism and commercialism enveloping December. Gift shopping for friends, acquaintances, and enemies has become merely another chore and a hassle. Few people want to do it anymore. Short of starting an anti-gift-giving movement, there’s no escape. You can, however, rebel against the commercialism and attempt to put some meaning into the gift-giving gesture.

Not sure what to get your long-lost cousin twice removed? How about your ex-boyfriend’s roommate? Resist the urge to shop the day before and give them all traveler’s checks. With a little practice, and a few words of advice, you too can be revered by your friends as a thoughtful gift-giver.

Hint #1: Avoid trendy gifts. Anyone almost run over by one of the new Razor Scooters has probably learned to hate fads. From scooters and Pokeman to Beanie Babies and Tickle-Me Elmos, fads are a perennial shopper’s nightmare.

It’s the same story each holiday season. At least one brand new product compels cranky mothers to wait in line at 6 a.m. for the latest shipment in order to please obnoxious Junior. He will, in turn, play with his new toy for approximately fifteen minutes before casting it aside and becoming enthralled with the cardboard box in which it was packaged. Save yourself the trouble. Instead, you can be the wise one who refused to buy a pet rock because you knew they weren’t going to go anywhere (pun intended).

Hint #2: While it might seem foolproof to ask someone “What do you want?” and then purchase it for them, this is not always the best strategy. First of all, this does not demonstrate anything about your gift-giving talents except that you possess normal hearing. It shows little creativity and little effort on your behalf. Secondly, try this with your girlfriend, and you risk her pouting, “Well, I said I wanted that, but if you really knew me, you would have known what I really wanted!” Don’t fret, however -- if someone really does know specifically what he wants, and you’re pressed for ideas, give it to him. At least you know he won’t throw it away.

Hint #3: The ideal gift connects the giver to the recipient in some fashion. This could be through a shared activity, a common interest, or an inside joke. Find something that represents the bond that you two share. If you’re not quite sure what that bond is, buy something -- anything -- and enclose a card with a nicely written explanation of how exactly that shoe buffer reminds you of that funny time when the two of you ....The person might be a bit puzzled by the gift, but they’ll appreciate the thought you put into picking the perfect shoe buffer. People like to feel that human connection.

Hint #4: Avoid boring generic gifts. Getting your best friend a bath set screams out “You don’t mean that much to me -- I couldn’t put the effort into thinking up a real gift for you, so I got you whatever was on sale at K-mart.” If you’re really pressed for ideas, like a Secret Santa gift for your scary suitemate you’ve only seen twice, at least get them something suitably funky. Who wouldn’t like one of those pin desk sculptures you can use to make impressions of your face? Plus there’s the risk and danger factor involved -- you could poke your eye out. How exciting!

Hint #5: Be careful about “regifting.” You probably don’t want all of the page-a-day calendars you receive as generic gifts from people to whom you don’t mean that much, but be careful when you try to give them away. Make sure your sister doesn’t tell the recipient an hour before she opens your gift that you received an abundance of calendars for Christmas. Trust me when I say this situation won’t end well.

Hint #6: Women like diamonds. When in doubt, get her diamonds. She’ll love you forever.

Hint #7: Avoid the obvious. Does she like U2? Don’t get her their latest CD for the holidays. As wonderful as the CD may be, if she’s a huge fan, she probably already has it. If she doesn’t have it, she’ll probably receive four copies of it from everyone else who also thought it was the perfect gift. Do your part and make sure she has one fewer copy to return.

Hint #8: Don’t get your dad ties or socks. Chances are your dad is now in his fifties. By this stage in his life, he probably has all the socks and ties he can handle. Besides, think of all that he has done for you over the years. Shouldn’t you get him something a bit more meaningful than a sock?

Hint #9: Resist the urge to get your brother whatever you want for Christmas, with the plan that he can enjoy it until you return to school, at which point it’s yours. He won’t appreciate it. If you’re not careful, he’ll do the same to your really cool gift next year.

By following these simple rules to gift-giving, you can get through this holiday season stress-free and adored by those to whom you’ve bestowed gifts.

Help others not as enlightened as you -- make up a wish list of a few specific things you’d like, in case someone asks, in order to make their shopping easier. I’ve already started. See Hint #6.