Christmas is approaching with big steps and it's only a few days till the most awaited holiday of the year.
Christmas, of course, is about the birth of Jesus - the leader of Christian religious beliefs; however, gifts have become a crucial part of it over the past centuries and I daresay most people associate gift-giving mostly with Christmas - apart from advent calendars or Christmas crackers, perhaps...
As the days to buy last-minute-presents are counted, I thought I could do a little piece on giving gifts, what works and what probably doesn't. I deem myself to be a rather gifted gift-giver and I really enjoy the process of it - compared to most people, as I observe. Honestly, I have never understood why buying gifts puts so much pressure on people because it takes the whole fun out of it if you perceive it as a stressful and dutiful task, so let's see if my ponders on the whole idea may help you become more relaxed yourself.
My recommendation for gifts is a) not only to look for presents around Christmas. Look all year round and buy immediately when you find something you deem a perfect match for someone. You will thank yourself at Christmas, believe me, and b) start to listen closely to what people talk about around Christmas. Listening can help you a big deal to figure out what would be a nice gift for the person to be gifted, and it is a nicer way to find out about their wishes than plainly asking them.
The first step for Christmas gift-giving is to think about who belongs to which circle. We all have a nuclear group of to-be-gifted and a wider (second) circle. Some friends may belong to the nuclear circle and their gift may be more exclusive and thought-through, whereas some friends counted rather as acquaintances can also be skipped in some years when they are abroad, etc, etc.
My first rule when it comes to gift-giving is to buy when I see something fitting, especially regarding people from the second circle. I know this sounds hard, but I'd rather have nothing than something completely impersonal and random (which is, actually, so not true because I love being given random things even though they might only gather dust, but nothing is never good, however, I'm trying to be economic and mature here, so bear with me).
Sometimes I simply won't find anything fitting for this person and I forego the task of buying them a present because nothing clicks. Of course, it might be this person has got something for you, which brings me to rule number two.
Don't give to be given. Gift-giving should be an entirely selfless act and even if general politeness suggests it's a exchange process (I HATE general politeness), I don't want to feel deterred to give something to someone because I fear they might not have thought of me. Maybe they adhered to rule one and couldn't find the perfect match. Do not take it personal or, even worse, desist from buying another gift for this person out of personal offendedness. Most likely, the person will have a bad conscience anyway for not having something to offer back, but I think that should be alleviated as best as possible. You give a gift because you want to, not because you have to or ask anything back - or else you haven't understood the whole idea of gift-giving altogether.
But what exactly can you buy for your loved ones this Christmas? Well, the details you must know on your own, but I can provide some suggestions which most likely work. Generally, I daresay women are much easier to gift when it comes to not knowing exactly what to buy because a bottle of expensive perfume, a basket with scented candles and oils, tasteful jewelry or a nice scarf will always do the trick. As for men, I have had my problems over the years as well, but with a good bottle of whisky or gin, a watch or (in these metrosexual days) a perfume might work as well.
Another good option for girls, especially younger sisters or nieces, is Pandora. Pandora sells little charm bracelets to which you can add little charms. Now, investing in such a present is clever because you will know what to get for the rest of the next seven to ten years.
What also works in this section is nail polish, makeup boxes, lovely scarves and shawls or posh leather gloves (in the best case given with a matching scarf). I wouldn't know of a girl not enjoying any of these mentioned gifts, so if you don't too, you should be ready to go for Christmas.
Shopping for the mother-in-law can be a really tricky undertaking because you might want to find the perfect gift; however, showing a person you thought of him/her is a really great gift in itself, so keep it simple and don't overthink it. I usually buy some nice baskets with exclusive oils or scented candles, one year I bought a scarf, or simply a beautiful plant (always potted, never plucked).
Hand-made gifts are a recurring trend, too (mostly among those with little cash to shed) but they can make wonderful, personalised gifts. I love baking and often I put something baked into a box of gifts (obviously, you have to plan ahead with things like these and cannot prepare it weeks and weeks in advance.
A great way to make something yourself without having to bake on the 24th are hand-made chocolates. You can prepare them in advance, wrap them nicely and the person will have a personalised box of chocolates. However, bear in mind that making chocolates is a tedious task and, not sugarcoating anything here, a complete and utter mess in your kitchen.
Hand-made things can also include crocheted products, knitwear, woodwork or anything else you are talented in. Last year, I gave a friend a bound book of my Taste of Britain book because she had previously mentioned she wanted to write down the most interesting articles of it, so I took off this particular task and made a nice present out of it (it always seems like shameful self-promotion, but she really is a fan of my books, so I guess it's OK).
The great thing about hand-made gifts is that you have actually invested sweat and time into creating something for someone, so probably these presents are the best after all.
Many people still issue vouchers for Christmas but I think it is a terrible tradition and should not be supported, same goes for giving an envelope with money. It is thoughtless and lame. Of course it also depends on the voucher, if it is one for bungee-jumping and you have been wanting to do that for a long time (which means something's entirely wrong with you), it might be a nice gift, but generally I would refrain from it.
Also, money from a distant aunt might be better than a gift so terrible you will only hide it to never see the light of day again; however, these are rare exceptions and will not be the presents you will be talking about for a long time.
For me, gift-giving is mainly about thinking of a person and considering what this person would like. It is not about outdoing anyone or finding the allegedly perfect gift. It should be fun, not a burden.
So when you brave the last-minute-shoppers, stay calm and make the most fun of it. Shops like Depot, Butlers or Nanu Nana are perfect for choosing lovely little gifts and I am sure you will find great presents there. Other than that, take a deep breath and if everything goes wrong, you can still simply ask the person what to buy...
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