Gift Giving: The Lost Art of Giving Great Presents

As the end of the year seems to be coming up fast, for those of us who celebrate it it’s natural to start thinking about Christmas and gift giving. Over the years I’ve gained a surprising number of thoughts and feelings on gift giving and have been intending to write a post on the subject for a while. In fact, I’ve been writing this for some time and seem to just keep on adding to it. A little disclaimer – I am very guilty of a lot of the things I’m about to mention and I really don’t want to seem ungrateful either. Any gift given should be special and cherished but there will always be some gifts which stick in your mind for a long time.

I’m convinced that there’s an art to gift giving which some people seem to naturally possess. But a lot of it is down to the individual person you are buying for too. It’s not just about what they or may not like, but about their attitude to presents and how they feel about surprises and known quantities.

Whilst I was at university I managed to convince myself that the reason that Christmas had lost some of the magic it had had as a child was because the element of surprise was gone. As a child although I would write my letter to Santa and ask for various things I’d picked out of the Argos catalogue, I didn’t know if I was going to get them and anything else that I might receive was always a surprise. As an adult, the lists we write as suggestions seem to be taken more seriously and you will invariably receive most of what’s on your list (depending on what you’ve put on it). I discovered that gifts were no longer a surprise and I felt guilty for giving people what felt like a shopping list, or else I’d receive money which I then wasn’t very good at spending on myself. As a result, I started to request surprises.

I’ve had a few years of ‘surprise’ gifts now and they’ve been interesting. It certainly feels like more thought goes into the gift that you are receiving than if you’ve simply sent a list of requests and that makes the gift more special. I have received some great surprise gifts and certainly things I would never have considered asking for. I’ve also received some which have left me scratching my head internally whilst I smile politely on the outside. I guess this is natural. But it’s only by forcing ourselves to get the unexpected that we’re going to get any practice into being good gift givers.

Although the present itself might not be what you’d like, there’s a lot to be said for someone using their imagination. My family (myself included) are particularly guilty of using lists. For every occasion a gift list is demanded, and then followed (some are even provided fully costed up for the gift giver), taking away that element of surprise and sense of personal connection. In recent years I’ve tried to get someone a small surprise as well as something on their list so I can be sure they at least get one thing they wanted, but the problem is that you never really get honest feedback about gifts so I don’t really know how these have gone down. It’s particularly difficult when buying for family members that you only see a couple of times a year. You can’t rely on throwaway comments that they’ve made if you don’t see them that often, and might not really know what makes them tick.

I feel similarly odd about money being given as a gift unless it is for something very specific. Don’t get me wrong, it’s appreciated and can be useful but as an adult I’m earning my own money and any money I’m given will get used, although on what I couldn’t tell you.  This year James and I have made a pact to get better at spending gifted money on things we want, as the money is intended for. I also think that a lot is placed on the monetary value of the item, rather than its personal worth to the person. I’d much rather receive something small and cheap that a lot of thought has gone into than something flashy and expensive that I don’t particularly need, want or like.

I think far too many people buy gifts because they feel they should (usually on occasions like Christmas or a birthday) rather than wanting to get someone something for the sake of it. I received some flowers from colleagues earlier this year, and they were all the more appreciated because they were completely unexpected. We also received a number of unexcepted gifts in the post earlier this year when our wedding was cancelled which was very kind and helped us to feel as though we were still surrounded by people who cared, even if we couldn’t see any of them.

I’ve recently been making an active effort to think and live more sustainably. Therefore the thought of unwanted gifts going to waste, buying for the sake of buying and the amount of packaging a lot of things come in are really quite distressing. One of my close friends and I exchange birthday gifts and we seem to have settled into the habit of buying each other a book that we’ve enjoyed over the course of the previous year. This is great because it means we can still get each other a gift which will be appreciated and there’s a certain amount of thought gone into the book they receive. So far, we’ve managed to avoid getting the other anything they’ve read before.

For the past few years I’ve also failed miserably at one of the things I’ve set out to do each Christmas. As we reach this point in the year I tell myself that all gifts I buy will be bought locally, or from independent businesses online. Yet every December I end up placing a bulk order on Amazon and cursing myself for it. I won’t kid myself this year as I’m actively trying to avoid shops so the likelihood of getting a series of unique gifts from markets or local businesses is unlikely. However, I do hope that if I start earlier I’ll give myself more time to find something unique and special.

Some of the best gifts I’ve received over the past few years include:

  • My Spicery Curry Legend Kit – you can read the full review here but it’s changed the way I cook and I’ve bought a lot for other people since (who have gone on to buy them for more people).
  • Subscription gifts – they can be costly but it’s quite nice to have a gift that keeps giving. I’ve had a magazine subscription and a sock subscription which I’ve loved.
  • Slippers – last year all I really wanted for Christmas was some new slippers. James bought me some and I love them. It might be boring or simple but they are great.
  • An orange juicer – my parents bought me this for my birthday and I use it most days. We now spend a lot more on oranges than we did, but we’ve enjoyed fresh squeezed orange juice throughout the year.
  • A hot air balloon ride – a very extravagant gift but a truly incredible experience which I’ll always remember. This reinforced for me that experiences are often better than material gifts.

I don’t mean to seem ungrateful and as I said before, I’m guilty of a lot of these things too, but I’m keen to change things up a bit. I’m once again going to be putting my thinking cap on for how I tackle gift-giving this Christmas and I’d love any suggestions!

How do you approach gift giving? Do you have any advice?

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