I wrote here about the problem. Some friends of mine can help with solutions.
Alyssa is a natural shopper. She finds wonderful bargains and is always looking for potential gifts. Shopping, after all, is a skill. Alyssa knows which stores to avoid and which stores to patronize. She instinctively knows where to look; she also knows when to shop; finally she knows her recipients. She finds treasures on the after-holiday clearance shelves, she has good taste, and she considers her loved ones when she shops. When she finds a product she particularly loves– socks, tea or gardener’s hand-creme– she looks for a supplier with the best price. Alyssa doesn’t spend outrageous sums: she knows how to convert two dollars into a small plant or a special candle that says, “I appreciate you.” Alyssa keeps a gift drawer and usually resists the impulse to give her treasures prematurely.
Chloe is creative. Chloe always gives a piece of herself. She used to scrapbook, but now leans more toward computer graphics and photography. Chloe jumps in the deep end: her first quilt was a queen-sized duvet for her husband’s parents. When she sits down, she picks up her yarn and needles. Chloe gave her college-age kids and their best friends a shipment of homemade cookies every month as a high school graduation gift. Chloe listens. When her friend mentioned how much she’d like a tea cozy, Chloe converted a scrap of peculiar fabric into a way-cool cozy. When Chloe’s pastor’s wife went through a series of medical procedures, Chloe wrote a note of encouragement to her each week.
Clarissa, by the way, does it all. It would be fun to hate Clarissa, but it would also be impossible. She’s just too wonderful. Clarissa is the queen of gift baskets. Clarissa does everything by dozens. She reupholsters furniture in her spare time. She probably plays the trombone in secret, just for fun. She makes cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. Ask Clarissa how she gets it all done and she shrugs as if you’d asked her how she manages to breathe.
1. Take time. Gift cards are the closest thing to instant gifts; they are certainly appropriate at times. However, we usually underestimate the time it takes to put a (non-gift card) gift together. Undoubtedly we don’t figure in the time it takes to coordinate all the gifts of the Christmas season. By not planning ahead, we are caught wandering WalMart on December 23rd. If you work on this throughout the year the time is spread out into smaller chunks. The discipline of thinking, exploring ideas, making plans, executing them, cleaning up afterwards: it all takes time.
2. Give time. A phone call, a cup of coffee together, a free afternoon to work together on a project: these are all precious gifts. Last Wednesday I received a piece of bad news which paralyzed me while I processed the emotions. I needed to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, but couldn’t get moving. My perceptive daughter-in-law suggested that we go grocery shopping together. She didn’t need to shop; she sensed my paralysis and wanted to help me through the fog.
3. Take courage. So many socially awkward scenarios wouldn’t be awkward if we weren’t afraid. Know what you can afford and work within your boundaries. It’s okay to give someone a small gift in comparison to the large(r) gift you received, if that’s what you can manage. The world will not end if you are given a gift – an expression of love – and you receive it graciously without reciprocating.
4. Give freely. Free of expectations. Free of the need of reassurance. Free of manipulation. Free of guilt.
5. Take off your own desires. Especially for people who are, um, different. So often we selfishly give what we would like to receive, with little regard for the pleasure of the recipient. A mature giver recognizes differences and works at discovering the preferences of others. It’s a wide, wide world and thank goodness we’re not all alike.
6. Give what you love. This contradicts the words above. You have to know your loved one. Christmas is a great time to share the books, music, food, clothing and products you’ve discovered over the past year, if the recipient is inclined towards books, music or products.
8. Give thanks. Gratitude is so becoming. It takes a little effort and planning. I still struggle with this one, often falling down on the task because I start writing thank you novels instead of thank you notes. Be specific. Generic thank you notes that don’t even mention the gift are lame.
My favorite gift, the bread-and-butter-gift, tomorrow!