Call me a Scrooge, but I find that the whole gift-giving part of Christmas is increasingly stressful for me. It's not so much that I don't like finding gifts for people who are important to me (family, close friends). I think it's the fact that the holiday season has a tendency to sneak up on me and the prospect of finding suitable presents for all those people at once is a little overwhelming. I have no problem with birthdays, for example. With birthdays you're dealing with one person at a time, and even if you've got several people in your family with birthdays in the same month, it's not like Christmas where it all comes down to one big shopping-wrapping-spending extravaganza.

So first there's my problem with not planning enough ahead of time and feeling disorganized and hurried when it comes to finding presents for everyone, and second there are my hang-ups with American consumerism in general. Don't worry, I'm not going to get all preachy here. Let's just say that I'm not willing to go to Target or Wal-fart and buy some plastic trinket that will end up in a landfill in a few months just for the sake of having something to wrap up and give someone. I find it frightening how dependent our consumer economy is on people spending gobs of money during the holidays, like on Black Friday when the news is full of stories of people who camped out in front of Best Buy for 24 hours to be first in line to buy the latest electronic gadget that was sold out within ten minutes of the store opening at some ridiculous hour of the morning, and then despite the huge shopping rush, the big retail giants are still worried about yearly profits. This way of running the economy strikes me as disturbingly unsustainable.

Then there's the fact that I'm particular about the gifts I give because want them to be meaningful and thoughtful without being overly sentimental (you won't ever catch me scrapbooking, for one). I see no point in giving someone scented candles, for example. It just seems too generic (not that I haven't ever done that before, but now I know better.) Gifts also have to be useful but not too practical and boring; while I'm sure anyone could use a gift card to a gas station or or a 6-pack of new underwear, it's really hard to get excited about that, isn't it?

I'm not big on charitable donations as gifts, either. I think we should just give to charity anyway, but I just can't see myself saying "Merry Christmas, mom! I gave someone else a goat!!"

Here's my general rule of thumb: buy or make (more on this in a minute) a gift that someone can really use, yet make sure it's something he or she would not already buy for himself or herself out of necessity, and try to avoid patronizing big box stores. Lately, I've gotten into giving consumable items, like hot cocoa mix and spices from Penzey's, fair trade olive oil, fine wine, gourmet chocolate by local artisans, high quality handmade soap, that kind of thing. Clothes are often a good option, assuming you trust that you know someone's taste well enough to pick something out.

About making gifts: this is actually a place where one must tread carefully. A lot of thought and time and work goes into a handmade gift, but that can backfire in two ways. The first is biting off more than you can chew and ending up way more stressed about gift-making than you should ever be because you didn't allow yourself enough time. (Knitters are notorious for over-committing themselves during the holidays, staying up until the wee hours of the morning making socks and hats and mittens and sometimes sweaters for everyone they know, often wrapping up a half of a sweater with the remaining skeins of yarn and an IOU on Christmas Eve because it just didn't get done.) And then there's the risk that what you make completely misses the mark and the recipient feels obligated to wear or use whatever it is even though he or she hates it. If I've done this to anyone, they've been too polite to tell me...but it's still a risk.

This year I'm a bit hopeless. The dissertation, being very very pregnant, and having a little boy to take care of means that it's just now registering for me that Christmas is upon us and that I need to figure this gift thing out pretty soon. Otherwise, you'll see me at Target on Christmas Eve, great with child, cursing myself for procrastinating and going against all my principles, and wishing I'd just thought to start knitting everybody socks back in July.


Steph said…
Black Friday is really creepy.

This causes some people horror, but Eric and I have never had a tradition of giving each other anything for birthdays or Christmas that we didn't know was coming. This just works for us. Like the year we mutually gave each other the seven-season boxed set of Buffy. Now that was a gift that keeps on giving.
Pamela said…
Hey, Suze. I'm totally with you about this. As a kid I used to really love getting gifts, but I am really not that into it anymore. And, I really just can't afford to spend the amount of money it costs to buy nice and meaningful things for all the people I want to (or feel obliged to) buy for. It's SO stressful. I wish Christmas was more like Thanksgiving really. Just food and fellowship. That's enough for me.

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