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What Makes the Perfect Christmas Gift?

Following a few cardinal rules will make the oncoming season of gift shopping far less exhausting.

So Black Friday is upon us, soon to be followed by Cyber Monday and Whatever Tuesday. And as the commercial onslaught commences, it’s a good time to get back to the basics of gift-giving. Instead of trying to summon up the present best suited for that friend, family, or loved one, how about first considering what constitutes the ideal gift.

This is not for those (unfortunately rare) circumstances where the perfect gift seems obvious (e.g. a watch for someone whose timepiece just broke), but for the typical dilemma repeated hundreds of times over the years when no particular item comes to mind.

Here is a dirty little secret: A gift is only perfect if the giver feels as proud of giving it as the recipient is overjoyed in receiving it. The best gift is one that appeals to both your own pride (the good kind) as well as the happiness of the recipient. And that is because of one particular facet of the ideal gift: He or she will always think of you when they see it. A nice picture of you and the recipient together usually works, but you risk having them throw it in a stack with the myriad additional wall hangings for which they have no room left on their walls or tables. But something like a lava lamp that fits perfectly into a spot in the person’s family room or a commemorative plaque of an event meaningful to the recipient will also do the trick.

It is always possible to see or know what someone likes, but it’s quite a bit trickier to follow another cardinal rule of effective gift-giving: Find a present that is something the person not necessarily needs, but definitely would love to have. Most extravagant gifts (e.g. jewelry) fall into this category. But so do useful wish-list items such as a smart watch to make life flow more smoothly.

Going one step further, find something the recipient would want, but would not buy – or think to buy – for themselves. Amazon gift cards don’t count because so many thousands of them are purchased by gift-givers finally shrinking beneath the universal question: What do you give to the person who has everything?  On the other hand, targeted gift cards for unconventional places demonstrate an advanced level of care and thought. My wife actually likes the Container Store almost as much as clothing stores – gasp! Sorry for telling tales out of school, dear – but she would hardly even think to get a gift certificate for it. So she got one from me for her birthday. And don’t worry, you romanticists decrying the long-running stereotype of the man gifting the woman something practical and/or self-serving like a vacuum cleaner. I got her a beautiful ring, too.

Gift-giving is also a perfect opportunity to introduce someone to a new product you’ve found useful or enjoyable that they probably don’t know. A couple of Christmases ago, we delighted more than a few friends at minimal cost by giving them electric corkscrews, which make opening wine bottles far less troublesome for those of us with limited fine motor skills.

Finally, make sure you never, ever give them something they may well already have. They will applaud your good taste while privately lamenting at the lost opportunity to enjoy something new.

Following these basic rubrics for effective gift-giving, while remembering that it is always more blessed to give than to receive, will do more than delight the beneficiaries of your generosity. It will give you that warm, cozy, yuletide feeling of a job well done.


Read more from Tim Donner.

Read More From Tim Donner

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