Christmas Gift Guide: Part One
Tue, 13 Dec 2011 12:49p.m.
With less than a fortnight until Christmas, chances are all the presents will be bought and wrapped and stuck under the tree - unless you’re like me, in which case you haven’t bought a single present and are definitely in need of last-minute present ideas.
Today we will cover short-notice presents for pretty much anyone, and a few things which might seem like good gift ideas but generally aren’t. Tomorrow: finding the perfect item for that hard-to-buy-for person.
Short-Notice Presents for Anyone
While gift vouchers get criticised for not being very personal, they’re better than soap in a box (and almost as good as soap on a rope). Negate the Gift Voucher Effect by purchasing one for the recipient’s favourite store and including a personalised card.
Provided you have a general idea of the person’s taste, novels, cookbooks, biographies, and coffee table books are all good ideas. Relationship advice and other self-help books, however, are right out. Christmas is not a time to be rude. The present should not say, “Merry Christmas! Sort yourself out.”
Sightly more expensive than books, but these have the added bonus of recurring throughout the year and therefore making you the best gift-giver of all time.
Useful Things which are Actually Useful
As opposed to general household junk, which we will revisit in the “Worst Presents Ever” section. Things you can always use more of – nice wine glasses, bookends, non-crappy coasters and so on – make good gifts, as do useful things you know the recipient doesn’t already own, like an ice-cream makers, USB car charger, or iPod dock that sits on top of the toilet roll.
To make these you upload your photos to a website, choose a layout, write captions to go with the photos, pay, and then wait by the mailbox until a nice hard-cover book full of pictures arrives. A friend of mine gave one to his girlfriend on their anniversary – it told the story of how they got together, accompanied by photos of them. I barfed in my mouth a little, but she really liked it.
Good for all-in-one family gifts, or if you have to gift to three or four flatmates at once. Suggested games include Cranium, Cluedo, Mah Jongg and pretty much anything that isn’t Scrabble. Jigsaws aren’t quite as good, mainly because families that do jigsaws do a lot of jigsaws and have probably done that one already.
A perfect and fairly cheap last-minute gift for couples, especially if you upgrade them to the comfy seats and throw in an ice-cream and a large popcorn. Not the best gift for a single teenage girl though.
Much better gift for a single teenage girl. A relatively quick and easy present but, like a book, you have to know what they like.
Alcohol (in responsible quantities for the over-18s)
Because a $30 bottle of wine is a much nicer present than a $30 soap.
The fallback grandparent gift: one of those big tins with the 15 different types of biscuit.
The suitability of handmade things very much depends on whether or not you have any skill at making things. A friend of mine is giving her mother a jar of preserved lemons; someone who shall remain nameless but is definitely not me carved a small mouse out of soapstone for their boyfriend. The lemon-preserver is home free because a) she’s preserved lemons before and b) her mother enjoys Moroccan cooking, which apparently uses preserved lemons. The mouse-carver, who has never carved anything before, is probably going to have to buy a secondary present as well. Know your limits with handmade presents, is all I’m saying.
Presents for Children
Buy children exactly what you wanted as a child: explosives and candy. Presents for kids should also be parent-friendly, so perhaps skip the explosives.
Gifts to Avoid
(If someone specifically requests any of these things, that’s different and you should gift them with pride.)
Things which are Alive
Most people are wise enough to not give animals as pets, but will nonetheless hazard a plant. If the recipient is a keen gardener then go for it (but make sure it’s a sensible plant, don’t give your English-cottage-garden aunt a whopping great banana tree).
Otherwise, this will happen: you give the plant, your friend says “Oh a plant, how nice!” Then you are never invited to their house again, because you will say, “Where did you put that plant?” and they will be forced to tell you that it DIED.
Fitness equipment, scales, a pedometer, a Wii Fit, or anything else that says “I love you, but you could be a bit less fat” is not a good present. Christmas is not a time to tell people that you love them but they could be a bit less fat. That sort of carry-on is for New Year’s.
I’m pretty sure I’ve been given enough photo frames over the years to permanently enshrine every single person I’ve ever met. The general idea seems to be “if in doubt, give a photo frame.” Stop it! We all have enough photo frames.
Gift Boxes involving Soap
For some reason the default present for women is a gift box with a soap in it. I think, as a society, it’s time we moved away from this. If it’s a hand-picked soap in her favourite fragrance that’s different, but the “two bottles of shower gel and a loofah” gift pack should be outlawed.
This is a tricky one. Many websites advise that it’s perfectly acceptable for men to buy lacy lingerie for their partner, as long as the lingerie is “sensual” and not “sexy”. I disagree, for two reasons: firstly because one man’s reserved is another man’s racy, which can lead to awkward misunderstandings over just how romantic leopard print really is. (This goes the other way too, when the man shoots through sensual and out the other side, resulting in odd, tentlike cotton nightie purchases.)
The other reason is simple: boyfriend thinks, “Girlfriend has lovely bottom, why would she not feel comfortable in these buttless chaps?” Girlfriend, however, thinks “I have okay bottom but do not really feel it would be best emphasised by buttless chaps.” This always ends in some sort of “What kind of cowgirl do you think I AM?” conversation. Solution: buy her a lingerie voucher then go shopping together.
I believe the general exception to this is engagement rings, although probably those aren’t a very good Christmas present anyway (I would certainly feel slightly ripped off). Unless you know someone well enough to know what jewellery they usually wear, be prepared for them to politely thank you then return it later.
Useless Household Items
This covers candles, trinket boxes, wrought-iron-framed mirrors, novelty CD racks, and everything else that you’re quite comfortable giving to other people but would soon tire of having in your own home. Quick test: would you be excited to receive this bowl of fake fruit? If you must go down the ‘bits of tack for round the house’ route, at least have a think about the general style and colour scheme of the house and pick something that suits.
A thought on wall calendars: please let me select the thing I will be staring at every day this year.
Daily mood calendars, where you flip over the page to see a little emotional face, are also popping up on a lot of online present guides this year. These puzzle me – presumably you pop the calendar on your desk and turn it outwards so that everyone can see what mood you’re in, in case for some reason they’re unable to see your actual face. Perfect for the welder in your life.
Unless the socks are a secondary present and the primary present is the Moon, probably best to steer clear. See also: hankies, tools, notebooks.
Anything past its use-by date
It seems like such a simple rule, and yet every Christmas someone re-gifts last year’s crumbly Warehouse bath bomb that was meant to be used by June.
In the shop, they seem so funny! No. Put them down and walk away.
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