Some people’s love language is giving and receiving gifts while other people’s love language is Christmas. I possess no fluency in either language, so as you can imagine this time of year is stressful for me. I’m not a scrooge. Christmas is nice and I love that eating pie is so heavily encouraged during the holiday season but there’s nothing particularly alluring to me about it. I don’t have such indifferent feelings about gift giving, however, which is probably in part why I can’t get too enthusiastic over Christmas. I am horrible at giving gifts and there is no foreseeable cure for this vice.
I once gave an old boyfriend the same gift, a sail around NYC, two years in a row. I forgot I had done this. He didn’t. For four years I gave my mother oven mitts with funny sayings on them until she finally said, while opening the fourth one, “I don’t really cook that much!” As long as I can remember, I’ve gotten my dad these mint flavored toothpicks that he likes. I’ll be purchasing them for him again this year, to no one’s surprise.
Why am I so bad at giving gifts? If I knew, I’d know how to correct it. I can write nice notes to people and often I’ll do that to make up for my bad taste in presents. But when I think of the essence of a person, my mind goes completely blank as what sweet items they’d like. Would my friend like a cool plate? This neat lamp shade feels very “Aunt Sharon” to me. Everyone loves an extension cord!
I can’t even blame my failing as a matter of nurture. Somehow my entire family is able to pick out exactly what the recipient wants. It’s like there was a private Ted Talk x Gift Giving presentation they all attended but forgot to tell me about. While it would never be said to my face my gifts are bad, I know. You don’t make the same face when you receive the earrings you’ve been eyeing all year and a pair of funny socks.
My sister takes the gold home each year in outstanding gift giving. She often hand makes pieces of jewelry and almost always spends a considerably large portion of her paycheck on getting you that random thing you mentioned you thought was cool seven months ago. I’ll never forget the brief four minutes I had to feel proud about the book on the history of bridges I’d given my dad, before he opened my sister’s gift to him. She’d cast in bronze the logo of his artist’s collective and made a lapel pin for him to wear. I’m not sure in what world I thought a book with a chapter titled, “The Gigantic Spinning Machine” was going to beat out any contenders, but I had had hope.
So what does one do about being a terrible gift giver? First of all, just hope that people really like you and this will be a fun lil quirk of yours people like to give you a hard time about. Secondly, I've learned there's no harm in just outright asking what someone wants. It takes away the magic of surprising them with a good gift but it also takes away having to wait in line at Target to return that day planner you got them. Gift cards are also a good way to go if you can narrow down the type of stuff they like but not one thing in particular. But there's no denying it's a lot less fun opening an envelope than tearing open a box.
This year I’ve chosen to approach the holidays by sticking to online gift guides. What does the internet say I should get my dad? Whiskey rocks and Negroni lip balm? Hm, well my dad is trying to cut back on drinking but these sound like cool things for a dude in his 60s. Perhaps by following whatever Amazon’s algorithm suggests to me, I’ll at least impress my family with my ability to closely follow directions. In a way, I’m giving my mother the gift of knowing her daughter isn’t completely helpless. For my father, however, it will still be a 12 pack of mint flavored toothpicks.