On Giants' Shoulders

Friday, December 22, 2006

What Makes a Good Christmas Gift

Over at Danielle Bean's blog there's a contest going on. People are trying to guess what Dan got Danielle for Christmas from Bass Pro Shop. There are all kinds of ideas from the practical, to the romantic, to the whimsical, including the idea that the Bass Pro Shop was just a red herring and that what he really bought were diamonds or something else from another store. Some people had negative comments about some possible selections. It set me to wondering about what makes a good Christmas gift.

Are mats for your car a good Christmas gift? How about a meat slicer, or a mixer, or a new hammock? Do gifts for wives need to come in tiny jewelry boxes or be pretty or frilly in order to be a good gift? Once upon a time when I was a young bride I thought that things for the kitchen weren't the best kind of gift, but as I got more mature I began to realize how much more I actually enjoyed them than the less practical gifts. Whenever my husband buys something for my kitchen for a gift he buys a really high quality item. It's nearly always a far better choice than I would have made myself. For example, years ago I bought a cheap food processor after Christmas with Christmas money. David thought I'd never use one, so he didn't get me one. We used it for years until finally it had enough things wrong with it that I asked for a new one. The new one was a Cuisinart and it's a whole lot more powerful and does things the other one couldn't. I newer would have bought myself a Cuisinart, but he looked at all the options and decided that quality was important. So now I get to actually grind up meat in the food processor and can make my own ground pork to my own specifications or grind pork and beef together for some sorts of sausage etc. Was that a good gift? You bet it was.

So was the new mixer, the new toaster, the new set of stainless steel cookware, etc. For a wife who enjoys cooking and spends a lot of time doing it tools that help her in the process are welcome. It isn't that I don't enjoy frilly things or that he never buys them, it's just that I don't insist on them exclusively or pitch a fit if he gets something more practical.

Ideally gifts should be suited to the recipient. Sometimes they are things the person specifically requested. Sometimes they are things that you suddenly think of that the person might not even know existed like a book by a new author or a video tape that they might not have thought of getting for themselves. Last year my brother-in-law and niece sent us a slew of DVD's for Christmas. Most of them were movies we'd never seen, and some of them were movies we'd never thought of watching. However, we enjoyed every one of them thoroughly and it gave us some wonderful evenings and Saturday afternoons. I still use gifts my sister gave me years ago, particularly this little one person tea pot with accompanying cup. Not only is it a most convenient way to have tea using loose tea, it also reminds me of her every time I use it.

Each year I try to find at least one thing for people that wasn't on a Christmas list, but that I think they would enjoy. It might be a book of poetry or lit crit for my daughter that I know she doesn't have. It might be a new book or movie for my son or my husband. It might be something that people have mentioned months before, but didn't think to put on a specific Christmas list. Everyone laughs about the fact that I always give them books for Christmas, but, for the most part, they love the books I pick out. I try to honor people's list items as well.

I think that any Christmas gift that is selected with love should be received in the same spirit. Now if someone really does buy you a jar of protein powder at the all night drugstore because they didn't shop any earlier than that, you might have some justification in being slightly hurt. Although, if you are an athlete who uses a lot of protein powder. even that might make a tolerable gift. However, if your beloved mother, father, son, daughter, husband, sister, or in-law gives you something just a little bit unusual that they carefully picked out with you in mind, even if it's a green sweater with a huge reindeer on the front and you're 25 years old, smile prettily and say thank you. Figure that sometime in the middle of February blahs that the green sweater is going to pull you out of a funk with it's whimsy. Figure that the mats for your car are going to protect the carpet and save you some work cleaning it. Figure that the meat slicer is going to save you a ton of money in your food budget by eliminating deli sliced meat from your grocery list. Most of all figure that love went into the gift and that even if you can't figure out the reasoning behind it, the person who gave it was attempting to express love. We receive love in the form of dandelion bouquets from our kids and accept it graciously. We need to accept those ugly duckling gifts in the same spirit of love. Who knows they might even turn out to be a swan in disguise.

Oh, and by the way, no one needs to worry about getting a green sweater with a huge reindeer from me. First of all I haven't had the time to knit one and secondly I haven't yet mastered intarsia knitting well enough to knit one. I haven't seen any in the store, and I know better than to buy one for anyone on my list other than an elderly aunt and I got her comfy clothes, but nothing with reindeer.


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