What makes the best gift? Well, the first thing that matters is matching the gift with the person who is receiving it, but let’s assume that that part is done (see Gift Giving Strategies for more details) and now we just need to match the gift to the circumstance or situation. I’ve got a few suggestions for a few circumstances that crop up frequently around the holidays like giving hostess gifts and buying presents for gift exchanges. And then I have a few stories about my best gifts (at least of the ones I have received).
Hostess gifts – what makes the best hostess gifts? I am sure there is some etiquette rule about hostess gifts that I should be referring to here but I’ll avoid that and just mention a few favorites – flowers, wine/liquor, candles, a journal or note book, a box of pretty note cards or cards with the hostess’s initial on it, napkins with funny sayings, or a something that is a personal favorite of the hostess (like chocolate, or bacon…).
Gift Exchanges – gift exchanges can be fun or tricky, depending on the parameters of the gift exchange. Is there a dollar limit, like $10? Is there a particular purpose to the gift exchange? Like a Secret Santa gift exchange at work or among girlfriends or your book club? Or is the gift exchange a white elephant exchange at a party? Is the gift exchange part of a club or group activity like 4H or Scouts where you don’t know who will receive it? Is it part of a toy drive (like Toys for Tots) or a giving tree for charity and you don’t personally know who will receive the gift? Having a good understanding about the price point and purpose of the gift exchange is essential. Depending on the type of gift exchange, I have a few go to favorites: spa items (lotions, soaps, bath salts), classic books, art supplies (usually this is for the kid oriented gifts, but now coloring books for adults are all the rage), gift cards, journals, and toys that require an imagination.
What are the best gifts you have received? Thinking back about gifts is a funny thing – a few spring to mind easily and then I really have to think about it. What gift made an impact? What do I really remember? What did I really appreciate? When I was 10, I remember waking up on Christmas morning and finding two brand new Schwinn ten-speed bicycles parked next to our Christmas tree, a gleaming red one and a sparkly blue one. I remember experiencing two very distinct feelings: the first feeling was “wow, I finally got a ten-speed that I have been begging for forever and it’s red, my favorite color” and the second was “arrrgh, why did they get my brother one too? He’s only 7!” Elation and annoyance. I loved that bike and had it until it was stolen my first year of college at Berkeley (like every other freshman’s bike). I was heartbroken!
I don’t remember a ton of other gifts as distinctly as I remember seeing that ten-speed on Christmas morning. I do remember getting clothes for most Christmases and being disappointed that it wasn’t an Easy Bake oven or something else on my list from the Sears catalogue (my brother got that item, years later), but I distinctly remember getting clothes for my 14th birthday and one had a French name on the label and I remember being very surprised and pleased about that outfit. I loved the Seiko watch my mom and step-dad gave me for my college graduation because it was something I had really wanted. I love the diamond earrings my dad and step-mom gave me for that same college graduation, saying your first diamonds should come from your father. It was special because I don’t remember any other gifts from my father. I adored the Danish book bag my mom’s cousin, Sonja, gave me to start law school – it was European and cool, and very different than all those black backpacks everyone else had.
Two of my all time favorite gifts were ones that didn’t cost anything or didn’t cost very much. After I had Jasper and was in a post-natal fog, my friend Janelle came over and made us dinner – penne pasta with a vodka sauce. Over the years since, I’ve tried to recreate that meal, and she’s even given me the recipe, but it will never match the one she made us. We were exhausted, desperate for a warm meal, desperate for sleep, and, as new parents, just plain old desperate. I was so grateful that she took the time to come over and cook for us and to bring all the ingredients with her to make the meal. It was so lovely and generous. I’ll never forget the meal that she made us. My other favorite gift was when Greg knew my library book was expiring and I wasn’t going to be able to renew it – work was crazy, I was traveling a lot, and I hadn’t found the time to finish the book. He noticed I was stressed about it and he took the time renew my book for me and told me afterwards. I was floored and thankful. It was so thoughtful and I really appreciated it. It was a seemingly inconsequential thing, renewing a library book, but it took care of something that was bothering me and needed to be done.
One last word about best gifts – don’t forget the “Power of the Written Word.” I mean this in two ways – one, sending a hand-written thank you note for a gift. Not only are you acknowledging that you received the but you show the giver that you care enough to take the time to hand write a note of thanks to them. The other way I mean don’t forget about the power of the written word is to make or give a card or letter to someone as a gift. The value of a gift of your words, in your own handwriting, especially in this digital day and age cannot be overstated. A handwritten note (even typed) whether it is a thank you note or letter is a rarity these days. Telling someone how you feel about them, how much you love them, or how much you appreciate them is always a good thing. We don’t do enough of this type of communication these days! Never underestimate the power of the written word, especially a hand-written word, straight from the heart.
What are the best gifts you have ever received?