The Problem of Presents …

The Problem of Presents …

My beloved cousin Elizabeth had a big milestone birthday last summer, and I just sent her a present a couple of weeks ago. She’s one of my favorite people on the planet, she has fabulous taste, and she’s not really into “stuff” — so it took me months to find something I thought she’d genuinely like and that I could afford. I bought her one of these fabulous black Chamba clay pots — it’s lovely, useful, handmade — all the kinds of things that make Elizabeth happy. Plus, it’s fun to get an unexpected present.

But I can’t exactly do that with Christmas. Christmas is in many ways about presents. And I love presents — I love thinking about what someone would really like, and finding that for them, and watching as they open something wonderful and surprising. What I don’t love are placeholder presents — those random objects we all buy at the last minute because we’ve got to buy something.

I’ve been sending food to my far-away family the last few years — I try to send cheese or hors d’oeuvres to my Mom and my Aunt Daphne and Uncle Denny — that way they can all have a little bit of me there for Christmas dinner even if I can’t be there. Or for my grandmother, who has proven for the last 30 years that it is indeed possible to live to a ripe old age eating nothing but chocolate — I make her truffles out of the darkest chocolate I can find with just a little bit of chili in them.

But there are still things that need to be purchased, and people for whom one can’t figure out what to buy. What are all of you doing to keep the madness at bay? Anyone have any useful strategies for those of us who didn’t shop all year and stash things in some closet someplace? December is here, the madness is descending even on our quiet little town, and I’m feeling the jungle drums of panic beginning to beat.

10 thoughts on “The Problem of Presents …

  1. The answer is SO obvious–it is right in front of you! (More accurately, right inside of you.) You are a writer, and–as such–your voice is as distinctive & unique as is an artist’s. For each recipient, write either a poem, or a remembrance, or a “What You Mean to Me.” I put my writing gifts into lovely desk frames (this is where a thrift store is a God-send.) I’m also an artist, so I illustrate my writings, but photos of you & the recipient (glued or photocopied onto the same page as the writing) also are treasured. Charlotte, no one else can give this exact gift but you. (And people I’ve given my writing gifts to have told me 30 to 40 years later that they still treasure them.) Get writing, girl!

  2. Oh, I had grand plans of things I was going to make for people…but there just isn’t time. 🙁 I have no idea what I’m going to do! 😀

  3. While the write-a-thing idea is nice — it’s not really my bag (well, not since I was about eight anyhow) — and Katie, I’m with you — I had all these ideas and now it’s almost the end of the first week of December and (unlike you) I”m still working at the Big Corporation and it’s going to be time to mail things soon. I have some ideas, but it’s mostly the idea of “going shopping” I dread. On the other hand, as Patrick once coined during a day of Christmas shopping so traumatic that we had to repair to an Olive Garden for Very Large Drinks: When the Shopper is Ready, the Gift will Appear.

  4. I have been giving spices lately, especially to people I know who cook. Penzey’s has great stuff (you can assemble your own list, or they have gift boxes), and they ship. Photo albums with pictures in them, too, have been popular.

  5. I have done charity gifts this year for a lot of people. is a good one, but there are others too. It allows you to be thoughtful without dumping a load more “stuff”on people.

  6. I had a wine tasting this past summer, and I was demo’ing various wine openers. Everyone loved the “electric wine opener” from Oster. So I bought 8 of them at $14.99 (Costco) and alot of people will be getting those!

  7. For the first time ever, I’m enjoying a stress-free December. I’m not even sure how. I don’t exactly know what I did right this year, or if I just got lucky. I’m virtually done shopping, and about halfway through my cooking and baking. I did do two things a bit differently this year. I drastically cut back on the number of people I’m shopping for (immediate family only), and I’ve mail-ordered almost all of it. I know that’s not the most eco-friendly route to take, but I live in a metro area of about 2.5 million people, and trust me, they are ALL shopping. I’m amazed at how much I’ve been able to get done when I don’t have to spend so much time just driving around.

    As for good gifts, I do like to give homemade gifts a lot (usually food). My dad is a motorcycle enthusiast, so I surrounded a vintage Harley print ad with about 100 motorcycle-themed postage stamps from around the world and framed it for him. I did some charity gifts this year too, from I also love giving books as gifts. They’re generally inexpensive, there’s usually something for everyone, and even people who are not big readers usually enjoy a book relating to their favorite hobby. Hope that helps!

  8. blubs, second hand books, chocolate (fairtrade), food stuffs of childhood in our family stuff from South Africa, bath toys for grown ups. Grown up men love getting a wind up submarine! Wine.

  9. I sooo dislike shopping. I’m really looking forward to being done. I think we’re going the cheapskate route this year, but honestly I haven’t even figured it out. I like Nicole’s idea of writing something, and I’m definitely doing some photo albums for my parents and in-laws (with a three year old there are plenty of pictures to share!) I’d love to do Kim’s idea of a heifer or something, but I’m afraid I would forever have a reputation as a wet blanket.

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