Giving Better Gifts

Despite growing up Jewish, I start to feel nostalgic around Christmas.

As a child, I did celebrate the holiday at my cousin’s house – we’d sit around the tree, open presents (small ones though, since the Hanukkah presents had come and gone), and eat brunch…although I distinctly remember refusing to eat anything but cinnamon rolls at the time.

From what I’ve seen on TV and in movies, my experience makes for a pretty lackluster Christmas. And what makes my nostalgia even more puzzling is that Hanukkah takes Christmas to the cleaners. I may never wake up on December 25th and race down the stairs to open gifts, but for the past 24 years, I’ve enjoyed eight consecutive nights of presents.

At nine years old, I could barely contain my excitement as I awaited sundown eight nights in a row, but for my mother, I can only imagine the holiday was a nightmare. As Hanukkah approached, she had to do the hard work of coming up with eight exciting gifts to give. And I do have to give her some credit here. They weren’t all Playstations or puppies, but even on that final night, my mom still managed to find something creative and fun for me to unwrap.

With the holidays approaching (or ending for my Jewish friends…sorry), we’re all trying not think about what to get our friends and family. Yes, you could get a gift card or a pair of socks, but why not try to be more like my mom? Inspired by her dedication, here are my five rules for giving better gifts.

RULE 1: NO ALCOHOL, GIFT CARDS, OR CASH

I know you think you’re doing the recipient a favor – you’re letting them choose whatever they want! But in reality, you’re putting the hard work of coming up with a gift on them. And most people won’t do that. The money is going to sit in a bank account, the gift card will be put toward toilet paper, and the alcohol will get left at someone else’s holiday party.

RULE 2: LISTEN

It’s time to put your improv skills to work and pay attention when people are talking. Often, they’ll tell you exactly what they want. They won’t call it out and say, “Now, what I really want for Christmas is…” but they will offhandedly mention what they’d do with some extra cash. And if you write down or remember that thing and get it for them, you’ll really surprise and thrill them.

RULE 3: GET HER SOMETHING SHE WOULDN’T GET HERSELF

My girlfriend drives me crazy around the holidays because she’ll ask her family for really practical (read: boring) gifts, like shampoo and body wash. But she knows better than to ask me for stuff like that because I would never get it for her. It’s not surprising, special, or exciting.

It doesn’t feel good to give shampoo or to receive it.

When you are listening, people will often talk about the things they’d like but don’t need – a certain comic book, a toy, a record. Those gifts make for the most fun to wrap or unwrap.

RULE 4: TRY MAKING IT YOURSELF

The most thoughtful gifts are those bought with time rather than money. If you have a special skill, like designing posters, writing poems, or taking photos and scrapbooking, make something special and personal for the people you care about most. It may take time and effort on your part, but there’s no better feeling than unwrapping something made specially for you.

RULE 5: CONSIDER AN EXPERIENCE

How many gifts have you gotten that were lost in the last move or are now buried in the basement? It doesn’t take long for even the most exciting stuff to be forgotten. So rather than giving a thing, give a memory. They’re much harder to lose.

Giving better gifts has nothing to do with the what and everything to do with the why. An expensive, new TV might be exciting the first few weeks, but it can quickly become just another thing in the house, while a $10 T-shirt might mean everything in the world.

Yes, it takes some extra effort and time to get people what they really want. But when they open their gift and you see their face, you’ll remember that it truly is better to give than to receive.

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