We all have a kind Aunt Patricia. We all have a curmudgeon boss we want to impress. Maybe an in-law that only likes golf—and scotch. Lots of scotch. And we all loathe that time of year when we have to find them the perfect Christmas gift.
Year after year, we give Aunt Patricia a Virginia Woolf book. We give the boss a lame coffee mug with some asinine joke plastered on it. And we always give that in-law a couple golf balls and a bottle of Glenfiddich. And, for the love of God, stop with the Tim Hortons gift certificates for everyone else. Nothing says “Yeah, I’m not creative and I totally gave up” like a gift certificate. In those cases, dear reader, just give them money. Don’t give them “money” for only one store. That just takes away their options.
But I digress.
Let’s take a second and breathe. Relax that strained, instantly stressed holiday mind. Gift giving isn’t that bad. Really. And yes, I understand that shopping during the holidays can be a hassle. There are too many options; too many people running around aimlessly. I know that you want to stick to that shopping list like glue and get the hell out of that anonymous shopping mall within 10 minutes after entering. I get it.
It’s time to redefine how we give gifts during the holidays. Let’s release the stress, add some fun, focus on the true pleasure of getting a loved one a thoughtful gift, and stay the hell away from those damn gift certificates. (Seriously, they’re like traps for the lazy gift givers. We’re all guilty). The following are five painless and fun ways to inject some energy back into gift giving this holiday.
Just pay attention
This is the easy one. At least on paper. Here’s how it works: When Aunt Patricia says that she likes a certain cashmere scarf when scanning a magazine one day, take a second from Instragramming a photo of your dog wearing antlers and write that down beside her name. When the time comes months later to get Aunt Patricia her gift—boom, return to your list. You not only got her a great gift that she wanted, but you come off as thoughtful. Case closed.
Secret Santa vs. Evil Santa
This is the classic go-to for the workplace. Set a price limit for gifts ($20 is pretty reasonable). Put all your colleague’s names in a hat and have everyone draw a name. Keep your recipient a secret. And then pick a date for everyone to bring their presents in and one-by-one surprise your co-worker with a great gift. Now if your workplace likes to mix things up, there’s always Evil Santa. Follow the same steps, but on game day, have everyone draw a number. The first person goes and selects a present from the pile. The next person can either grab a present to open or steal the present from the first person and so on. Hilarity and possible grudges will ensue.
The charitable option
This is a burgeoning gift giving option. Instead of giving a possibly absentminded toolkit to the missus (we know you had good intentions), buy her a goat for a family in Kenya. Giving a charitable gift in someone else’s name is not only thoughtful, it will make you both feel good. That’s a win-win-win for you, your pleased partner, and a family halfway around the world. And best yet, you can buy most charitable gifts online and they come with a charitable donation receipt.
The no-buy clause
If you are on year 12 of trading your half brother another pair of wool socks for Christmas and you both loathe wool socks, try a no-buy clause. Instead of giving gifts, decide on a night to go out to a bar to watch the game together. You can always break the no-buy clause and buy him a beer when your team kicks his team’s ass.
Be risky (not risque)
If you’re completely out of viable gift options, take a risk. Pull out all the stops and point to the bleachers. Get a gift that will surprise, astonish, make them laugh, hug you in joy. Try to stay away from making them cry or slap you, however. (Gentlemen, that means staying away from the lingerie for your wife in front of the whole family on Christmas Day). Sometimes the risky gifts are the most memorable. In case I wasn’t clear, gift certificates aren’t included in the “risky” compartment.
A version of this article was recently published in Chill magazine.