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Up for Discussion: Gift Giving

 For the past ten years or so, my parents have allowed encouraged me to pick out my own Christmas gifts.  And as Belle goes, so goes the family.  Thus, all of my immediate relatives are encouraged to select their own Christmas presents.  The process for this selection is simple:

Step One: Tell Belle what you want.  You may drop hints (as my Mother prefers) or you can just send her an e-mail with the link.

Step Two:  Belle purchases said gift with Dad’s credit card and ships it to Dad’s office where it sits until;

Step Three: Belle comes to wrap said present and place it under the tree with a card filled out by the intended gift giver, typically Dad.

It is my opinion that choosing your own gift ensures that you will get the precise gift that you want.  No muss, no fuss.  Just a perfectly wrapped present under the tree.  And I have no problem choosing my own gift, but it appears that my Mother does.

This weekend she expressed to me that she did not want the Lois Hill necklace that she’d been dropping hints about for 11 months straight.  Why?  Because I, her paternally empowered gift-buying daughter, had picked up the hints instead of my Father for whom the hints were intended.  Thus, I had sucked the magic out of Christmas like some holiday sapping succubus. 

Christmas gifts just aren’t the same, she argued, unless the giver magically knows exactly which gift will be perfect for the recipient without help from anyone.  Because in her mind, you don’t know a person unless you can buy them the perfect gift.  (This argument is greatly weakened by the fact that I have been choosing her presents to my Father for years.) 

Why don’t I mind picking out my own gift?  Sure, part of my reasoning is selfish.  I’m difficult to buy for, and I want a gift that I will enjoy and use for years to come.  I feel no shame in this because I believe that the “magic of Christmas” isn’t about presents.  Presents are just a bonus.  Thus, Christmas can still be full of magic and wonder even if you pick out your own present because the things that make the holidays truly memorable aren’t things. 

Sure it would be great if everyone’s loved ones delivered the perfect gift every time, but how often does that really happen?  Because if every gift giver was imbued with these magical powers, then the return line at Nordstrom’s would be a lot shorter on Dec. 26th.  We’re all capable of delivering a really perfect gift every few years, but no one hits the bulls eye every time.  So sometimes it’s good to throw up the white flag and say to your daughter, “What does your Mom want for Christmas?”

What do you ladies think?  Is it perfectly acceptable to select your own present and purchase it with someone else’s money?  Or is asking people what they want tantamount to slowly strangling Kris Kringle to death?  And what about asking relatives to pick out presents for other relatives?  I’d love to know your thoughts.



  1. Rachel says:

    I will explicitly tell some people (my brother) what I want. But I'm not going to purchase it for them. Some initiative needs to be taken.

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  2. KMDoyle says:

    My mother purchases gifts that she wants, or non-subtle hinting and my father has/holds them for gift giving opportunities (Christmas, birthday, anniversary, etc) and I think its smart. Why add stress to the holidays when all you want are the smiles?

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  3. not-so-secret santa says:

    absolutely acceptable! i have been shopping “with” my Dad to pick out my birthday/christmas presents for years. it takes the strain off of present-picking, especially for the men in your life who hate shopping anyway.

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  4. casual reader says:

    Amazon Universal Wish List. I keep a list of wished for items there. Loved ones can look at that for ideas or specifics. It is kind of like writing a letter to Santa. Some of my relatives do the same. My parents will also share what the other wants or needs with the kids.

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  5. Ms. B says:

    Love the pic….wish I was there.

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  6. VA says:

    For me, it depends. I usually give my parents some suggestions, which they appreciate because they know I have a small apartment and not enough closets and they don't want their gifts to be stuff that just sits around. And my brother always gives me a list because he wants very specific things for his musical instruments, car, etc – but I never give him a list because he always gives me the most random, awesome gift that I never knew I wanted until he gave it to me!

    But I would be pretty annoyed if my boyfriend said, “Just email me what you want and I'll order it for you” – I expect him to put in a little more effort 🙂

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  7. crp says:

    I agree with Rachel. I give links to a few family members/husband when they request them, but don't purchase them myself. But hey, some men aren't as capable as women are I guess 😉

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  8. Allison says:

    I love your comment that the magic of Christmas isn't about the presents. I couldn't agree more. I offer up a few ideas in a few price ranges to make gift buying easier so my family can focus on what's important, rather than stressing over gifts.

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  9. Katie says:

    When you grow up as the only daughter in a family of four guys… let's just say it's the norm to help my brothers and dad pick out presents for my mom. Some years it's less subtle and they ask for hints and others I'm handed a credit card and told to “Go work your magic”. My mom does the same for them when it comes to buying their sister/daughter (me) gifts. We both love it because as much as we explicitly tell them no more Bath & Body Works gifts sets, that's about the extent of their gift purchasing.

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  10. Hannah says:

    my birthday is right near christmas, so i have a lot of pressure to give gift ideas to my family (coming up with bday AND xmas ideas is just too much for my parents/sister!). i've found the best strategy is to go for a mix – ask for a few things you know you want and let the rest be surprises. you won't be disappointed, but you a) get a little of the magic and b) won't offend people who wanted to get you a surprise. this strategy works great if you're worried about the gift-giver's talents for guessing what you'd like – drop your hints to them (for me, my parents), and let people with good taste/who know you well give you surprises (for me, my sister & friends).

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  11. JC says:

    I've learned that I have to pick out what I want for Christmas, otherwise my mother does what she does for my birthday — pick out presents she would get herself. While that might sound nice, it means I end up with the kind of tchotchkes 70-year-olds put in their vacation homes in Boca and nothing that I might actually use. She beat me to the punch this year, though, and had finished shopping for me by the time I got home for thanksgiving. I shudder to think what the results will be.

    I also play Santa for the rest of the family. This has led to a lot of conflict since I finished grad school. Because while I pick out gifts for everyone, from everyone (with some exceptions), when I am asked for reimbursement from the stingy Santas, I'm either told to let it go as it'll all even out in the future, or that I'll get paid later, or that by asking for reimbursement I'm ruining the spirit of Christmas. Sigh.

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  12. A says:

    Definitely part of the “it's not a present if you picked it yourself” crowd. I'd seriously rather just spend time with family and friends than have them give me an uninspired present, or worse, one I ordered for myself.

    December 13, 2010/Reply
  13. Sharyn says:

    My mom called me Friday from Macy's. “I found a platter that matches my Christmas dishes, do you want to buy it for me for Christmas?” “Sure, do you want me to send you a check?” “No, I'll just take it out of the Christmas money I'm sending you.” Done.

    December 14, 2010/Reply
  14. katy says:

    i agree with belle that 1. the magic of christmas is not the gifts and 2. no one is ever going to ALWAYS be able to find the exact perfect gift that is simultaneously a surprise. some years, you've known since april what you wanted to get the person, and some years you are at a complete loss for anything other than socks. and basically since my sister and i were old enough, we have always gone with my dad to pick out 90% of my mom's gifts, and subsequently wrap them, because quite frankly, it has resulted is far nicer christmases for my mom. my usual strategy is similar to what others have said– a mix. i ask specifically for some things, and some things i let be surprises. in fact, a good tactic in my family has been to make a “dream” wishlist from somewhere like nordstrom or amazon. you make a wishlist of every single thing you love on the website, even the things no one is going to buy due to extravagant price points. but, it gives people some affordable ideas, as well as some ideas of something they could maybe try to find at a more affordable price point. that gives people an opportunity to find something unique and special that they might have hunted for without it being totally outside the realm of anything useful.

    December 14, 2010/Reply
  15. N says:

    In a family of all girls, my dad always has to tell us specifically what he wants and where to get it. We don't know the difference between different power drills, so it's much better if he just tells us which one to get. And now that my sister and I are living away from home & my mom is incapable of picking out clothing for us, we go shopping over Thanksgiving and she keeps everything and saves it for Christmas. Everyone gets exactly what they want, and by the time Christmas rolls around, we've mostly forgotten what we picked out anyway.

    I agree, it's not about the presents, they're just a bonus. I'm just happy to be spending time with my family.

    December 14, 2010/Reply
  16. Ashley says:

    I usually have to give my dad a list, or mark pages in a catalog, of things to get for my mom. It workss like this: my mom tells me what she wants and I relay the message to my dad.

    I am a list person, but I also like to be surprised. Also, with a list, you run the risk of disappointment if you don't get what you asked for.

    The gift giving season can be such a headache.

    December 14, 2010/Reply
  17. The Slapdash Sewist says:

    I feel you, JC. Last year my mom gave me a Holly Hobbie doll. The year before that, a dollar store ballerina figurine. I would have loved these gifts, say, 30 years ago. Now, not so much. And nothing can be done to stop her.

    Unfortunately, I am also the gift giver and not the receiver in my family. Sad.

    December 14, 2010/Reply
  18. AW says:

    I like a mixture. My hubby & I pretty much tell each other what we want for Christmas or birthdays. There are always a couple of surprises, but I'd rather know I'm getting him something he actually wants.

    December 14, 2010/Reply
  19. Marsea says:

    I email my mom exactly what I want–WITH LINKS–and she still gets it wrong.

    December 14, 2010/Reply
  20. MB says:

    While it's definitely not about the presents, I give thought all year long to the perfect gift. I take a lot of pride in getting someone something wonderful. It means I know them and I've listened to them all year/for years. I surprised my sister with a necklace she's been wanting since college that made her cry on a Christmas morning some five years later. Now that's what giving gifts is all about.

    Even when the person is impossible to shop for, I'd rather have tried really hard and failed then have received a link and gotten it right. Usually, the best gifts are unexpected. I'll give you something you give me a link to for your birthday, but Christmas I think about the perfect gift all year long.

    December 14, 2010/Reply
  21. AL says:

    I tell my parents exactly what I want so that I get what I want. For me, usually the gift I want comes drop shipped to my door here in DC and while back home for the holidays, I get something small. And correct, Christmas is not about the gifts.

    December 14, 2010/Reply