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Christmas Gift Questions Part Two

Last year I carefully broached the question of Christmas gifts, sensing I was on sacred ground, and this year I have an additional question that occurred to me.  Hopefully you will understand that these questions come from a curious space in my brain, and I’m really trying not to offend.

My understanding of Christmas is that a lot of people construct wish lists similar to a registry for a wedding.  They write down what they would like and other people choose things off of their list. (Or sometimes people stray from the list and purchase something different, just as people sometimes stray from the registry at a wedding.  And some people don’t make lists at all.)  If people do shop off the list, it means that you pretty much know what is under the tree before you get to the gift opening.

I think I was most interested by people who said they purchased a single gift together as the adults, wrapped it and set it under the tree.  So both people definitely knew what was in the box but waited to open it until Christmas gift opening time.

I guess I’m most interested in hearing about the element of surprise.  Is knowing what is in the box and not being able to open it and use it until the gift opening time frustrating?  I ask because that would be very frustrating to me.  If I knew there was an iPad under the tree, I would just want to open and start using the iPad immediately.  Not knowing what is in a box is what helps me to not want to open it immediately, if that makes sense.  If it’s a surprise, I’m imagining what the box might possibly contain and my hopes are pretty neutral.  But if I know exactly what is inside a wrapped box, and it’s something I’ve been waiting for, I would want to just open it and start using it immediately.

I realize in writing this that I would suck at doing Christmas properly.

Would you rather have someone get you something off your wish list, or would you rather have everyone choose a random gift for you that shows how well they know you?  I mean, isn’t part of gift giving to show that you’re listening to the person, trying to understand them and get them something that you believe they would love?  Wedding gifts always seem perfunctory: they’re a must-do much like tipping.  Tipping is supposed to be tied to good service, but regardless of service, we always tip.  And wedding gifts are something you always give the couple, therefore the registry is fabulous because sometimes, you don’t know the couple all that well but you must get them a gift regardless.

I’ve been to the weddings of best friends and I’ve been to the weddings of distant relatives (or even more removed, as the plus-one for a family wedding of a boyfriend).  Without the registry, I would never be able to think up what to get someone I don’t know intimately.  But I’m assuming that you usually buy Christmas gifts for people you know well, and perhaps give gift cards to people you don’t know very well but are obligated to gift to.  Which then always makes me wonder about the surprise element: is it just as exciting to open the gifts if you know what is in them, and are you a wish list maker or do you leave the gifting up to chance?

And lastly, where do people stand on receiving gift cards from loved ones?  I am such a fan of receiving a gift card.  My favourite gifts are iTunes cards, Amazon cards, or bookstore cards.  They’re the gift that keeps giving.  I get the gift one day, and then I use the gift on another day, so it’s like actually getting two gifts.  And I love being able to pick out something I really want.  But I read blog posts where people wrote that giving gift cards to people you know well and love are a complete no-no.  Is that true?

Did you know what was under the tree this year, or were you were completely taken by surprise?  And which gifts are your favourites — the ones you asked for and received (something I’ll admit that I like sometimes the best because then I know I’ll use the item) or the ones that we’re touching because someone knew you so well?

Again, please forgive my ignorance on this.  Hopefully I haven’t offended.  I ask because I really am interested and because gift giving was actually a theme in last night’s House episode (we are finally on Season 8!).

38 comments

1 Battynurse { 12.26.12 at 6:40 pm }

Ok so my perspective on this isn’t the best as I I don’t do a lot of gift exchanging. I finally realized a couple of years ago that even my best friend of many years (holy crap I think it’s 30!) wasn’t great a picking gifts for me. Last year I attempted to remedy this for all of us by suggesting we give ornaments or something Christmassy as a gift. Totally works, I’m surprised by exactly what but its not a matter of knowing exactly what’s there. No I don’t think I could wait if I knew. For the most part I usually buy myself my own Christmas present as I have no one in my life I would ask for something somewhat expensive and then hell no do I wait for Christmas morning, or my birthday or whatever to use it!

2 Battynurse { 12.26.12 at 6:42 pm }

By the way this years Christmas gift to myself was a tummy tuck! :-)

3 Brid { 12.26.12 at 6:59 pm }

I don’t think your questions are offensive.
We don’t really do lists. If I’m having a hard time trying to figure something out for someone, I’ll ask them if there is something they need or want. For Jack, we are all about surprises and we want them to be great… probably something to do with the fact that we were failures at providing him with a sibling (bad, I know, but whatever… his birthday parties are fundraisers for an orphanage in Rwanda, so that might make up for it!).
I try to surprise Jim , but he’s the toughest to buy for. Often, we will buy a piece of art to celebrate the occasion… like our anniversary, for example.
Gift cards are pretty good too. I sent a bottle of wine to my sister-in-law for Christmas… she sent me one too (the one she sent me is named ‘Irony’). So, if we had sent each other gift cards for the liquor store, we could have saved some substantial postage between provinces.
I guess it depends on the occasion, as well. A lot of Christmas seems obligatory , so that makes it tougher. We do try to gift things that are practical… and time them for the big ticket things we might eventually have to get at some point anyhow.
I love giving gifts, but sometimes it gets out of hand… so does Jim, so we have to work together to keep it in line!

4 Queenie { 12.26.12 at 7:14 pm }

Hmmmm. I think maybe someone overemphasized the”wish list” angle to you. Or perhaps the rest of the world is just different from me and everyone I know? Anyway, gift registries or online wishlists are simply not done for Christmas. Kids do written lists, which may our may not be followed. Adults may ask each other
what they want, but may our may not buy that item or items as the actual gifts. So, you don’t really know what will be under the tree. Like, I thought I might get an iPad, but it might have just as really been new leather boots or clothes. So, it’s always a bit of a surprise. I know some couples who agree on a specific gift, but T and I typically don’t do that. We like the surprise. We set a dollar limit for each other, then shop within that parameter. This year, we got each other mostly clothes.

I
they want, but you never know for sure if you are getting something

5 Queenie { 12.26.12 at 7:18 pm }

Wow, that’s a hot mess. I’m typing, er swiping, on my phone. Oh, and gift cards. They are totally done, but then it’s kind of weird, because the dollar amount spent is clearly defined. I prefer to avoid that, although I did give one gift card this year (to my overburdened stepmother, to a day spa she likes).

6 knottedfingers { 12.26.12 at 7:19 pm }

We don’t really exchange gifts. This year I got a surprise gift my first real present in years and it was so AMAZING! I would much prefer something random from my list

7 Josey { 12.26.12 at 7:36 pm }

My husband’s family has a tradition of telling people what to get them (and/or picking out their presents ahead of time when they were kids – then Mom wrapped them and put them under the tree until Christmas), which absolutely drives me nuts. In my family, it was all about the surprise – and yes, the THOUGHT behind picking out a gift for someone you know well. For that reason, I also really dislike gift cards – seems super impersonal to me. I never tell my husband want to get me for my birthday or CHristmas – I’d rather not get a gift at all, but have him pick up something that makes him think of me on an odd day instead.

8 Ms Fit { 12.26.12 at 7:52 pm }

Waiting is a huge part of the Christian tradition of Christmas. In the church, the four weeks leading up to Christmas is the season if Advent, which is a season of solemn expectancy. So, for me, the waiting makes Christmas more meaningful, which I guess makes it more fun, too. I love to receive gift cards. Sometimes I make a list, and sometimes I don’t. I’m always very touched to receive a thoughtful and surprising gift that is just what I forgot I wanted. But we are also pretty practical in our house, so we often use Christmas as a way to replace shredded long underwear or add a much-needed boost to our wireless signal. Purchases we would make anyway, but exchanging them as Christmas gifts makes it more fun, even if there isn’t a huge element of surprise.

I love your questions. They really made me think.

9 Ladyblogalot { 12.26.12 at 8:24 pm }

Whatever. And I mean that literally, not in a teenage-hand-in-your-face kind of way. They’ve ruined that word forever. anyway… whatever is good. Presents that I know what they are, presents that I don’t, gift vouchers, for $5 or $100, whatever makes everyone happy because I’m pretty happy with any of it. I think we need to relax the rules around Christmas. No more rules about if you can or can’t hand over a gift card, how much it has to be worth, no more lists of demands… just something to unwrap and loads of food with the people you normally avoid seeing because they annoy the hell out of you. Now *that* is what Christmas is all about.

10 KER { 12.26.12 at 9:27 pm }

I hate when I know what gifts I’m getting ahead of time. My husband has this obnoxious compulsion to tell me exactly what I’m getting AND giving it to me before Christmas, because that is what he likes, and he doesnt’ believe me when I tell him I don’t like that. I like surprises! I like waiting until delivery to find out the sex of our kids, and I like waiting to find out what I”m getting for a gift. I also don’t really do wish lists. my mom always asks what I want for Christmas and I’ll give her a few ideas, but I don’t do a wish list. My SIL has wish lists for her kids on Amazon and god help you if you get something not on the wish list, it’s like you bought her kids a loaded gun or a dry haystack and a pack of matches. (Of course, she’s never bought my kids any presents with less than 200 pieces, so riddle me that one.) I guess my point is that I’ve seen the full spectrum.

11 lifeintheshwa { 12.26.12 at 10:13 pm }

I remember as a kid writing out things I wanted to ask Santa for, but no real lists here. my son asked Santa this year for a real train (like the ones you wait for at a crossing) and a real digger (that’d be a full sized backhoe). Luckily he wasn’t too disappointed when neither were in our front yard Christmas morning. No single gift for him was over $20, and most were little, fun games for him to play with which has been a huge hit. I’m not a big fan of the whole commercialization thing, so he got lots of practical clothes he can probably wear until next Christmas, and a few cute new toys, paints etc. I have friends who posted pictures of their 8 week old with an entire 4 seater couch filled with toys that “santa brought for her!” but I don’t really think that’s the idea. Every family is different – with mine we are happy to just buy gifts for the little ones, but my in-laws were offended we’d even suggest not bothering with gifts. Gift cards are fine, especially appropriate when you don’t know the person as well. They are all we ever get from my FIL. My husband did ask what was on my wish list – but it’s mostly because he knows I like practical gifts of things I really need.

As someone else said the weeks leading up to Christmas are a time of spiritual waiting – waiting for peace, hope, joy and love (not unlike waiting to be a parent). We also give charitable donations in honour of people as well to spread the joy as it were. Every family is different – my family are happy to just give gifts to the little ones, whereas my in-laws were offended that we wanted to skip gift giving. Gift cards are fine, but in some instances they kinda show the gift giver didn’t put much thought into it – ie FIL always gets us gift cards and so is absolved from really putting much thought into it – that’s ok, we got him one this year rather than trying to find something he’d absolutely love. :)

12 lifeintheshwa { 12.26.12 at 10:15 pm }

Whoops, something screwy in my duplication there! Sorry!

13 Azara { 12.26.12 at 10:22 pm }

This year I told my extended family we were not buying them gifts and not to buy anything for us. My husband rarely buys me something I’d like and now generally just sticks with chocolate. It makes me sad because I love picking out really thoughtful gifts for people and I wish someone would do that for me.

At this point I’ve given up on it. Even when I give a long list, so there are lots of options, it doesn’t get used and I end up with a bunch of unwanted stuff. Then I feel pissed off and buy myself the stuff I really wanted right after Christmas/my birthday/etc. The whole thing is ridiculous.

As far as gift cards – I love getting gift cards for bookstores because it’s an inexpensive gift for the giver but I love buying a new book without any guilt (I usually only buy books at used book sales). I also love getting a gift card for a nice restaurant. My favourite present ever was when a friend checked with my husband ahead of time to make sure I was free, then bought me a ticket to go see a play with her. Any gift that involves an experience/making a memory is probably going to be a favourite with me.

14 a { 12.26.12 at 10:44 pm }

I want gifts to be well-thought out things specifically chosen for me based on my personality and likes and dislikes. What I invariably get are gifts that other people would buy for themselves so they think everyone should like it. Like, from my MIL – we got a nice box full of home canned tomato juice (which I hate, but my husband likes), a container of almonds (I’m beginning to think I’m allergic to almonds – I keep getting heart palpitations after eating them), some couscous (it’s OK), some cash (my husband immediately confiscated it, which is fine) and some Toblerone (which I don’t like, but my husband does). All of these things are either my MIL’s preferences or her way of gently nudging (or passive aggressively suggesting, depending on your mood at the time) us toward healthier eating. The only thing remotely related to things I might like is the chocolate…except I don’t care for that and I’m pretty sure I’ve told her that before.

My husband is awful at gifts too. However, if I make a list and give it to him to choose from, he’ll buy everything on the list. I don’t want that, so I don’t even bother any more. I was so pissed off at him this year, though. The PTO had a little Christmas store at my daughter’s school, and I gave her money to buy gifts for me, my husband, and her grandmothers. My husband decided we didn’t need any of that junk (we don’t, but that misses the point of the exercise), took half the money away, and instructed our daughter to only buy gifts for the grandmothers. So, in his efforts to avoid junk, he’s teaching my daughter that she doesn’t have to buy gifts for people, because he’s certainly not going to go out and buy something for me since I didn’t give him a list. All I’m saying is, don’t inquire about that freshly dug up patch of earth in my back yard…

Anyway, gifts are a giant minefield. Some people like lists. Some people are thoughtful. Some people go their own way. Some people find gift cards impersonal and offensive. Some people love ‘em. Some people get all consumed by giving people more material things.

All I know is, I should have gotten my librarian a bottle of champagne instead of chocolates and a cat toy, but I didn’t know until last Saturday that she and her (other librarian) boyfriend just bought a house together. The rest of my gifts were very thoughtful and everyone liked them. :)

15 a { 12.26.12 at 10:47 pm }

Oh, also – we (as adults) generally buy a larger ticket item as our “gift.” Last year, it was a giant iPod that I don’t use, but get to download and sync all the music for. The year before, it was a TV. This year, I had to get myself a present, because my daughter is very suspicious about why Santa doesn’t bring me any presents. But our overall “gift” is a new microwave, since our old one apparently has a short in it. Those things don’t get wrapped and put under the tree, though – they go immediately into general use.

16 Kimberly { 12.26.12 at 11:10 pm }

This might get long and I apologize in advance. But I love your curiosity when it comes to others traditions that you are trying to understand.

Gift giving is different in each family. Growing up, we told our parents what we were going to ask Santa for, they would pick one big gift out of that list if they found it appropriate and then they would buy us clothes and other little “surprises” (board games, puzzles, a new book) To go with the “big gift”. Now, my parents buy a joint gift for me and my husband. Usually something for the house and its a big gift. One year we got a tv to replace our old one, another was a deep fryer, another was our Wii. Sometimes it’s a surprise, sometimes they ask us. They like to surprise us if they can, but if they don’t know what to get us, they ask. This year we moved into our new house, we are established for the most part with what we need so they really didn’t know what to get us. They asked and I told them that we would love to get a Tassimo so that’s what they got us. I spent most of December knowing they had it just dying to open it and use it but it gave me something to look forward to. Now my inlaws gifts we knew nothing about but we were as excited for them as we were for our Tassimo.

But that being said, I’ve always been more excited by the giving than receiving of gifts. I’ve always put more value on a homemade gift over a store bought gift and that shows in my gifts. Most of my gifts to others this year included baked goods or something homemade. My brothers gift was a large box of baked goods shipped out to him and his room mate on the other side of the country. He missed home and the traditions he would miss out on, I gave him some of those traditions by sending makes goods.

Hubby and I don’t buy for each other and haven’t since we moved in together. We like it that way. If we want something for the house (ie we need a new DVD player) we will go after the holidays and purchase it together. And we buy for very few people. Both sets of parents, my brother and my grandparents. I take part in a secret santa for my dart league and swap small gifts with my cousin and two of my other close friends. Also, each year me and a group of my other girlfriends have a Christmas party, we do potluck style and we do a secret Santa. We set a theme each year for the type of gift- last year was “entirely homemade” while this year was “keep it under 20″. It’s a blind secret Santa. You don’t know who you are buying for, you put all the gifts on a table and one of the girls sons passes them out randomly before he goes to bed. I like that one because its less about the gift and more about just a night out with the girls. Otherwise when gifting friends at Christmas, we keep it simple if we do it at all. It’s all about the surprise. It’s about knowing what they like and finding something nice within a small budget that works for them.

As for gift cards, I’m always pro on that. If someone hands me an iTunes card, I get giddy. If someone gives me a gift card to my favorite clothing store, that’s great because I can choose what I want to get. But then again I’m easy to please. I look forward to gifts of new undies and socks each year. I’m generally just happy that someone thought of me when buying gifts so I don’t care what I get as long as it was given with love.

17 Jen { 12.27.12 at 12:11 am }

First, I must say that I love what you do on Christmas. Since I didn’t celebrate Christmas growing up, I remember some torturous years where hearing all the Christmas crap drove me nuts. Other years I could care less. So bravo for having some awesome movies and activities! To answer your questions….a) knowing what’s under the tree and not being able to touch it is just EVIL! If I don’t know, I’m pretty good at ignoring it. b) having a combination of known items and surprises are fantastic. For example, some things I want specifically if it’s a big purchase. If I buy a new computer or camera, I want the exact model I’ve researched because it’s a big purchase. As for the rest, I’d just rather it be a surprise. c) gift cards – yes for more distant family/friends or teenagers, but no, for close family unless they are specific for iTunes/Amazon, or collaborating for a big present. d) This year I had a combo. My computer died in September, so I got my present early (I have to work). My hubby got a few needed odds and ends for me that were surprises and also some bracelet charms. My favorite was the sweet card that came along with it. My hubby is not the most romantic, so it was nice to have something sweet like that. On a side note, we tend not to go too overboard with each other and keep it moderate for the kiddo. We want it most to be about family and love.

18 Mali { 12.27.12 at 12:27 am }

OK, I’ve never heard of wish lists, and don’t like the idea of them for Christmas. It conveys the idea of expectation, of entitlement. The whole point of gift giving is the point of giving (in my book anyway), not receiving. (I’ve just written a bit of a rant about the whole consumerism thing).

I’d also say that in my family and with my traditions, we are much more likely to agree to skip the gift giving at Christmas, but to treat birthdays as much more important.

The idea of the “surprise” is important. The formality of waiting, of showing patience, and of then being able to show appropriate gratitude (often in front of others), is I think quite nice. This year, for example, my husband and I agreed no gifts between us. Then when we were shopping for my niece, he surprised me by buying something I liked from the same shop (sadly not the expensive red French handbag!!). It was gift-wrapped, and put under the tree. I wasn’t allowed to wear it before. I like that I had to wait.

I agree with you 100% on the gift cards. I love receiving them, and giving them (to the right person). They often take just as much thought as a gift – and are usually more appreciated.

I’ve just posted on this whole issue here – http://aseparatelife.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/too-much-too-much-too-much/

19 Kacey { 12.27.12 at 1:20 am }

I’ve never known anyone who created a wish list or a registry, at least no adults. Kids might write a letter to Santa and I might ask my husband for ideas or vice-versa, but I don’t know anyone who actually writes out a list and I find the idea pretty gross. We only exchange gifts in our little family of 3 plus my mother and father-in-law so it is a pretty simple affair we usually buy my in-laws each a present from us as a couple and something from our son and they usually give us a joint present and something for him and we do Santa so that’s who his big present is from and then he gets a stocking and the adults all put together stockings for each other (which are filled with a bottle of booze, candy, and then generally just cheap useful things: chapstick, lotion, warm socks, etc). Beyond the immediate family we just give out cookie trays/baked goods and cards and I usually help my son make some homemade playdough or something for his playgroup buddies. I’m an atheist, the rest of my family is more agnostic, but I love Christmas as a time of coming together as a family and we actually take the whole month of December off of homeschooling to bake and craft and just enjoy each other’s company. It gets a bad wrap as a commercialized holiday, but I think we keep ours pretty small and low-key and when done right I feel like it’s a really beautiful idea to get together and celebrate that the days are starting to get longer and we’re getting through another winter together.

20 Kacey { 12.27.12 at 1:21 am }

Ha! “bad wrap” oh good lord, you know what I meant.

21 Alicia { 12.27.12 at 3:12 am }

I have celebrated Xmas my whole life and still suck at celebrating. I don’t understand the lists for adults (I just purchase things I want for myself and assume others would rationally do the same…) and I am a huge fan of gift cards. I think I’m a Xmas anomaly though…

22 stephanie { 12.27.12 at 3:15 am }

in our family, we do a kris kringle for all the adults – we only give one gift to each person. It usually results in sharing a list of things that they would like. To be honest, whilst i like being thoughtful, sometimes i do get it wrong, and would much prefer giving something that was useful or wanted, rather than not.

23 dspence { 12.27.12 at 9:39 am }

Setting aside the spiritual side of Christmas for a moment (our family celebrates Advent, etc.), I think it depends on the person you are buying for and understanding the people who buy for you. Here’s how we do things:

The only people I purchase Christmas gifts for are my family and best friend. I know them well enough that I don’t ask what they would like. Instead, I just listen and observe. I get creative. I think of what they would enjoy and use but would still be unexpected or original. They each get one gift from me which has been picked out, planned, or imagined over the past several months. By Christmas, I am beside myself with excitement for them to open their present! The anticipation of their reaction thrills me!

For my daughter, it is a little different. As a child, she has a very different set of expectations and desires for Christmas. Throughout the year, whenever she asks for a toy/book/movie/doll, I take a picture with my phone of her holding that item. As the months pass, pictures get deleted when she stops expressing interest in the item. By the time Christmas rolls around, there are usually eight things left in the phone. I have a specific list of requirements for her Christmas gifts: one big present (like a bike or scooter), one puzzle or critical thinking activity, one board game, and one stuffed/plush toy. The rest can be whatever. The idea being that these four things help her continue to be active, challenge her mentally, engage in group activities, and encourage creative play. It’s just how we roll.

For my husband, he receives multiple gifts from me. Again, I simply listen and observe. His are usually more practical since he’s a practical kind of guy. I try to find something for his home office, a new hoodie, a new book, and something fun.

My family members do similar things for me. They never ask me what I would like – they simply listen. My best friend swears by cast iron pans and heard me mention that I don’t have one. BAM! Cast iron pan. My parents noticed how excited I was when my mother received a designer handbag last Christmas? New handbag. My sister noticed that my earbuds were cutting out when she and I were on the phone? New earbuds!

The one exception is when my husband buys for me. He listens, but has trouble retaining or remembering to write things down. He just isn’t that kind of person. So, he asks that I give him an idea list (with links to the item online). I try to put only one big item ($100+) and four to six smaller items ($30 and under). This year, he purchased the cruiser bicycle I’ve been wanting, six pairs of adorable knee socks, the Complete Les Miserables book with libretto, Tiffany playing cards, and Indian Jones and The Last Crusade DVD. Best Christmas Ever!

Wow, that was quite a novel. Hope it shed some light on the subject for you! A more direct answer may have been: I knew he bought the cruiser bike – it was hidden under a tarp in the garage. But we still kept it covered until Christmas morning when he rolled it into the living room. I was just excited to get a full look at MY bike rather than seeing it in the store! I used to give $10 iTunes gift cards to my Aunt and Uncles, but we’ve gradually shifted to simply exchanging Christmas cards.

24 EmHart { 12.27.12 at 9:46 am }

I like to give small, handmade christmassy gifts. People have enough ‘stuff’ and I don’t like to support the commercialisation of the holiday that should be about family and friends. I am an atheist but culturally I was raised christian so the holiday has deep meaning for me in terms of my family traditions. I go for pickles, biscuits, tree decorations etc, all made by myself and decorated beautifully. I hand make cards too. I hate the expectation of spending money and the over indulgence of it all. My in laws spent a great deal of money on us and brought us a pile of presents but it simply made us feel uncomfortable and filled the house with bits we don’t really need. As for children, I think they get too much. I have been studying a book called ‘simplicity parenting’ and it hits the nail on the head. When I have children they will have a small stocking with fruit, nuts and maybe a bit of candy and a simple small toy or two, this will be from father christmas. They will then get one present from us which will probably be hand made or possibly not if they really do need and want a bike for instance. I love the little house books when Laura talks about the joy of a doll on Christmas day. Just one simple doll. I also intend to be VERY strict with family. Children need less not more. I do love a surprise in a present and we never write lists. If there is something I want I get it for myself. my favorite presents are homemade or very thoughtful personal ones from those who know and love me best.

25 Melanie { 12.27.12 at 10:51 am }

Like a previous conmentet said, I think the list thing and/or being told the gift ahead of time has been over emphasized by someone. Or perhaps you just know a lot of people that do things that way. It’s different in every family. I don’t think Christmas gifts are any different than birthday gifts. The same people that make a wish list for Christmas probably also do one for their birthday. Same gift giving etiquette applies. I don’t think there are any Christmas specific rules out there.

Ideally, a surprise gift that embodies exactly what a person always wanted and needed but didn’t know it, is perfect. But obviously you’re not going to have a great idea like that for every person on your list, every year. My family tends to give all surprise gifts. Sometimes they are a fantastic, sometimes bot so much. My husband’s family will send me a text from the store asking what we want. I can never think of things to tell them on the spot like that. I usually tell my husband a few things I need/want and let him distribute those ideas or get them himself as he sees fit and he does the same for me.

I did a wishpot wish list for my 3 year old this year for his birthday and Christmas. (December birthday) I was very reluctant to do it. Last year he got so many presents it was overwhelming. This year we happened to have a lot of ideas for things he would really love, but couldn’t buy him all of it. Nor would I want to. He gets one gift from us on his birthday and one big thing from Santa, small things in his stocking, then one or two gifts from us wrapped under the tree. That is more than enough. We are not give them a room full of gifts people, but I know people that are. Anyhow, we figured if he is going to get twenty gifts anyway (we can’t seem to stop that no matter how many times we’ve told people he doesn’t need much/anything) why not give people a little direction so they are all things he would really love. I was very concerned at looking like we are asking for presents instead of being grateful to receive them. I did not want it to come across as entitled, greedy, or bossy. Some people bought things off it and others didn’t. Maybe some were offended. A few loved it cause they knew they were getting something he would really enjoy. Especially if they hadnt been around hin recently to know what he was in to now. The same way you feel about wedding registries. I probably won’t do it again. And I would never ever do one for myself, or have him do one for himself when he’s older. All the gifts were still surprises to him. I have a one year old and didn’t do one for him, cause people know what to buy a baby!

I also think that waiting til Christmas morning to open the presents is part of the fun.. Usually you don’t know exactly what’s there, but have ideas or guesses and its the anticipation that’s the best part and the most difficult when you are a kid!

26 Tigger { 12.27.12 at 11:10 am }

We make lists, but it’s primarily a “hey, I saw this during the year and I’d like it, so I’ll put it here so I don’t forget” type of thing. We use it for birthdays and Christmas, but the chances of remembering what was on our list and noticing what was removed is slim. I also don’t remove things from his list until AFTER Christmas/birthday, so he doesn’t know what I bought even if he were the type to notice. The other reason we have lists is because people like my uncle like to buy us things, but he doesn’t know us all that well and the list gives him ideas, unless he sends gift cards.

On the note of gift cards/money: If it’s someone who doesn’t know me very well (my extended family, for example), then it’s fine and dandy. I’d prefer that to them trying to find something they think I might like, and then me having to try to return it or keep something I don’t like. It irks me to no end, however, that my FATHER sees fit to just give me a check, like his mother does. My mother would never have allowed it – she always bought gifts or made them – but since she’s been gone, dad doesn’t even try. I mean, I have a LIST he could at least get things from but no, he gives me a check which I then have to find time to go to the bank and deposit and then it usually ends up getting spent elsewhere before I can find time to get to a store. ARGH!

27 Melanie { 12.27.12 at 11:51 am }

I also agree with commenter above on the gift card issue. I live getting gift cards to stores I frequent. It’s like saying here, go on a shopping spree after Christmas to all your favorite places and you don’t have to pay. Much preferred to receiving something I deapise and trying to pretend I like it. I’m a terrible actor. And it honestly brings out a bit of my social anxiety when opening gifts in front of people cause I don’t want to make an ass out of myself.

However, I’m not a fan of cash or the visa gift card, which is essentially cash. Last year my inlaws gave each of us (their kids and their siblings) checks for $50. The money inevitably was spent on gas or groceries or something. Being that we are all better off financially than they are it just didn’t sit right that they were essentially paying our bills. We all would have much rather received a small, more thoughtful gift. But I think my MIL feels obligated to spend a certain amount of money on everyone and didn’t have any good ideas and/or time. Who knows? But it didn’t feel right.

28 MinnieK { 12.27.12 at 11:57 am }

My rules for gift cards: I’ll give pretty much any kind of gift card to someone my age or younger. If the recipient is older than me, it has to be a special thing – day at a spa, pedicures, etc. It can’t be something generic like Applebees, unless that person has an unnatural love of Applebees. For extended family, we send food gifts (honeybaked ham, croissants from Williams Sanoma). My husband and I don’t exchange gifts, but we did decide that next year we will buy each other a special Christmas ornament (we lost a bunch of ornaments in a move this year). We did wish lists to Santa when we were kids, and I think my mom shared them with extended family and they used them as a guide, but mostly we received thoughtful gifts from relatives related to our interests. I think most of them sent money to my mom to buy presents she knew we’d like and put their names on the tags. We lived thousands of miles away from most of our relatives, so this worked for us (no shipping costs!)
I don’t know what we’ll do when we have kids. It’s been hard to navigate the extended family gift giving procedures as an adult – my family is kind of crazy. They seem to have some sort of scoring system for good family member behavior that ranks visits, calls, presents, and I can never seem to score well. So I just keep on doing what I am comfortable with and what I can afford and hope for the best.

29 Sharon { 12.27.12 at 1:33 pm }

My experience tells me that there is a lot of variation in this, depending upon the culture of each family and group of friends. Over the years, most of my close friends and I have “evolved” to the point where we have agreed NOT to exchange gifts for Christmas, preferring to spend time together and to give gifts for birthdays, when everyone has less going on.

In my family, we have never done wish lists per se, but it was/is considered perfectly acceptable to let others know about things you might like. My dad and stepmom used to hate getting/giving gift cards but now want gift cards from the same (clothing) store every year to hit the after-Christmas sales (go figure).

My husband always makes a list in October of what he wants, and his parents always buy only from his list or give him a gift card to one of the stores or restaurants he likes, or give him cash. His gifts to his parents are the same: either things they’ve mentioned wanting or gift cards to one of their “regular” places.

I *love* surprise gifts that are something I didn’t even know I wanted but are perfect–one past gift like that which springs to mind is my first iPod, given to me by an ex-boyfriend–but honestly, apart from my husband and my BFF (with whom I don’t exchange Xmas gifts), there is no one in my life who really knows me and my tastes well enough to buy such a gift.

Plus, as my sister and I have often discussed. . . anything we would really want that we hadn’t already bought for ourselves would cost way more $$ than anyone who was buying for us would want, or could afford, to spend. (Ex: I have wanted half-carat diamond earrings for about ten years. I’m still waiting.)

30 StacieT { 12.27.12 at 4:30 pm }

I prefer to be surprised, but my poor husband is not one to do the whole thoughtful gift thing. lol. This year, I told him what I’d like, and he went out and got it. My mom always manages to surprise me, though. ;-)

I have heard that many people were using social media like Pinterest to help select gifts for those they love. I thought that was pretty brilliant on their part. But, that’s just me.

This time of year is such a varied experience for every family. What we do may not be all that similar to what another family does. I kind of like it that way!

31 Amy { 12.27.12 at 5:34 pm }

I dated a guy once who literally – as an adult! – went shopping WITH his mother, chose all of his own gifts, and then she wrapped them and gave them to him at Christmas (2-4 weeks later). It’s still the dumbest thing I’ce ever heard.

I prefer the elemen of surprise, but am realizing there’s really no one in my life, including my husband, who is any good at really picking out gifts for me. Gift cards are always fine (in fact, my favorite gift this year was to my favorite steakhouse two hours away, and it was a total surprise from my elderly grandmother-in-law…who also gave me two dusty pieces of her Princess House glassware), and sometimes, faced with the alternative, a welcome relief.

I make lists of ideas for those I’m shopping for, but haven’t made a list for myself since I was a kid.

32 Blanche { 12.28.12 at 9:08 pm }

All of this is so interesting!

One side of the family insists on getting gift lists for the 3 of us but refuses to provide any of their own (we are supposed to pick the perfect things for them or they get insulted). Strangely the adult lists are followed to the T, but LO rarely gets much off her list, so what she does get tends to be what they think she should like, but generally doesn’t.

The other side also asks for ideas for the 3 of us, but are more likely to really consider our interests and things we would like and do a pretty good job with that. They are also hard to get ideas from but are much easier to shop for as they do not pout.

And then there’s my BIL with chronic health issues who prefers to be the giver than the recipient but isn’t really able to be a giver at the moment so has to be handled with kid gloves when it comes to being persuaded to accept gifts he doesn’t feel he deserves.

I’d actually rather get a physical gift than a gift card. I want to save the cards for something special vs. regular expenses, but generally get paralyzed by trying to find the right thing so the card doesn’t get used. If I don’t like a physical gift, I feel much less remorse in moving it along.

Even if I know what I’m getting, I like the anticipation of waiting, plus the process of unwrapping (gift bags pretty much suck). I could buy most things I ask for myself, but it wouldn’t have any thrill to start using it immediately.

33 magpie { 12.28.12 at 9:24 pm }

lists are for kids to make and parents to pick and choose from. i’d be in the poor house if my kid got everything on her list, plus, it would sit all wrong with me. so she got a few things she asked for, and some books, and some underpants. and i do have an amazon wish list for her, mostly to give guidance to the family members who might want to buy her the chinese checkers we ought to have.

also, i hate gift cards. i find them sort of onerous. i have to remember to use them, and then there’s either just a little left over, or i have to make up the difference, and — it’s too much like cash. that said, i have given up on my 20-something nieces and they get amex gift cards because what else are you going to do? this year i found puzzle cases to put them in (Think Geek, i think) – so at least there was something to do besides admire the piece of plastic.

this year, i got a camera for christmas – a few weeks ago. my husband wrapped the empty box up and put it under the tree. that was a surprise!

34 Erin { 12.28.12 at 11:16 pm }

I have mixed feelings about wish lists. One year hubby and I both made Amazon wish lists and it was really nice because I got gifts that my family wouldn’t have otherwise purchased and I really enjoyed everything (and I had enough items on the list that it was still a surprise which ones I received). But in general I am against lists because like you said it steals the surprise.

In regard to gift cards, I completely disagree. Gift cards are so impersonal and I just feel like it’s a huge letdown to receive one. Of course it’s still nice to get them versus nothing at all, but the worst for me are restaurant gift cards. Hubby and I go to restaurants all the time and I just don’t think of that as much of a gift. If any gift card, I appreciate the clothing store gift cards the most. But even then, I prefer a gift that the giver has put thought into. That’s just my 2 cents.

35 Ellen K. { 12.29.12 at 12:02 am }

We celebrate Advent, so Christmastime is all about the wait. Wait for another morning or, depending on number of siblings, wait for another turn to open the Advent calendar. Wait for another Sunday to light another candle on the wreath. Wait for the third Sunday to light the special pink candle! So the season builds upon itself. And oh, the NORAD Santa Tracker. I love it, absolutely love it on Christmas Eve. (“Girls! Santa is in Brazil! You’d better get to bed NOW!”) We celebrate Epiphany, too — no rushing to take down decorations here. This is the first year that I & N had their own Advent calendar, and I do think it helped them be more patient. Or maybe they were just low-key from strep throat. Now I’m an impatient gift giver in general, as I think we discussed last year, but I’m OK with waiting to receive my own gifts, even when I know what they will be and even when it is something supremely useful like the annual large check from my parents. It has to wait until Christmas morning. That’s just how it is. I think the earliest we’ve ever exchanged family gifts (with my parents, brothers, D’s sisters, etc) is the 22nd. I usually buy gifts before the first week of December because I feel like I’m missing too much of the season if I shop later.

We really wouldn’t have thought of peeking, ever, as kids. My mom is still angry that my 6th-grade best friend spent the night once and encouraged us to dig around for the hidden presents. I saw just one of my gifts in the garage cabinets, and Christmas was such a letdown that year. (Much like Laura and the Tennyson volume in “Little Town on the Prairie.”)

St. Louis Catholics often celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which I totally love and brag about to friends back home. This year the girls set out their Christmas lists inside their boots. St. Nicholas left candy and small gifts and took the lists back to the North Pole, where he got ready for Round 2 as Santa Claus. I’ll have to fine-tune this story before next Dec. 5, that’s for sure. Another tricky thing: The girls watched “Annie” this year and zeroed in on “Santa Claus we never see / Santa Claus, what’s that? Who’s he?”

36 loribeth { 12.31.12 at 2:13 pm }

We do exchange “wish lists” in our family, but they meant to be a guideline/shopping aid only — I certainly would not expect to receive everything on mine. My list can be pretty general — my mom & sister know, for example, that I love a pretty sweater & what my favourite stores are & my size, so anything along those lines would be welcome. My sister will sometimes send me specific URLs for the exact sweaters she wants, but I don’t go that far. ;) I do have a wish list on the Pandora jewelry site for specific charms I like/want, & dh loves it because he knows exactly what charms I would really like. I know I am pretty much guaranteed to receive a charm from him as one of my Christmas presents, ever since I got my bracelet.

But I love being totally surprised with a gift that maybe wasn’t on my wish list but someone knew I would like. : )

Whether I actually get what I asked for, or something else, though, I do like the surprise. Although dh — & his brother — can’t keep secrets to save their lives — he always drops so many hints (unsolicited by me), I usually have a pretty good idea of what I’m getting by the time I open it. But I seldom KNOW for sure. And that’s part of the fun of Christmas, to me.

I generally like receiving gift cards (& they can be a lifesaver as a gift, if I cant’ think of anything more original) — but I try not to give them to the same person year after year (unless I know that’s really what they want, and some people really do want them!). I do think it’s kind of the lazy way out. Likewise, I’d probably be a bit annoyed if I received the same gift card from the same person, year after year. I mean, a gift is a gift and it’s nice to get anything, but it’s true that it doesn’t take much thought or effort.

37 It Is What It Is { 12.31.12 at 3:33 pm }

I haven’t read all the comments but, as an adult, I’ve done Christmas a number of ways when it comes to gifts (within the family, we’ve done a white elephant style exchange, and we’ve also picked names and were given a max dollar amount to spend), but I have never created a wish list or registry. I think my very traditional Catholic family would be offended (even if I think it is a fairly good idea, if you are going to give gifts to get the recipient what s/he really wants). I have asked folks what they would like, as in give me 3-5 things, but don’t feel compelled to only shop their guidelines.

Now that their are children in our family, they are the real recipients. Most of my family gives gift cards (and I try to pick a restaurant that I think they would like to try or know they frequent).

Truth be told, I want for nothing. I do want to exchange one gift with my husband (that can be from me/him or from our son), but that’s it. This year, b/c I was about to deliver, we got the best gift ever and so opted to give each other something practical (me, Calphalon pan, my husband new headphones).

38 clare { 01.09.13 at 4:31 pm }

“everyone choose a random gift for you that shows how well they know you…” HANDS DOWN!

In fact, such carefully chosen gifts like that from 1-2 people each year is perfect, I don’t need it from everyone!

The surprise element is the entire thing for me. Growing up, us kids would wrap their presents throughout December and put them under the tree — enjoying our parents trying to guess and seeing the mountain of little thing grow. My mom goes to extremes and buys things on sale for her self, wraps them, hides them, and then like a squirrel tries to find them in December to put under the tree. She is positively delighted every year with these gifts. They are perfectly chosen (by her) and with time (sometimes 2-3years post purchase) they are a complete surprise!

As a teacher type.. gift cards are great from parents wonderful and always appreciated, particularly if the kids have written something in a sharpie on them so I think of them all year long when I open my wallet and then when the perfect time to use the card comes around…. but gift cards from close friends — … nah, I’d rather just have them spend the money to call me long distance or if local, go to lunch with me.

My parents used to only buy one thing for each other… and half the time one would open something up and look so crestfallen — then laugh– because they had bought the exact same thing for the other person! but then there was the year where my mom picked up a Dec 25th cheap flight and flew my dad home to see his mom. That was a splendid surprise where we opened pressies and then jumped in the car and went to the airport to send him off!

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