The quest for the perfect gift for someone can be a little intimidating. Either you don't know the person well and you're having a hard time thinking of what to give them, or you know them far too well and can't seem to think of something that will suitably show your affection for them. Or maybe they're the kind of person who already seems to have everything or never want anything! I know I have people of all these descriptions on my list this year. Here, then, are some tips I will be keeping in mind as I start my gift-giving:
Pay attention to the things they talk about, the things they value, and the things they share. Sometimes we way over-think peoples' interests. We sit there trying hard to understand their passions when really, we should be stalking their Facebook feed. I am only halfway joking here. If you listen, people will tell and are telling you about themselves. If someone is always sharing Calvin & Hobbes comics on Facebook or always retweeting tweets about Belgian poets, or perhaps every time you're together, they reference hunting, tart there and build from the ground upward.
Do your research. There are few things more embarrassing than giving someone a gift you thought was perfect, only to find out they A) hate chocolate B) don't have their ears pierced C) hate reading. Try to be as sure as you can that you've covered at least these bases. I can't tell you the number of times I've saved my dignity by doing a quick check at a recent picture of a friend to see if they have their ears pierced or not. That seems to be a big one among girls, for some reason.
Go personal. People seem to fret over whether gifts are too personal or not, but here's my standard: if you know the person well enough to have personal memories of them, hearkening back to those personal memories is not in bad taste, provided the memory-making itself wasn't in bad taste. this principle works even with acquaintances. Let's say you went on a road trip with a casual friend and some inside joke started. Getting them something related to that joke would be funny and probably cheap. For instance, if a certain friend of mine got me an IHOP giftcard, I wouldn't be able to stop laughing. It's just that funny. Or maybe you know a friend who is a writer and is always cold. Buy her some fingerless gloves and handwarmers and include a funny note.
Think classically. Let's say you're participating in a gift exchange with strangers and get the name of someone you've obviously never met. If the person has provided a short description of their personality, you're in luck. Let's say they mentioned that they liked to read, but never specified what they liked to read. Let's say they liked cold weather and camping and the outdoors. If I got a person of that description, I'd pay homage to some classics and traditions and then spin it creatively by putting together a fireside s'mores package complete with chocolate, marshmallows, locally-roasted coffee, and a book written by some famous explorer or another. Look to globally-shared experiences (i.e. s'mores just GO with camping), and use that to help lead you into creativity.
Explain yourself. Oftentimes the thought that goes into a gift is almost worth more than the gift itself. I am never happier than when someone says, "Hey, I saw this and thought of you because..." A couple weeks back, one of the little girls I nanny bought me two ornaments: an Eiffel Tower and a glittery hedgehog. "I just knew you would love him, Miss Rachel. He's so cute because his face looks a little like, 'huhhhh?'"
So include a note explaining the thinking behind your gift, the reason why you thought of the friend when you saw this item, or what you hope they'll do with it. This is the most fun when you send a package with a lot of little gifts inside. I delight in scrawling mysterious messages on the tags of individual parcels and keeping my friends guessing what will be inside. It's all part of the magic.
Go handmade. If you're really stumped for a person, try thinking about something you could make. Find out their favorite candy bar and make the homemade (and probably better-than-the-original) version. Think of a list of songs that make you think of them, songs they love, and songs you've loved together, and burn a c.d. of a customized playlist. Make homemade marmalade. Buy some vodka and vanilla beans and make homemade vanilla extract for their frequent baking sprees. You'll think of something, I know.
Merry Christmas-Start-Up to you all! I am headed down to visit my friend in the New Orleans area, Clara Thompson, right now. We have loads of sparkle and glitter and beacoup d'elegance planned and I'm certain at least one post will be forthcoming! Who am I kidding? I'm sure several posts will be forthcoming. Cheers, and may the Ghost of Christmas Present gladly haunt your hearts!