On Gifts

So it’s that time of year when we all have to dip into our creativity (and our wallets) to come up with gifts for our loved ones.

No easy task, for sure, especially if your loved ones are also adults with their own tastes and preferences.

“I just give my kids money,” said my friend. “That’s what they want. That way they can pick exactly what they like.”

But do they? Or do they just fritter it away on rent or the phone bill or Starbucks.

See, here’s the thing. I want my gift to be a gift–something that brings joy, a treat, something you wouldn’t have thought to buy yourself. Maybe even a little surprise.

Of course, not every gift will be the perfect gift, but that’s part of the challenge, at least for me. What would this person really, really want, desire?

Money seems so cold. Like a business transaction. To me, money is something you earn. You have to do something in order to get it.

Gifts, on the other hand, come with no strings. You just sit there with a warm cup of tea cradled in your palms, and the good stuff comes pouring in, all wrapped and pretty and full of promise!

Of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get an inordinate amount of pleasure planning and plotting and anticipating the reaction when the gift is finally opened. Sheer bliss!

Starting around October, I listen for the little clues: Oh this new album just came out. Ugh! My hiking boots are falling apart. Ya know, a little mani-pedi wouldn’t hurt.

And I take note and I plan and I strategize.

How does one do this with money? One doesn’t, I guess. And that’s the point. Money is just straightforward.

But a gift . . . ah! a gift is magic!

It is something you didn’t ask for, something you couldn’t have anticipated, and yes, maybe something you didn’t want.

Barbra Streisand wanted to be an actress. Instead she was gifted a voice. Bummer!


One year, for his 40th birthday, I gave my husband 40 gifts. Yes, 40, individually wrapped, wholly different gifts! (not 40 Hersheys kisses or some sort of cheat like that).

He had so much fun! And so did I.

The plans began a full six months ahead of the date. And maybe even years before. I had known for years, for instance, that he really wanted to run the New York marathon, and had even tried a couple of times to get in (the event is run on the basis of a lottery), to no avail. But I was determined that he would get his heart’s desire (40 of his heart’s desires!), so I entered him again (and again, and again), and what do you know! He got in!

So imagine his confusion (and surprise) when on his birthday morning he opened a box to find a pair of running shoes, then another to find a map of the route (all markings that it was NY were carefully removed) and finally a box with his acceptance letter! Fun, fun, fun!

Okay, so maybe the reason I’m such a proponent of gift-giving, non-money gift-giving, is because I enjoy it so much. So it’s self-serving, so what! That’s the best thing about gifts, good gifts, is that they provide as much pleasure to both the giver and the givee. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Of course, not every gift is a winner. There was that time I bought my husband an expensive shaving kit (the man is virtually hairless). But hey, I was going for “luxury” and ended up with just “useless.” Chalk it up as a learning experience.

But money.

How does one make a “luxurious mistake” with money–fur-trimmed poker tokens?

See, I’m not a big fan of the money-as-gift (oh, you got that?).

It’s confusing.

Like Thai barbecue pizza.

Which one is it?

Money? Or a gift?

And what exactly is being exchanged?

Time? Effort? Expertise?

Love? Delight? Energy?

I would no more compensate a skilled employee with a box of chocolates, than I would give a gift of money.

Maybe that’s the problem.

Maybe I’m living in a world that considers pizza lunches and donuts in the teachers’ lounge fair compensation for skilled and dedicated work.

And gifts are just money in envelopes–either fresh green or plastic with magnetic strips.

And maybe Barbra should just be happy building bridges.

Categories: Reflections

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