Holiday Gift Giving - How to Get Started

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.
- Pierre Corneille

Much to my credit card company's delight and to my accountant's chagrin, I adore gift giving. I view giving someone the perfect gift as a riddle to solve. It involves detective work, research and a bit of luck. This time of year is a thrill for me. I have already been on two viewing expeditions to the mall and numerous forays on-line. Ah, the joy of giving. Just seeing the look on someone's face when they open a present they truly love is a gift unto itself. This time of year I am often approached by friends and family members for ideas for people on their holiday lists. For those of you who are not fond of gift giving, here are some hints on gift giving as well as my favorite finds to spark your creative juices.

Gift Giving:

  1. Make a List and Check it Twice
    Write out a list of people you will be giving to this year as well as a budget. This list is essential so that you are not tempted to buy beyond your list or beyond your budget.

  2. Get a Clue
    Have some ideas of themes before you begin to shop. What are the person's likes, interests, and/or hobbies? Where in the lifecycle does this person fall? If you just begin to wander through the stores, you will end up impulse buying. Some items may look spiffy in the store, but may appear strange in the light of day.

  3. Presentation of the Present
    Be sure to take time to wrap the gift. Presentation is half the present. While expensive paper does always look nice, even the Sunday comics can be used to wrap a gift festively.

  4. Think Out of the Box
    Given the tragic events of late, you may want to consider some nontraditional gift giving.
    - Instead of gifts, you can ask the individual for a charity of their choice and then make a donation in their honor. (Please note: it is only a gift if they choose the charity!!)
    - Give the gift of a memory in the making. Choose an activity the recipient would like and do it together. This can be going to dinner, a show, a movie, an afternoon at the mall, a day to hang out with family, a trip to a museum, etc. You get the idea. Actually take the time to enjoy each other's company.
    - While you are together for the holidays, have a professional photographer come and take pictures to document your time together.
    - If your gift-giving budget is very small, then take the time to make something special. Homemade baked goods are always a welcome treat. But if you are not a baker (or sewer, or knitter, or builder) you still can give a heartfelt gift. Take the time to sit and write the person a letter detailing why they are special to you. If you have a picture of the two of you together, use that as a cover-page for the letter.
Mannersmith Favorite Finds
  1. For a young person, just starting off on their own: a card table and four chairs. This gift can serve as a kitchen table until "real" furniture can be purchased. It is lightweight, easily stored and moved, and practical for entertaining years down the road. Target recently had a set on sale for under $50.00.

  2. For new homeowners: a doorbell or doorknocker. Restoration Hardware has doorbells starting at about $34.00. Things Remembered has doorknockers that can be engraved beginning at about $29.00.

  3. For your favorite gardener: a subscription to Birds and Blooms magazine. This publication does not have any advertisements and some of the most beautiful nature pictures ever seen. One-year subscription is $18.00.

  4. For those who love to entertain: martini glasses and shaker. Pottery Barn glasses start at $5.00 each and the shaker is about $29.00.

  5. For someone who travels a lot: a talking/picture frame/alarm clock from Brookstone. This useful gift is $25.00.

  6. For friends or co-workers: white ceramic mugs with small animal sculptures at the bottom can be found at People's Pottery for about $20.00.

  7. For those you are not sure what to get, but want to give something: Godiva has a gift solution in any price range (from $3.00 - $150.00).

  8. Friends with a funny sense of humor: Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book by Terry Jones. This slightly off, whimsical book can be found for about $21.00 on

  9. Fine dining is always a welcome treat. My favorite Boston restaurant is L'Espalier where the seven course-tasting menu begins at $85.00.

  10. For those who need to get away from it all: a spa vacation. Three days of pampering begins at about $1,500 at Canyon Ranch.
And now for the disclaimer: These are just some ideas to get you started. You clearly know the people on your list better than I do. There is no guarantee that anyone on your list will actually like any of these gifts. In addition, Mannersmith does not receive compensation from the companies mentioned above. Nor does Mannersmith accept any responsibility should any products from these companies not be to your full satisfaction. With that said, I wish you luck. Be creative, be inventive and have fun. Take the time to enjoy the spirit of the season and time spent with friends and family.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ Every year my elderly aunt gives me a subscription to a literary magazine. The first year I tried to read it every month, but it just is not my style. I have dropped hints for other magazines I would really prefer, but to no avail. Is there anything I can do?

A: Since you have already hinted at magazines you prefer, there really is not much else you can do. Be sure to thank your aunt for thinking of you and then donate the magazine to a local hospital or nursing home where the magazine can be appreciated.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ In the past I have given gifts to all of my direct reports, but this year finances are tight. I hate to do nothing, what do you suggest?

A: Choose a moderately priced restaurant. Take your staff for lunch close to the holiday. Then insist they take the rest of the day off.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I am not a big fan of gift registries for events like birthdays and holidays. How can I let people know what I want without being too pushy?

A: The two best ways to let people know what you want are to tell someone close to you and have them let the gift-giver know, or to bring up the item gently in conversation. So, if you are hoping for a new bathrobe: "The doorbell rang yesterday morning and I had to answer the door with a coat thrown over my pajamas. Boy do I need a new bathrobe!"