The time is near! The final paychecks are in, Santa has all his letters and the city has descended into a state of blind panic as the pressure to obtain the most perfect give imaginable continues to grow. Everyone has that one person that they would really rather not buy gifts for -- a picky mother, a fussy sister, a "weird" uncle or a father who "already has everything.” However, the trickiest of the tricky will forever be the significant other -- boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancée or whatever title their current status has earned them. Where to start? How much to spend? How much is too much?
When you're 16 it's all pretty basic because adolescence upholds mightily high standards of fragrance, and the exchange of perfumes and aftershaves is obligatory, as are concert tickets, CDs (back in my day) and the occasional "gold" necklace from Argos (which is Europe's answer to Target).
Once you get past the years of buying presents for the sake of buying presents, it's a whole other ball game. It gets very real, the chances of failure are very high, and the loathing of Christmas shopping accelerates beyond the realms of comprehension.
Here are some tips from yours truly on how to positively nail the perfect Christmas gift. Thoughtful, sentimental, personal and just enough to say "I like you enough to listen to you 80 percent of the time" without going overboard and saying "I want to marry you instantly and you have no choice."
Set yourself parameters early on. If, like me, you live on a check-to-check basis, you're not going to be flush with cash and purchasing ridiculous items such as anything made by Apple, a "trip away" that lasts longer than 12 hours or anything in the vehicle family.
Be realistic. You'd be surprised how far you can stretch a couple bucks. Also, "homemade" is not just for nine year olds and is almost always cute.
Let's look back to that episode of Friends where Rachel and Chandler go hunting for Monica's presents. The primary concern isn't wanting to know what they got, it's wanting to know how to beat the other person, and Rachel puts it perfectly. What if you just got her one big present but she got you a big present, two medium presents, and lots of little presents too!?
The lesson here is, if you're getting one, make sure it's a good one. Multiple presents are safe, strong, and operate like an army.
When one man is down (socks -- what were you thinking?), another steps up to the front line (a signed copy of something he's been looking for forever – perfect.)
If your presents are the army, then you are the president -- so make sure you're running a tight ship and DO NOT buy socks. If you're buying a shaving kit, make sure it doesn't comprise of disposable razors, if you're buying booze make sure it comes in a velvet lined box that looks like a tiny coffin, and if you're buying chocolate, you better make sure it's some serious artisan, raw cocoa, Willy Wonka magic box because the days of "The Lady Loves Milk Tray" are long, long gone.
Everything nowadays is about "good taste.” It has to be handcrafted by 17 gorgeous Nordic carpenters living in a Brooklyn loft before it even counts as furniture, and has to be brewed by actual elves who collect rainwater from Mars before it can even be considered craft beer -- no pressure.
People drop hints. People like to think it's unintentional, and when you hand them the super-turbo food blender deluxe edition 428-11A in teal and tangerine, they will stand by the fact that they did NOT hint that they wanted that, and "were not expecting it at all" in spite of the 7,000 photos of said blender plastered on your walls and the 42 emails they sent last week to remind you.
Others are less transparent, so do pay attention to subtle hints re: hobbies they've always wanted to take up but never got the chance, cookery classes their friend took that sounded like so much fun, or that pocket watch they wanted to buy but were ironically running late.
5. Personal Touches
This is my forte, and I'm about to brag about it. I am the queen of personal touches. Hidden photographs, hand-written notes, private jokes and silly references to things that only he would understand.
I'm not one for the "big gift" because, honestly, he does actually have everything and has irritatingly expensive taste and hobbies such as "guitars" and "cameras" which would require a billion dollars to add to.
So I go for the "this took me forever to put together" vibe, with lots of small gifts, each individually wrapped with clues, themed sections and wrapping paper covered in "guitars" and "cameras" so it's basically the same thing.
To me, the best gift is the one that says "I've actually gotten to know you a bit throughout all this, and I really like you. Here's some things I think you'll like." rather than "Dearest Darling, I love you always and here is an embarrassingly grand gesture to attest to my undying affection." Keep it cool.
6. Object or Event
Pick one, pick the other, pick both -- go crazy! Events are fun because it's often something you can do together like a sailing trip or an art class or horse-drawn carriage (pleeeease).
These are especially great if you haven't been together for all that long, because it's another fun date to have and if it all goes pear-shaped, then nobody has a useless object that they feel obliged to throw in the garbage.
If you're really slick, you'll organize a breathtaking event that involves fresh air, a quaint village and delicious food before being completed by the presentation of a soul-destroyingly perfect gift.
However, this is more of an "engagement ring" scenario, so I'll be sticking to my personal touches and treasure hunts again this year. I say "again" but last year I bought nothing because I was so unbearably broke -- alas, 2014 is the year of compensation.
The main thing to remember is not to panic. You do actually know this person (do not buy gifts for strangers, it's weird) and the likelihood is you've picked up a thing or two about their interests.
Unless you haven't, in which case you should not be buying this person a Christmas present because it sounds an awful lot like you don't like them very much. Keep it simple, keep it calm, and keep competing with them so that you are always better at buying gifts. Godspeed.
* Originally published in 2014.