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December 27, 2004

Gift Card Disease - CAUTION: Sarcasm Ahead!

So, let me tell you what I got for Christmas this year: gift cards. LOTS of gift cards.

(GEOGRAPHIC UPDATE: Mrs. Popping Culture and I are visiting relatives in Hampton Roads, Virginia. We should be home Wednesday evening, unless a doctor calls me home before that. No updates until then, I'm afraid.)

I have always been of the opinion that a true friend knows how to give good gifts, as much as that sounds like a cutesy platitude. I am also aware that some folks are harder to shop for than others: What do you buy the man who has everything? What do you get your mother? What about your sister-in-law's fiance, whom you have only met once?

Still, what a gift card says to me is: I give up. I don't know what to get you. Take this hunk of plastic. It feels more like a gift than just handing you cash because it has a store name on it.

Seriously. Just give cash if you give up, ok?

I can see a gift card if it is for a specific, named purpose. For instance, Joe needs a television and none of us can afford to buy him one, so we all buy Best Buy gift cards and viola! The sum is greater than the parts.

However, gift cards are seldom used in such an intentional way. They are a sign of surrender, a sign of gifting fatigue. I don't have the time or desire to think up a real meaningful gift so here, take this and buy your own dang gift!

This year I received (and granted I am the only male in a family gathering with 8 females and also granted that it might be tough to shop for a guy with cancer): cash, checks and gift cards to Olive Garden, Best Buy, Men's Wearhouse, Barnes & Noble (I consider this one the most nearly personal gift all Christmas) and Outback Steak House. Also a candy bar.

Merry Impersonal Christmas! Now, I don't begrudge any gift. All gifts are a sign of care or at least duty, and I appreciate the spirit in which all of my gifts were given. Still... to me, a gift card says, at least in small part, "Here. Do my shopping for me."

My favorite part of the holiday is picking out specific gifts for the people I care about... creatively working out the difficult puzzle that is "What can I get him/her that won't be returned?" There is no better feeling than buying someone a gift that says not only do you care about them, but that you KNOW them as well and seeing their eyes light up, no matter their age. This can be a specific gift that matches a specific person, or a generic gift given in a special way.

For instance, I gave my 15-year old niece a gold heart pendant this year. Pretty ordinary gift for a teenage girl, I guess, but I hid it and waited until after all the gifts were opened. As the frenzy of gift paper ripping wore off, I announced that I had a special gift (given just by me, her grumpy uncle, to her) for my niece because she was special and should be set apart. The necklace was lovely, but more lovely and lasting was the sentiment that she is unique and special to me.

Even a crappy gift that you know will be returned at least says, "Here. Take this. At least I tried."

Next year I anticipate getting certificates to the local grocery stores, accompanied by my relatives' grocery lists.

Here, do my shopping for me.

Posted by Dan at December 27, 2004 12:11 PM

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This year, in my family, significant numbers of presents were given and received in the form of "universal gift certificates".

You know the kind -- redeemable anywhere (and I do mean anywhere), the kind that can even be used to pay all debts public and private.

Of course, I made sure that the ones I gave out were imprinted with my blog's logo:

"E Pluribus Unum"


Posted by: Ara Rubyan at December 27, 2004 03:32 PM

I'm with you, Dan. I really like trying to hunt down the perfect gift--or, as you say, one that at least won't be returned. The last two years this has taken place most with my roommate and best friend since I know her well enough that I can attempt to be creative. I mean, we always give each other lists of what we want, but there's that desire to come up with some non-list gifts that she would like, as well. It's always fun to surprise. And to show that you've been listening during the year.

That's what I love. I like paying attention throughout the year and listening for those inadvertent hints and offhand comments that help you find just the right gift to spring on someone at Christmas time. Something that surprises them, but is just want they want and that makes them realize that when they say something about what's important to them, you're not just staring off into space.

I think I did a pretty good job of that last year. Not so sure this year, but I tried. Here's hoping I can manage that perfect gift next year. But even if I don't, I enjoy the hunt.

Posted by: Joel Caris at December 27, 2004 03:35 PM

Hope you had a nice Christmas in spite of all the gift cards. I'm with you, I avoid giving them like the plague. I give my kids some cash but they get gifts as well. Other relatives get "stuff". I do as best I can and have given a few decent gifts in my day. A nice pocket watch to my brother when I was a kid. A nice picture for my father one year. Plane tickets for my mother to visit her brother another year. In between I've given out fruit baskets, popcorn poppers and other dubious gifts but at least I try.

Posted by: Ralph at December 27, 2004 05:55 PM

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