As my beloved and I merged our households into one, I encountered the precious space of an entire kitchen shelf stacked full of gift mugs. Each of them bore a saying that spoke to the heart of his gear-headed, M&M-loving, coffee-addicted personality, but they had sat and hung virtually unused, apparently for years. And so it goes with so many of the little tokens we give each other.
So let’s all make a vow this holiday season to only bring to the homes of our friends and loved ones things that they will truly use. Doormats that emit a “Ho ho ho” when they’re stepped on might seem funny at first blush, but I beg you to not turn someone’s home into an amusement park ride. Same goes for the dancing Santa and reindeer that sing “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” If your goal is to amuse a child and torture their parents, by all means, go ahead. But these novelty items quickly lose their humour – and then what? The recipient feels obligated to drag the thing out every season, especially when they know you’re going to visit. I never want anyone to have to work that hard to be my friend.
If you want to give something particular to the season, make it consumable or perishable. A holiday flower arrangement may seem frivolous because it doesn’t last, but that’s the exact reason I think it’s a wonderful present: it works even for someone you don’t know very well whose taste you may not be familiar with. This way, you don’t saddle them with something permanent that’s not to their liking. Even if they’re not overly fond of poinsettias, there’s relief in knowing the plant will eventually die and it won’t forever be part of their personal landscape. If you know they collect teapots, for example, think about giving the arrangement in a teapot. But be careful not to overdo it. I gave up on my elephant collection when everyone started giving me tiny elephants for every special occasion and I ran out of places to put them all. That old standby – fruitcake – still turns up under the tree every now and then. I’m convinced that there is only one such cake in all of Canada, and it has been sent around the nation since the Second World War. But for some people it wouldn’t be Christmas without fruitcake. And it’s dual-purpose: if you don’t eat it, you can always use it as a doorstop.
Homemade goodies never miss their mark during the holidays – but, again, don’t go overboard. People tend to make their own treats and end up with leftovers brought to family dinners, so a nice little package of half a dozen shortbread cookies (or whatever your specialty is) would do nicely. Tie them in cellophane with festive ribbons or put them in a small holiday tin and – voila! – instant cheer.
Just because it’s Christmastime doesn’t mean you have to give a Christmassy gift. I love candles and a have a lot of them, but I never mind getting another one. However, it’s worth spending a few dollars on a nice pillar in a neutral colour rather than a cheap red or green one. In most homes, there is already enough stuff to put up and take down over the holidays, and adding a delicate chunk of wax to that load might not be appreciated – unless your recipient is a holiday nut who wears a Santa hat from November 1st until the New Year. A neutral-coloured candle can be enjoyed all year long until it melts away. Add a festive (or non-festive) holder, and you’ve created a great gift. Whatever you give this holiday season, give it from your heart and you won’t go wrong.