Gift Angst

Gift Angst - Holiday Shopping LamentBrought up to believe that the holiday present you choose tells as much about you as it does about the person receiving it, I pride myself on being a thoughtful gift giver. I can’t relate to those who breeze through a store, dividing up their friends into lavenders and pomegranates, and waltz out a few minutes later with ten cellophane-wrapped baskets. Me, I have to make sure my friends and family are in awe of how well I know how to please them.

It was a lot easier, however, before what everyone needed and what everyone wanted became one and the same. It’s not as much fun buying for the “haves and have mores.” In the old days you could surprise a friend or relative with the perfect sweater or album or bottle of Scotch and they’d be thrilled. That was before coats cost as much as couches and dolls didn’t need to be potty trained. Before Cyber Monday followed Black Friday, when, fresh off a weekend at the mall, you spend the day at the computer getting a better deal on what you might have bought in the stores. Before it became a loving gesture to exchange Botox treatments to show a special someone exactly how much you care.

This time of year forces me to become more fluent in technology, a language like geometric equations and before that, long division, I’ve always struggled to understand.  Not only must I master those damn abbreviations…PSP, USB 2.0, SD/MMG, XD… but I must get over feeling that anything containing a computer chip is a “cold” offering. My daughters assure me these gadgets are among the most intimate of gifts, helping their recipients to balance and connect and fill the senses. “A sweater is like holiday fruitcake,” they say. Tech presents, they explain, require more knowledge of what the person likes, owns and wants than any gift.  If you want to show someone how much time you spent thinking about them, buy them something digital, card size and wireless. Seriously.

So this is what I’ve decided on so far. I’m giving my niece in college a subscription to Lucky, the magazine about shopping.   That way she can at least look at the stuff I can’t afford to buy her. My sister is getting one of those one-cup hot beverage makers because she likes to mix it up with her caffeine choices in the morning. For my aunt who is nutty about animals I got over feeling self righteous and a bit of a party pooper and found a nonprofit charity devoted to protecting wildlife. Surprisingly I found that researching exactly the right charity was as heartwarming an experience as choosing the cashmere shawl I bought for her last year. And for the few teenagers on my list, I’ll pick up some accessory that will go with a piece of equipment that’s preceded with a lower case i. Those are the easy ones. As Carl Sandberg said, “there are still miles to go before I sleep.”

I wish I could just get over myself, lose the angst, and give out gift certificates to the more difficult nearest and dearest on my list. Someone just told me there are stores that have gift registries where shoppers can pretend they are brides or babies and register for items they want other people to buy them. I think I’m going to register for someone to do the rest of my shopping.

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Marcia Byalick

Marcia Byalick

Marcia's written three novels, three self-help books and dozens of essays for women’s magazines. She’s taught memoir writing, wrote for the Long Island section of The New York Times, and served as the content editor of

  3 comments for “Gift Angst

  1. December 4, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Brilliant idea about the registry.
    Up until last season I too was unfamiliar with the Amazon wish list for anybody/anytime, feel like a bride registering every day for anything!

  2. December 4, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Besides a smile as I read this, you’ve given me some great ideas. You’ve relieved some of my gift giving angst. Fun!

  3. melissa
    July 9, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    Too bad we could not just cancel the gift giving and just get together for a holiday. I have done this with my friends and we all are greatly relieved. Unfortunately we have spoiled the younger generations with lavish gifts(partly because we can afford it and partly because we did not have this luxury as children and we want to give them what we did not have) and they have come to feel entitled to it. Much the same way as we baby boomers are entitled to running water and indoor plumbing. Not only are they entitled, but many do not give in return.
    Yes, the good old days of giving someone a sweater, purse or album. Thanks for the observations. Another problem looming in the future: how in the world is anyone expected to save money with the technology era? Everything is so expensive, and plus it needs replaced regularly.

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