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The Lost Art Of Gift Giving


I am not quite at retirement age but I do now qualify for the senior citizen discount at the movies. Of course the sign at the movie theater that I frequent the most says Adults: $10.50 Senior Citizens: $10.50 so I’m not sure how much of a win this is. My age does entitle me to do what every younger person promises that they will never do – talk about how tough things were in the good old days. Fortunately my good old days were not nearly as bad as my parents’ good old days. We had only two TV channels for awhile and then three when ABC came on board. The picture was black and white, the antenna position had to constantly be changed to avoid a “snowy” picture (that is until they came out with rooftop antennae) and there was no remote control. Programs stopped at about 10:00 pm and most sports were still broadcast only over the radio. But this was nothing in comparison to what the generation before me did without.

Last night I went to my brother’s for Thanksgiving dinner and we got on the subject of how long it took our mother to cook it given that there were no packaged stuffing or potatoes mixes, gravy in a jar or whatever else that you could just add water to or heat up in an oven or a microwave. She made the stuffing from scratch and hand grated and hand mashed the potatoes to make what were invariably lumpy mashed potatoes. I’m sure that there are still families that make everything from scratch but our family passed that milepost a long time ago. Except for the turkey everything that we were cooking came out of a can, a box or a jar. We did however resist the urge to just buy everything premade from a grocery store. Since my brother’s two sons were around we told them about how deprived we were because we did not have these “just add water or milk” products when we were young and of course they could have cared less.

As far as preparing Thanksgiving dinner was concerned, this was not a lament. I like the fact that you don’t have to make things from scratch. That is a great modern convenience. The products have gotten better over the years. They may have a bunch of chemicals and bad stuff in them, but they taste good.

As we were telling my nephews this I was reminded of another thing that has been preempted by new conveniences – gift giving. Not too long ago my son started an online site that sells unique gifts. Very high quality stuff, but hard to find and perhaps not to everyone’s tastes. I help him a lot. We carefully select products that we think are unique and special I started to think how lazy we had become with gift giving as we have with other things. The main culprit is the gift card.

The grocery store that I shop at must have 30 – 40 different gift cards. Not only do they have their own separate display, but they are also ever present at the checkout aisles along with gum, candy and the latest magazine talking about the Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston divorce even thought that happened five years ago (what in the world is so fascinating about this??). I can only assume that they make a lot of money selling these.

This is not an across the board indictment of gifts cards. They are useful in some situations. They are great if you are getting a present for someone you don’t know well or for someone who you want to remain at arm’s length. They also seem to make sense for teenagers. Beyond that I have a problem with them. Giving one to your spouse, significant other, life partner or even adult child is too impersonal. The fact is that gift giving is a form of communication. A gift communicates how you feel about someone. It has nothing to do with the cost of the gift. It is about the selection of the gift. Taking time to find a special gift for someone communicates what that person means to you. Buying a gift card says “Here this took me about a minute to buy at the grocery store.” These are very different statements and you are sadly mistaken if you think that they are not heard.

I have always liked taking the time to find special gifts for special people in my life. Before gift cards there were (and still are) gift certificates but I rarely used them. Sometimes I agonized over what to get and it could take a long time to find something. But I knew that the person that I gave it too understood and appreciated the effort. Sometimes you know exactly what a person wants so you get them that. But in these cases I also tried to get something that the person did not want and was not expecting. That is when the best message is communicated – that this person merits special attention. It may be subtle, but the message is received.

When my son was younger he would always ask me what I wanted for my birthday and I would invariably tell him nothing because there really was nothing (that he could afford) that I wanted. Sometimes he obliged and got me a card. When he got a little older he changed this. The first time was when he gave me a small clock that is encased in a glass cube and sits on a stand. It is very cool looking and is prominently displayed. Not only did I not need this, but I didn’t even know that it existed. And to this day it is one of my most prized possessions because I know that he took the time to find something that I didn’t need but that he knew I would like.

Gift cards are just another modern convenience. Use them carefully and don’t let them be a substitute for time and effort. Anyone who is special in your life deserves a gift that reflects thought. Take the time to find a unique gift – something that is not available everywhere. Something like a keepsake box or even a set of beautiful bookends. It will be something that they don’t need and won’t expect but will find a place in their hearts. Expressing true feeling should never be a modern convenience. And if you are short on time – online shopping is great. Just use the search engines.

More information on unique gifts is available from Unique Gifts and Décor where you will also find great gift ideas for those who are special to you.

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Listed: February 19, 2012 8:03 pm