We have rules about gift-giving at Christmas. Lately, we’ve adopted the eminently sensible practice wherby every adult buys one gift for one other adult, with somebody (or an app) supervising the allocation so nobody misses out. It remains open slather for children — which is okay because at the moment there’s only the little elf. Reduces our expenses overall, but also allows each individual adult giver the ability to give a ‘better’ gift. So what’s a ‘better’ gift?

First and foremost, it has to be useful. My mother would knit acrylic jumpers in neon colours with my name on the front and, on occasion, one sleeve longer than the other. I was in my thirties at the time. I’d effusively thank her then drop it in the nearest bin on the long trek home. Ditto for the ornamental Austrian cowbells we received one year. WTF they imagined we’d do with that, I never asked. Bin. We have dealt with useless gifts in the past by re-gifting them to people we don’t like, but now we just ignore people we don’t like, so we’re stuck with them. Gifts must be useful!

Secondly, it doesn’t (really) matter about the price. Obviously a packet of Tic-tacs is a shit gift, but it doesn’t have to be diamond earrings either (sorry wife). A well-chosen gift is exponentially more valuable than its ticket price. Again, get them what they want. Learn their secret desires through cunning subterfuge, by listening to the unsubtle hints they drop, by asking them or ferreting around in their Google search history (err… warning!). The pleasure of giving a wanted gift obliviates the cost of it.

Third, try giving an experience not a thing. A voucher to go shopping together, a spa-treatment together, white-water rafting, abseiling, tickets to a concert together, or a play. You get the gist. Again, judge this carefully. Just because you’re related to somebody doesn’t mean you like them. I’m not having a spa treatment with my mother. I’d go bungee-jumping with her, though. Seeing her at the end of a rope would fill me with Christmas cheer!

Fourth, you could contribute towards something outside their (and your) price range. It might feel a bit lame, but try it. I suspect this is how Dyson products sell, otherwise who’d buy a $600 hairdryer? Guilty husbands making reparations aside, this is a contribute-towards gift idea. If they already bought the unconfortably-expensive thing, massage their guilt by accessorising it. Soften the blow. Leather steering-wheel cover for the new Koenigsegg, sort of thing.

Lastly, make it yourself. This is especially true of food. If you make world-class brownies, buy them a nice (but useful) plate/tray/whatever and fill it with goodies. If you’re handy with an awl, then a lifelike depiction of the Fellowship of the Ring in walnut and white pine to hang on the wall in their study would go straight in the bin be perfect. Only do this is you are seriously good at something, though. A 9×7 handmade chessboard with pieces resembling characters from The Name of the Rose (1986) probably doesn’t tick the box.

So if you’re stuck with three days to go and one difficult gift yet to give, take heart. You don’t have to fall back to giving money or vouchers (the most appreciated gifts of all, BTW). You don’t have to cheat and simply buy alcohol (the second most appreciated). You still have time to bake up a pile of scrumptious gingerbread men, perhaps on a hand-painted plate showing the original gingerbread man of yore being devoured by the hungry fox! Run, run, run ….

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