It’s not the thought that counts; it’s how thoughtful the thought is…
The other day I was wrapping a few hostess gifts and thinking they needed a little pizzazz. They were perfectly acceptable gifts, but it’s not enough for me to give a gift; Ineed to see that the giftee really, really likes it. There’s no pleasure in giving something that elicits a meh.
Gift-giving can be a source of anxiety in modern life. Too many people confuse the cost of a gift with the value of the sentiment behind it. Gift-giving is a state of mind: a gift can show gratitude, appreciation, respect, congratulations, or love to the recipient, consistent with the depth of sentiment the giver wants to convey. It’s not about how much money you spend; it’s the thought you expend in the giving process.
Good gift-givers never stop looking for gifts for the people they care about, because they know the perfect thing might appear at any moment. My mother used to buy classic childrens’ books for my kids and saved them for years, until they were old enough to appreciate them. It’s meaningful to know someone has been planning something special for you for months or even years.
Economic circumstances have to be a factor in gift-giving. No one should spend more on a gift than they can comfortably afford, for the sake of appearances. (And how sad for a person to resent a gift because it wasn’t of a high enough monetary value.)
Gifts should fit the occasion. If you’re going to a friend’s apartment for dinner you might bring a small hostess gift – much more modest than you would if you were going to spend an entire weekend with that friend at their country house. Parity is not necessary, but a present should reflect your appreciation for the level of hospitality being offered. It’s not necessary to bring a hostess gift when meeting someone for dinner in a restaurant. Young people meeting their significant other’s parents for the first time ask me that a lot. They want to get it right, but not look as though they’re trying too hard.
The best gifts are those that show the giver has devoted attention to choosing something that will bring joy to the receiver. One of the most thoughtful gifts I ever received was a basket of freshly-dug ferns a friend had taken from the woods near her home in West Virginia; she thought about what I might like, and made the effort to get it. I still think of her when I see the ferns growing in our garden.
Wedding gifts deserve their own post, but as a rule of thumb: if you receive a wedding invitation from someone you don’t know well, there’s no obligation to send more than a token gift – basically an acknowledgement of the invitation. If you don’t want to send a gift at all, think ahead to the next time you’re likely to see them, and if you think it will be awkward for you, send them a token anyway. It’s the gracious thing to do. But save your clever gifts and money for the people you really care for.
The bottom line: if the gift you give makes you feel good, you know you’ve gotten it right.
Here is a list of twenty things a host is likely to enjoy (and also a way for me to make use of all the gifts I’ve been wrapping lately). When you have a blog, everything starts to look like possible content. Some of the old standbys, such as wine and candles, can be made more interesting by how they are presented:
1. Scented candles
2. Candy from an artisanal candy maker
3. Wine – the host’s favorite, your favorite, or something appropriate for the season, such as a nice rose on a summer weekend
4. Linen cocktail napkins
5. Beeswax candles in candle holders
6. Flowers – bring a container also if your host is unlikely to have one to fit the flowers you’re bringing.
7. Books – that you know will be of interest to the host, the latest best-selling fiction, or a particular favorite that you want to share. Books, or a small toy, for the hosts’ children are always a good idea.
8. Scent Diffusers (especially good for cabins and other places where open candle flames could be problematic).
9. Linen hand towels – for antique lovers, old linens are very welcome because of their softness and the beautiful quality of the workmanship.
10. Soft throws for curling up with a good book on a rainy afternoon.
11. Anything special brought back from a recent trip: chocolates from France, maple syrup and cheese from Vermont – anything that shows you were thinking of your hosts while you were traveling.
12. Cooking items – for hosts you know love to cook: wooden bowls, cutting boards, a set of glasses, a tray or selection of gourmet products.
13. Homemade items – Home-baked cookies, spiced nuts, herb-flavored vinegars or oils, a big basket of fresh fruit, macarons.
14. For visiting a new home, or a family with a new baby – a young tree from the local nursery with a big bow on it, ready for planting. (This assumes they have somewhere to plant it.)
15. For people who love their dogs – a basket of dog toys and treats can be a bigger hit than anything you might bring for the hosts themselves.
16. Theme baskets – if you really want to show appreciation, assemble a basket of wines along with glasses, fruit, cheeses, breads, olives, festive napkins and nuts. You’ll be providing a ready-made cocktail hour.
17. For visiting a boat – jaunty nautical items, chilled wine, or crispy baked goods, like cookies. Don’t take anything that could melt, like chocolate or soft baked goods.
And for last-minute gifts:
18. A dozen pints of assorted ice creams and sorbets.
19. Cupcakes, cronuts, croissants – whatever fits the time of day of the get-together.
20. Champagne – you can never go wrong with a nice bottle of bubbly!