The holidays are upon us and despite visions of fresh eggnog, tree trimming, and festive school pageants, the annual gift-giving dilemma comes right on cue–multiplied by large groups of friends, relatives, teachers, coaches, coworkers, service people, and more. With economics generally at the forefront of holiday giving, how do we decide when it’s best to purchase a shiny new gift or if it’s appropriate to cook, bake, sew, scrap, knit, crochet, build or paint our way under somebody’s tree?
First, etiquette experts usually recommend assessing your relationship with the proposed recipient. Is this someone you’ve known and seen daily for months or years, like a coworker, or is it a hair stylist or coach you see once a month but whose work and dedication you value nevertheless? Perhaps it’s someone you’ve seen only a time or two this year but whom you want to acknowledge for his or her help under challenging circumstances.
Though rules can certainly be broken, the basic rule of thumb is that people you don’t see often, or those less familiar to you, would do best with a more formal gift from the store. While it doesn’t have to be expensive (be sure to shop early and often for sale items like picture frames, fabric journals, travel clocks, specialty coffees or teas, imported chocolate bars, glass or other unusual night lights, decorative coasters, art-inspired eyeglass cases and key rings, attractive desk items, etc.), when festively wrapped these gifts are sure to fit the bill. (Note: If you’re considering fitting the gift giving bill online as the convenience presented by Internet shopping makes life easier for many of us, don’t forget more times than not that $40 billion dollars spent online during last year’s Christmas shopping season alone came with a price. Add on shipping, handling, and other charges, when buying many gifts for large groups of recipients it might be best to make a list, jump in the car, and just go discount shopping or look for sales.)
Another approach, and according to popular business models (yes, business models!), when a company ponders building or manufacturing something vs. purchasing it, in order to sell (or in this case to give) the company must decide whether it has the technical prowess to handle it internally. (Translation for holiday purposes: Are you a great baker? An accomplished seamstress? Do you knit well and quickly?) If the answer is yes, for example if your family tradition has always been to bake behemoth batches of Grandma Ann’s holiday cookies from Thanksgiving through Christmas, chances are you do it well and can make enough to distribute to relatives, coworkers, and classmates without needing CPR by New Year’s. If your skills and experience might be rusty or questionable, the holidays are not the time to practice. Clearly the alternative is to buy.
Also in business models, numbers are the first item on the agenda. Accordingly, at holiday season, determine how many people will need to receive the particular items you choose to make (scarves? bird houses? boxes of cookies?). If possible, price the necessary components (paint; fabric; yarn; wood; extra tools; thread; edible ingredients; etc.) needed to create your gifts. If they really add up, consider visiting your local wholesale store and buying in bulk–enough so that it will make producing the homemade gifts cost efficient. If not, again, you may want to shop for gifts.
For Carol Brown of Mashpee, Massachusetts, Christmas of 2007 was particularly memorable, and not for the right reasons. Undecided about when to make and when to buy, and a great fan of gift baskets, Brown decided she would cover all the bases and save money by creating her own baskets, in different sizes, for friends, coworkers, relatives, and others.
“I didn’t realize how expensive it can be to purchase the specialty items I wanted like imported pastas, cheeses, dried fruit, foreign chocolates, towels, kitchen tools, etc.,” she confessed. “By the time I was done assembling 30 baskets, I’d spent almost what I would have to just call in orders and have them assembled and sent professionally —not to mention my living room looked like a warehouse for the entire month of December. I could have used a forklift.”
While the answer to the holiday gift giving dilemma isn’t etched in stone and surely there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, a little forethought, investigation, creativity, and planning will go a long way in deciding upon appropriate gifts–and appropriating your time and skills as well. After all is said and done the true intent of the season is to give from within, especially to those without.