, Salem, MA


October 25, 2012

Column: In search of a perfect gift


As I get older, I’m softening my position and suggesting gift ideas rather than making others sweat it out guessing. Marking an item in a catalog sometimes works, although it can backfire. Once I marked a garden gazing ball specifically because it was stainless-steel and unbreakable for use near a cement patio. My husband missed my criteria and purchased a silver gazing ball that came with the care instructions: “Treat as you would a large and highly fragile Christmas ornament.” After years of nervous attention, it shattered, and we replaced it with a stainless-steel one.

In the interest of practicality, one woman I know does select her own Christmas gifts. She wraps them, too, and places them under the tree. Her husband, who is quite happy with the arrangement, doesn’t know what he’s given her until his wife unwraps the packages, exclaiming, “Just what I wanted.” Sometimes after the gifts are opened, the husband still doesn’t know what he’s given her. (Is that a shawl? Oh, a pashmina. What’s a pashmina?”)

While that old cliche “It’s the thought that counts” does ring true, I believe that judging a gift that looks like it took no thought, or was an afterthought, isn’t fair because one really doesn’t know the kind of effort that’s behind a purchase. How often have I gone to dozens of stores “on a mission” or started a well-intentioned creative project only to realize that I was in over my head and then settled on a gift card.

Over the years, I’ve worked hard to jettison unrealistic expectations of myself and others and to remember that gift giving is a skill. Some people have it (like Auntie Patti), and some don’t.

One thing I’ve learned is that while a good gift reflects the recipient’s tastes, needs, interests or desires, a great gift touches the heart.

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