Hoo boy. It’s here again: the time of year to bestow. To be bountiful. To give and keep on giving. Kate Ancell takes you through your paces.
Illustrations by PVE Designs
'Tis the season…to feel financially put-upon by the siren song of gift-giving. This time of year, no matter what holiday or religion we observe, most of us have gifts on the brain, and somehow we feel compelled to bring gaily wrapped packages with us everywhere we go. Needless to say, this can quickly get out of hand, and before you know it you’re handing out trinkets to everyone from the mailwoman to the milkman, which is fine if that’s how you roll, but not necessary. (FYI: true capital-E etiquette types will tell you that it is not acceptable to give gifts, tips, etc., to your postal carrier, or to any other government employees with whom you interact—like, say, your parole officer or the tax man—because they could be construed as bribes. I personally don’t think it’s a problem, but you should know that you have been warned.)
But! Putting aside concerns about doing 2 to 5 as a reward for your generosity, what should you give? To whom should you give it? The answer, friends, is several-fold…
When it comes to anyone who provides a service for you, the holiday-gift solution is simple: money. If you get the vapors about the thought of proffering a call-it-like-it-is plain envelope, consider hole-punching the corner and looping a sweet ornament through it, or tying it to a pretty candle, with a festive grosgrain bow. But you shouldn’t worry about it—I can assure you: No one ever got their feelings hurt by receiving cold, hard cash (and try to make it cash, too—not a check, which necessitates a trip to the bank and yet another hurdle to jump, these jam-packed days.)
How much you give is, of course, up to you—but in general, the amount of the tip is determined by the price of the service. For example, if you pay your eyebrow shaper 20 bucks a throw, toss in an extra 20 for the holidays. But if you’re dealing with someone you don’t directly pay, like the trash guys, it depends: My crew, for example, blithely ignores the rule which says that they don’t have to take any trash which is not contained in an approved bin, and will kindly load up bags and boxes of barely wrapped rubbish and leave with a wave and a smile. And the doorman of my old building never failed to make life easier for me and any visiting relatives. And my mailwoman plays with my dog. So…think about how much all those services (and add-ons) are worth to you. This is a recession for everyone, and this is your opportunity to say thanks for a job well done. Or not! Don’t forget that tips, and gifts, are optional, and if your manicurist has given you one too many botched paint jobs, you are in no way required to thank her in a special way (you’d also be better off changing your salon, too—vote with your feet!).
Hostess with the Mostest
This isn’t really a holiday-centric issue—technically, we’re “supposed to” bring hostess gifts every time we are entertained in someone’s home, although many of us don’t (and shouldn’t, especially with close friends: It’s just another layer of potential inadequacy and one-upmanship and really, who needs that stress in their life?). But this time of year, we seem to feel that—much like a vampire needing to be asked in—we cannot cross a threshold without a little something for our host. Often (too often), this something is flowers. Now, flowers are fabulous and I love to have them around in almost every room of Crooked Towers, but when they arrive in those dreaded cellophane wrappers, they become a problem: Now your hostess has to deal with them, and most likely the sink is up to here with yet-to-be-washed cooking trays, and the pretty vases are all already in service…much better, please, to bring a potted orchid, or a divine small topiary. Or a forced amaryllis or paperwhite narcissus. Anything, really, that doesn’t have to be re-placed.
To my mind, the perfect holiday hostess gift is something that she can regift, herself, if she chooses—like a fun ornament, or a pretty teacup with a teaball and spice-scented tea leaves, or a Mason jar full of homemade Buckeye Balls. We’re often going, going, gone all day long this busy social season, from school party to working lunch, to a quick stop at an open house…and I consider it an absolute pleasure when I can simply grab up a nicely wrapped hostess gift from my supply and go. Now, manners dictate that if you’re going to regift, you should do it somewhere your pre-gifter isn’t. And you can’t regift too much, either: If that same tartan tin of toffee goes too many rounds, people will start to talk…
It’s a Wonder-ful Life
It’s easy to get cynical about the whole holiday thing—it’s too commercial. It’s too saccharine. It’s too expensive. And, in some ways, all of those things are true…if you want them to be. But it’s also a truly, honestly, magical time of year, and if you’re ever in any doubt about it, just check out the way kids dive right into the whole thing: feet first, arms waving, eyes wide with wonder. There’s nothing ironic or nudge-nudge with kids—this time of year rocks and don’t you forget it.
Which is why I say it’s so important, when kids write up their gift lists, to make sure that they understand that they will not be getting everything on it. Surprised? Don’t be—the magical thing about the holidays for kids (well, one of the magical things—you kind of have to get in line with the magical items this season) is not opening their gifts. It’s wondering what those gifts will be. And hoping—eternally!—that one of those packages contains the gift, whatever it may be. I still remember the year I got (against my parents’ wishes—thanks, Aunt Sue!) the red-roofed Smurf Cottage. I tell you, you could have knocked me over with a feather. It was everything.
Which leads me to my final point—I know most kids’ toys are overpriced, cheaply made, shoddily finished junk. But they’re brightly colored, and often they make noise, and they’re much, much cooler than those nostalgic wooden toys that we all (myself included) feel that we should be buying. But we struggle with our inner “good parent/godparent/friend” and our secret desire to be—even if only in the eyes of children—awesome. So here’s an idea for this split-personality season: Buy both. And have a wonderful time.