It’s mostly the reaction we get in exchange for presents. It lasts only a few moments, but somehow it’s worth spending hours looking online, in catalogues and on store racks for that perfect gift. Some of those on our lists are easier to shop for than others. My nephews, for example, will lose their minds over small wrapped items, like Legos or Transformers. Just don’t buy them clothes.
But as we get older, the harder we become to surprise. Mothers may be the most difficult to buy for. Instead of presents, many moms are more thankful for spending time with family and, secretly, the chaos that is the holiday season – at least mine is. They often don’t want anything and, worse, fail to provide suggestions. So you’re on your own, but you better find something nice!
It’s also not the price of a gift that makes the strongest impression. My father has tried in vain for years to surprise my mother and has succeeded only a few times (most memorably with a rice cooker). She also gets excited by crayon drawings from her grandchildren.
Buying a gift for your significant other becomes more difficult the longer you are in the relationship. I’ve been lucky a few times, finding gifts (mainly boots, who doesn’t love boots?) that elicit some surprise. I take photographs of those moments because you never know when they might happen again. I asked my colleagues about presents that floored them, hoping it would help me generate some ideas.
There’s the personal touch: “I was in high school, before CD-burning technology was widespread: the age of mix tapes. My Aunt Laura, one of the biggest Beatle-maniacs anywhere, gave me a set of 8 or 9 cassette tapes she had compiled that had the entire Beatles catalogue, by song title, in alphabetical order. It must have taken forever to make, but because the songs were in alphabetical order, each tape was an awesome, unexpected mix of early and late Beatles songs, their biggest hits and obscure non-hits. I listened to those tapes for years.” – Dan Testa
There’s the sentimental: “Probably my first Nikon F. My dad got it in Libya in 1959 and gave it to me when I was 16. It’s had a pretty hard life, but everything still works – after a fashion. Just like me.” – Dave Skinner
There’s the tradition: “Every year for the first 25 years of my life my mother would cross-stitch me an ornament. She would hang it on tree late Christmas Eve and in the morning I would have to search it out between the lights and the needles. More than the actual ornament, it was the amount of time and thought that really meant something to me.” – Lido Vizzutti
There’s the exception: “I grew up in Missoula with four sisters and no brothers, and my parents were big advocates of playing outside. I don’t think we had cable until I was in middle school. Anyway, when I was 11 or so, I was really into video games and felt like I couldn’t live without a Nintendo 64 gaming system. I bombed my Luddite parents with hints, but never figured they’d budge on something like this.
“But, on Christmas morning, I found a big rectangular box with my name on it and my video game dreams came true. I still wasn’t allowed to have any shoot-’em-up games, but Mario Kart ruled.” – Molly Priddy
This year, I’m going for the “exception.” While I continue to bemoan the so-called commercialization of the season, I still hope she lets out a celebratory scream.
Merry Christmas and here’s hoping that you unwrap something unexpected.
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