I had a little conversation with a friend today who is decidedly grumpy about some of the Chanukah presents she received. The conversation started out with "I realllllllly don't mean to be unappreciative BUT...." I surely knew what was coming next.
Sometimes people want to buy other people a gift for Chanukah (or for other occasions as well) and are totally flummoxed about what to buy. Sometimes these people say "What do you get for someone who already has everything?" This may be particularly applicable to older people who have had more time to collect the things they want. Sometimes the giver of a gift doesn't know the preferences of the recipient. Sometimes the givers are intimately acquainted with the person they wish to gift, but still have no clue as to what to get. But resolutely these potential givers go forth and brave the malls and stores. And oh yes, the stores are just waiting for these people. There are zillions of sales people just ready and waiting to help you out with your choice and who will tell you "She'll/he'll just love this! Trust me!"
What's the one thing that these givers don't usually do? They don't ask the recipient what they would like. Or if they feel uncomfortable in asking directly, they don't send an "elf" (think child in the house or a spouse) to find out.
So Chanukah comes and you dig into the brightly wrapped gifts full of happy anticipation. And then the gift comes into view. One of the gifts my friend received was a waffle maker, the kind with fancy shaped waffles. That she got this from one of her married children made it even more of a disappointment. This friend has all her children married and out of the house. She never made waffles while the kids were living at home. She and her husband don't eat them. So, why a waffle maker? The comment from the giver--and echoed by her other children--was: "This is great mom! You'll be able to make all these terrific waffles when your grandchildren come over!" She also received a bottle of a very expensive perfume--the only problem is the scent is not one she wears and she really doesn't like the smell.
So many gifts sit and molder or become pass along gifts because the giver didn't follow one basic rule: when in doubt, ask! I suggested to my friend that next year she hand her kids a list with a whole bunch of items on it, items that she wouldn't mind receiving. If that doesn't appeal then go the gift certificate route so that the recipient can get something they really want and will enjoy. Yes, a gift has to please the giver, but it should first please the person getting it.
My husband used to ask his mom what to get me so I always ended up with stuff for the house or that everyone would get the benefit from, sort of like your friend's wafflemaker. One year I bought a really beautiful robe for myself, wrapped it in a box and gave it to my husband for Chanukah. When he opened it he asked what good this gift was going to be for him. So I told him that he would really enjoy seeing me wear it so that was his gift. He finally got the idea that I like my gifts exclusive for me and for my use.
I have a better question - why are we giving gifts? Since when is that a chanuka tradition? I thought the only giving that happens is money to children who demonstrate some acquisition of Torah knowledge.
The problem with making lists, is that is sets up expectations, and also what do you put on the list, in what price range...it's very pretentious even if it will save a complaint and "non use" later on..."It's the thought that counts" I'm sticking with that.
...on the other hand, I get annoyed when I get presents that obviously were not thought out...I mean, hello, my younger sister likes the hand creams and lotions, I stick with my vaseline intesive care that works...buy me a nice notebook...
I wish I could have the guts to give a list to my nearest and dearest. I know they are going to buy me gifts for certain occasions and why should they waste their money on things I don't want or can't use? Sporadic, if it's the thoughts that count then some people I know are having very strange thoughts about me. I'm in my 30s and for my last birthday one of my sisters bought me a rubber ducky for the bathtub with bath oil. Was a great gift---for my kids.
To this day, I feel funny exchanging gifts on Chanuka. Smacks of Christmas. Maybe gift cards are a good compromise because it's sort of like gelt. And perhaps gift cards are also a good idea for these awkward gift giving situations you describe. Yes, I know it seems like thought wasn't put it into them, and the recipient knows exactly how much you spent on them, but it could be the solution for those clueless givers or picky receivers. If the gift cards are specific to a particular store (versus Visa gift cards), then it does show that the giver has taken the recipient's interest into account.
The gift problem isn't just about Chanukah. It happens any time a gift is appropriate. I'd love it if someone would just give me a gift certificate to someplace where I could choose what I want.
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