Wednesday, November 30, 2005

To List or Not To List

It's that time of year when my family starts making and asking for lists. The kids do more of the making while the adults do more of the actual asking. The e-mails start flying back and forth as we all consult with each other to avoid duplicates, and I have to put a deadline on alterations to keep the kids from getting into the thousands in the "I want" category.

But when I got married, I learned that there seem to be two types of gift-giving families. Some families use lists (mine), every person writing up the few items they'd most like to receive - hopefully spanning a polite dollar range - and the gift givers choose off the list. On Christmas morning, everyone is delighted to receive those very specific things they asked for. The surprise comes in wondering what on your list you might get. And the fun comes in watching your family members beam in true joy over getting an item they really, really wanted.

On the other hand - the hand my husband's family follows - there are the non-list gift givers. These are the type of people who like to wing it. They wander the stores looking for the right gift or perhaps they already have something in mind. When Christmas rolls around, opening gifts takes on a level of nervous anticipation since one never has any idea at all what the berribboned box might contain. Even worse is watching others open the gifts you've chosen for them because all bets are off as far as them liking or wanting what you picked.

Problem comes when a list-maker like me marries into a non-list making family. For years I've asked my sisters-in-law for gift ideas for their children. I don't live near these kids, and for a long time I didn't even have any kids of my own to use as test drivers for my ideas. I had no idea if my nieces were into Barbies, baseballs, or books. I had no clue how many copies of video game X my nephew might already have. Shopping was a tortured affair for me. Instead of walking down the aisles, list clutched tightly in fist while I searched for the exact Mace Windu action figure, I'd stare gapingly at the endless rows of possibilities, completely paralized by indecision.

Things are even worse when it comes to gifting the mother and father-in-law because they already have every possible contraption known to man. And they don't even lend a hand when something breaks and a new one would provide the solution. If they need a new coffee maker, they don't wait for Christmas to ask for one as a gift. They just go get it. Which leaves you stuck with finding something "unique" or "original". But, really, how many "I Heart Grandma" mugs can any one woman use?

So, in the end, I usually stick the problem back on my husband. After all, it's his family with the list-making disability. I'm happy to provide them with my kids' wish lists (all 35 pages of them) as well as one of my own. Heck, all they have to do is head over to and take a look at my perpetual wishlist.

In fact, I am probably the easiest person on the face of the earth to buy a gift for. Because the one thing that makes me the happiest creature is a gift certificate to a book store. I know it's not fancy and it doesn't make for a nice, juicy box under the tree. But books are what I love, and there is nothing better than spending an hour or so wandering the aisles of Borders or B&N with a tidy plastic card in my pocket. The possibilities are endless, but whatever I walk out the door with will be exactly what I wanted most of all.

This year will be the easiest of all, though. Because we've all decided that in the face of the tragedy visited on so many by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we're going to scale back on what we give each other and instead send that money to a charitable organization. Rather than another useless chotchke, the money certainly could be better used by someone who doesn't have anything at all.

Kind of puts things in perspective when the first item on someone's wish list is "Place to live."


Larissa said...

Your post is really touching. We're having a scaled back Christmas as well--at least for the adults. But because Brennan has had such a hard year with losing his friends, house, and toys, we're spoiling him as much as we can.

As for us, we're just happy to have a family that took us in, and we're going to have the best gift of all for Christmas, when my husband flies out from Mississippi to be with us.

This Christmas could potentially be a really sucky one, but we're going to make it the best ever.

I hope yours is great, too. Sometimes the simplest Christmas plans make for the best holidays because they just mean so much more. :)

Anonymous said...

Gosh, Lynn, you and I must have been separated at birth ... I know *exactly* what you are talking about. Only I was the one growing up without lists and my husband's family always made them. I am a list-maker by nature, so I actually really like the tradition of giving people things to choose from, and, in fact, my parents now always request lists from us, once they saw how well it worked. But there is nothing I hated worse than roaming through the stores in search of some mysteriously "perfect" gift ... unless it was the stress of watching people open their gifts on Christmas morning and knowing that it wasn't going to earn more than polite forced thanks.

As for what to get the parents and in-laws (or others who can buy anything they need), I've finally hit on the solution. Consumables! Fruit of the month clubs ... specialty breads and cheeses from a favorite out of town deli ... gift baskets of locally made specialty foods. Everyone needs to eat -- not to mention have special items on hand for surprise holiday visitors -- and best of all, when the item has been enjoyed, there's no clutter to take up room the rest of the year. Talk about the perfect gift. :)