A Question For You Whilst I Finish My Book
Posted on December 11, 2017 Posted by John Scalzi 91 Comments
I’m soooooooooo close to finishing Head On (which was due a long time ago ugh), so while I’m busy typing, here’s a participatory thread with a festive, holiday-themed question for you:
What was the best-received gift you ever gave for the holidays?
Which is to say, not the gift you thought was the best, or most thoughtful or the most appropriate, but the gift that, when given, seemed to make a real difference to or have a real impact on the person to whom it was given. This is a slightly more interesting question, I think.
Have fun with this question in the comments. I’ll be over here wishing I could type faster.
Two quick suggestions:
1. For this comment thread, please have the comments stick to the question, rather than commenting on other people’s comments;
2. Very specifically I suggest not criticizing other people’s answers. Let’s make this a happy, heartwarming thread, folks.
I gave an lady at work (who has everything) a gift in her name of paying for education for 5 girls in Afghanistan. She talked about it for years until she retired.
Well, I proposed to my wife on Christmas Day, so if I were feeling a bit twee, I could say I gave her the rest of my life that day (21 years ago, and hopefully she never decides that she wants to return that gift :-)).
John, if i could turn it around…
I opened a Chrristmas envelope 15 years ago from my stepdaughter, and the gift inside was her asking me if i would walk her down the aisle at her wedding. I know that that one act of giving changed my life, and still does today. Of course, our odd sense of humor sometimes gets in the way (“so you didn’t keep the gift receipt?”) but, with a great son-in-law and two fabulous grandkids, life is pretty much complete.
tullamore dew in a swert-gun
I told my grandfather who was in the hospital on Christmasday, and was giving up, that he was going to be a greatgrandfather. The light that shone in his eyes, and the “oh dammit, got to hang in” expression on his face. Still makes me cry. He hung around just in time to se our boy get born. Best gift for us all.
I decided to get my brother a bunch of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy themed gifts for Christmas one year. They started off sort of vague (a towel, yerba mate which is not entirely unlike tea, etc) and then got to be stronger hints (a t-shirt with the number 42 on it), until the final present, which was the BBC radio play. Part of the fun was seeing how long it took him to figure it out.
What I wasn’t expecting was that it was our first Christmas with his fiance with us, and she was trying to figure it out too. So when I handed him the pair of presents and the first one turned out to be a petunia planter, she said, “Oh, so that must be the whale.”
And then I knew she’d fit in fine. :)
I once got my niece a green guitar. That’s all she said she wanted for Christmas. They were living in Portland Or at the time and that year Portland got pounded by snow so they weren’t able to get out and get their shopping finished so the majority of the gifts were the ones from my wife and I. My sister told me that the Green Guitar saved Christmas that year. Ther’e’s still a picture of my niece running around carrying that green guitar everywhere floating around the family.
My dad is impossible to buy gifts for. In fifty-plus years of my buying gifts for him, the only ones he liked were the ones he asked for, specifying make and model number (“Get me a Black & Decker wetvac, model #874-B on wheels”). The ONE impromptu gift he liked, to my surprise, was a slender book called “The Automat,” about the long-gone Horn & Hardart automat chain in NYC & Philly. It touched some memory in him, although he never said what it was. Even better, it contained Horn & Hardart recipes. The chicken pot pie recipe quickly became the favorite meal of one of his 8-year-old granddaughters. He made it for her all the time.
A chunk of wood from the original teak decking of the U.S.S. North Carolina that I gave to my brother. It’s a family thing with that ship. Not that we knew anyone who served on her, but besides being a museum ship, she’s a also a memorial to all the service members from North Carolina who died in WW2, and the first place we actually saw our uncle’s name printed, which has led over the last couple of years to all of us trying to track down more family history, like finding where he was buried. The people of Holland are super in they way they care for the dead at Margraten, and are more than willing to help track down someone buried there, and even have pictures of the fallen. They not only do that, but adopt out soldiers to the people there, who then make sure flowers and such are placed on the grave at holidays and the like.
No, The gift in and of itself wasn’t that big, or something that made the receiver jump up and down, although he did keep pulling it out and flashing it around, kinda like I’ve done with my own chunk. But spurring us to try to find out more about our uncle… well sometimes I wish I could get my hands on my grandmother, who wouldn’t allow anyone to talk about my uncle, got rid of every little trace of him she could, locked up his flag and service records, got rid of pictures… Well granny, you lost on that front ’cause a chunk of wood gave us his straight up grave, netted us a picture, and made us proud to find out that not only did he get a Purple Heart, but also a Bronze Star, and info that he died in the most massive airborne operation to date, Operation Market-Garden.
All from a chunk of wood.
The only time I ever managed to make my wife cry over a gift in our 26 years of marriage so far was the year that I managed to track down a copy of an obscure science fiction novel from the ’50’s called Star Ship on Saddle Mountain, which was released, as I understand it, only as a library club release, and that she had fallen in love with back in junior high. That was in the mid ’90’s; these days, of course, you can literally get a Kindle version for 99 cents or a hardback version for $650 through Amazon.
My husband’s grandfather (who died before he was born) played a few years of professional baseball. One year, before my husband and I got married, I scoured the Internet and collected all of his grandfather’s baseball cards and had them framed.
I bought my wife custom stationery for her online business. It had never occurred to her to get letterhead and notepads before. She never really used the letterhead, but the look on her face was dumbfounded and she was speechless for a while.
I gave my wife a framed, signed photograph of her favourite heart-throbby actor. It’s not, alas, signed TO her, because Conrad Veidt was more than twenty-five years dead before she was born, but she loves it all the same.
Many years ago, when I was more flush than I am now, I gave each of my nieces and nephews a college savings account with the cost of one semester of college, using my own alma mater as a guide.
I gave my laptop to a friend who didn’t have a computer (it had rarely been used) I think it was the happiest I’ve ever seen someone I gave a gift to.
Christmas present for my mother, back in the late 70s. I wasn’t one of the funders (as the youngest kid, I didn’t have any income yet), but I did get to be part of the conspiracy. My two oldest siblings were both working, and they pooled funds with my father.
In our family, we re-used wrapping paper, re-used boxes, etc. We occasionally put a gift in a different box to disguise it: I gave my dad cookies in a jigsaw puzzle bow one year. So, at the end of the Christmas Day unwrap, when Dad and the two oldest carried out the GREAT BIG BOX for the grand finale and set it in front of Mom, she did not assume that the size of the box automatically meant the gift would be the same size.
She started to unwrap it, and uncovered the part of the box that said it held a colour TV. She laughed and crowed and said, Oooo, how lovely, what a wonderful present! knowing that the very last thing the box could possibly hold would be a colour TV. With four kids, college to pay for, colour TV was wayyyy too expensive and frivolous for the family to waste money on. Not that we watched a huge lot of TV, but she loved watching baseball, and our set was a quite small old black-and-white item.
Then she started to open the box, and suddenly looked up with her face white and her eyes huge and almost in tears and kind of choked out, “Is . . . is there . . . oh my god . . . it actually IS a colour TV . . . ”
It wasn’t just a TV. It was a giant neon sign saying how much we loved her. Saying that this “unnecessary luxury” was the very least that she should have, that we all thought she deserved everything she wanted.
My hobby and Christmas intersected several years ago. My son was an ensign serving on a US Navy submarine. They were expecting their first child (our first grandchild). I built a hand-made crib out of quartersawn sycamore for their baby. Many hours were spent in the shop making that crib in time for Christmas that year. It was something they needed and wanted. They absolutely loved the crib. The crib converted to a toddler bed as the baby got older then to a full size bed as that my grandson uses now. When he grows up and starts his own family, the bed can convert back into crib.
I gave my sister-in-law a fairly large gift certificate to a hot springs resort when she was going through a stressful time around Christmas. She started crying (good crying, not sad), which surprised me quite a bit.
I gave a good friend of mine a car. It was an old Toyota station wagon that my wife had painted with flowers and sunsets and stuff – yeah a hippy car. It looked funky and smelled kind of funky but it worked fine. He really, really needed a car to get a good job so he wouldn’t lose his place to live. He was over the moon, and then a couple of weeks later got a job, one he wouldn’t have been able to get if he didn’t have a car. He drove over to our place and was jumping up and down and crying and laughing at the same time, yelling “I got a job, I got a job!”
It was pretty darn cool.
My aunt and uncle are nuts for Tolkien. They read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books to each other all the time. He is Jewish and she was converting at the time. I found a copy of The Hobbit in Hebrew and gave it to them for Chanukah.
I gave my stepdaughter a Chromecast when it first came out and it blew her mind. She’s one of those millennials who likes to watch YouTube on her cell, and being able to cast to her TV was a revelation. Best $35 I have ever spent.
Our sister-in-law is a jeweler so I commissioned a bracelet for my sister a few years ago. My sister and her family visited my sister-in-law who took them to the Diamond District in New York where they picked out mixtures of laser-cut raw, black and white diamonds that were the size of seed beads. My sister-in-law then hand knotted them like pearls on silk to make a bracelet that flowed like water. We all enjoyed being part of the process.
One year on the last day of the festive season (no, the other one commonly recognized in the US around this time of year), I got to tell a client that an abusive media conglomerate’s scurrilous appeal, after we had won in the trial court, had been denied in a one-page order without opinion or even oral argument.* That made the client’s (and family’s) celebrations just a bit more festive.
* Which is appeals-court-speak for “The result is so obvious, and the trial court was so obviously correct under the law, that we won’t kill any more dead trees even saying why.”
I can think of two times I’ve given someone a gift that really affected them.
The first Christmas I spent with the man who is now my spouse I gave him a little chrome case with a manicure kit in it. It wasn’t expensive but it was pretty well made. He was incredibly touched by it, even cried and hugged me, and looking back I think it was because it meant I’d been paying attention to the little things. He was always picking at his nails with the small screwdriver on his Leatherman and he was forever asking me where the nail clippers were. Giving him this shiny little case that he could stick in his pocket just seemed like logic to me but to him it was a message saying “I see you and I care about you.”
One year my brothers and I decided to get my parents something really special for Christmas. We picked a day at a local gliding school including an instruction flight for each of them in a glider. It wasn’t cheap and it took a fair bit of planning and research and it was a joint gift from the three of us to the two of them.
My Father was a taciturn man and not given to effusive thanks. He also wasn’t very good at hiding if he didn’t like a gift. I have rarely seen him happier than he was that day. I think it was partly because he’d talked for years about the engineering of gliders and how interesting it was but it was also because he was proud of us, his children, for working together, but mainly because he felt like it meant we thought of him as a man who still had adventures ahead and not as some over-the-hill coffin dodger waiting for the end.
There was one year, about a decade ago, where I knocked $WINTERHOLIDAY completely out of the park. We were at my mother-in-law’s to open presents, and every. single. gift. that I had chosen was met with an emphatic “oh, WOW” as opposed to a polite “oh, how nice…” I forget most of the presents at this point, but I found the Bob Dylan Biograph box set on CD for my husband, and the gasp as he opened the package still echoes in my head, and my heart.
The Oxford English Dictionary. My husband read it from cover to cover.
I did a large embroidery adaptation of Alphonse Mucha’s “La Musique” for my mom. She was blown away. :-)
Electrified marching band for my 33 birthday
I gave my father, just before he had significant surgery that would require much recovery time that would not allow him to read his beloved books, a Walkman with cassettes of as many of my musical performances as I could find recorded, along with a supply of batteries. He talked about those recordings for the rest of his life. Even when he could no longer remember my name due to dementia, those recordings would bring a smile to his face.
The first Christmas after my late husband’s father had passed away, I made a quilt for him. I’m not a quilter so it was just simple squares of cloth with a backing of 1950s flannel sporting galloping mustangs (it was in my mom’s massive fabric stash). We were at his sister’s opening presents, and he opened it and instantly his sister burst into tears: I’d used old worn out shirts from me, my husband – and his dad. She saw them immediately, it took hubby a minute to figure it out. His beaming smile across the room was all the Christmas I needed that year. I treasure the photo of him holding it up looking very happy.
Back when my grandmother turned 80, she said that she didn’t want any more “stuff” for Christmas. Being foolish and young (but I repeat myself), I took her at her word. That Christmas, I gave her a can of Poppycock with a note hidden inside the lid.
Nonnie opened her gift, stared at the can for a bit and got this look, like she was trying to swallow liver with prunes.
“Well, you said you didn’t want any stuff for Christmas,” I said, not helping matters at all. For the rest of the visit, she was cold and cranky.
Then, about a week later I got a call from her, apologizing. She’d finally opened the can and found the note detailing a gift to a local food bank in her name. She said it was the best present she ever got, so I made sure that she got it every year thereafter. But I did learn not to hide the note about the gift!
A copy of The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams. It’s sort of an early version of the Urban Dictionary, providing words for circumstances which didn’t have one. Much of Christmas Day was spent reading aloud the more compelling ones, such as ABILENE : (adj.) Descriptive of the pleasing coolness on the reverse side of the pillow.
My birthday is on Christmas Day and my mother would tell you the best Christmas gift she ever received was me.
My first ebook reader.
Suddenly there were So. Many. Books.
I’ve got 2. Several years ago a friend was telling me how her 5 y/o daughter wasn’t getting anything for Christmas because she couldn’t afford it. Took her to Toys-R-Us and told her to go for it, on me.
One year I got a cheap plastic ring, wrapped it up, and gave it to my soon to be fiance. I knew she’d want to pick out her own ring, she was fashionable like that while I’m, um, not.
I gave my oldest son a Sega Genesis when they were otherwise absolutely impossible to obtain during the holidays many years ago. He was so surprised and so happy he cried like a baby. And I cry every day for ever getting him starting on gaming. :-(
Spa gift certificates for the entire day. To my wife.
I got my brother a GPS satellite navigation system for his car back before smartphones. Before, he would go east for two hours after missing a turn before I got him that. Now he’s on time to family events.
I gave my then-husband a dark-blue silk necktie with Terry Pratchett’s turtle (the Great A’Tuin) on it. He was an attorney who had to wear a tie every day and couldn’t wear anything too obviously subversive or flip. He loved this one — and he wore it when he argued (successfully) a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. (This tie was designed by Stephen Briggs in the 1990s and is long out of production and extremely rare. It went with my husband in the divorce…)
A few years ago I knitted my mom a hat. It’s made of hand spun, hand dyed wool on the outside, with a lining of silk/alpaca on the inside. It’s not tight at all—it’s rather loose when worn. I was afraid that she wouldn’t wear it because of the sizing issue, when I had put literally close to a hundred hours into it. I was so upset, thinking I’d ruined this gift I’d spent so much effort on.
But, it turned out that the looseness meant she could wear it at night without it exacerbating her dermatitis and now she wears it almost every night from October through April.
One year I found in a pile of photographs that had belonged to my great-grandmother, a photo the included me, my sister, my mom, my mom’s sister, her three children, and our grandmother. The oldest of us was maybe 5 years old in the photo. I scanned it and spent a lot of time cleaning up scratches and such, then printed out eight high quality prints — except each of the eight also had below the picture a list of all of our names, and then I wrote a single paragraph to each person, talking about our lives together. Framed them all in nice wooden frames, wrapped them, and sent them to a cousin who was hosting Christmas Eve that year (I wasn’t able to attend), with the instructions that everyone needed to open them together.
I made Grandma cry. One cousin called me later to say that he has almost no memories of his childhood, and was surprised that I wrote something “so nice” to him. We had very seldom talked as adults for years. The picture changed that.
I didn’t know at the time that it would be the penultimate Christmas we had with Grandma. Every time I talked to her for the rest of her life, she would bring up that picture, and how it made everyone cry. When we got together the next Christmas, grandma had to bring up the picture, and there were a lot of tears in everyone’s eyes while she talked about it.
My younger brother’s baby/childhood wasn’t well-represented in the family album in contrast to me the first born whose every move was photographed. He was always kind of sad about that so one year when he was emerging from being an obnoxious teenager and I liked him again I went through all the slides, where he was better represented, and took them to be scanned and printed. This was in the days when it was a fairly new thing to be able to do so it cost me a bomb. I put them into an album and although he was, as I said, an obnoxious 17 year old who was too cool to admit anything was great, I knew I did good and he was really touched. It’s still the top most thoughtful gift given in our family and my parents were impressed too so I claim that as a sibling rivalry win.
Many years ago, (1981), I was destitute, homeless, and strung-out. I finely decided to go to a detox and get clean. I camped out in front of the detox center for 3 days before they had a bed open. Once inside, I found about 30 people just like me, both male and female, sick and used up by life. Over that 40 days or so, I bonded hard with about 6 or 7 junkies with nothing left to lose. It was December, and we all dreaded Christmas coming for it brought memories both very painful, and to joyful to be deserved. That year a (rather famous) rock band had contacted the detox center and wanted to give us a private show as a surprise, and encouragement. Well they pulled it off. On the 25 of December we all went down to the dinning hall for dinner, and it had been transformed. The band’s roadies had built a stage, and a sound system, and brought in chairs for all. The band did a 60 minute set, and it was so moving, so wonderful, that everyone was crying a bit. But then as the show was ending up the roadies brought in hand wrapped gifts with our names on them. One for each and everyone of us. This was so startling, The idea that anyone cared about us. Knew our names, thought that we we real and deserving. It blew us all away. The gifts… They were just the right stuff. Socks, warm clothing (in the right sizes), tobacco, and all the little things you miss when homeless. Tooth brushes, personal hygiene products, street survival gear. The band then hung around and talked to each of us, laughing and telling stories. It was a magical night.
I stayed clean and sober. On the one year anniversary of that night. I was invited to come back to the detox center. I re-united with about 15 of us that had made it through hell with each other. I was doing much better, I had a little job, an old beat up car, and a apartment of my own. We all talked about that Christmas a year ago and how much it meant to us. I was surprised when one of the women I had sat a cried with that during that concert, got up on stage, to receive a one year coin, and spoke eloquently about being seen and heard as a homeless junkie, and then she gave me the keys to a much nicer car, saying that she had to pass it on. When it came time for me to get on stage. I (now with 2 cars) gave my car keys to another woman I knew did not have transportation. This is how we survive, mutual aid.
* This was in Los Angles, where cars are a necessity of life.
* The band will remain nameless, per their wishes. (but I am sure you would recognize them)
When my sister and her husband had two toddlers at home I bought her and her husband a night at a downtown Richmond, VA (where she lives) hotel and dinner. Thank God she was able to find a sitter!
This is, in a way, a gift I received…
I used to have a client that had Korsakoff syndrome, which (to quote Wikipedia) is “a chronic memory disorder caused by […] alcohol misuse”. He’d been a sailor and basically pickled himself over the decades. When I first encountered him he was penniless and homeless and in his 60s. He had never even claimed his pension – he just forgot about it.
With all the back payments of his pension he was quite well off but … he forgot. Every day. So every morning I would have a conversation with him, he’d sadly say that he had no money or food – and every day I got the gift of telling him he had several thousand pounds in the bank – and the amazement and joy as his face lit up..
Bless him, to my knowledge he never took more than about a tenner (£10) out. He had very small horizons, really. A couple of beers and a spot of lunch. But the look on his face as another day of expected struggle turned into joy! He’s been dead these past 15 years or more but I’ve never forgotten him and his smile. Real wonder and joy :D
My best friend from childhood loves Tarantino films and I found the complete movie collection on blu-ray. I put it under her family’s Christmas tree with the other presents when she wasn’t looking, so I wasn’t there when she unwrapped it. But I got the happiest all-caps text message ever on Christmas Day. ^_^
Literally the one and only piece of writing I have ever sold (back in the early 80s) happens to be on this topic, so here it is …
My great-aunt Leigh was a Texas girl, and she and my great-uncle Doug were in the oil and gas business. When I was a kid, I would spend the night with them once in a while at their home in Mississippi. They were about 60, and had never had kids. I gorged on ‘Co-Cola’ and cookies, Leigh showed me her Japanese netsuke and other Asian wonders, and I roamed around their house. There were Persian rugs everywhere, and the ones on the stairs had worn down to white on the stair treads, leaving the pattern only on the risers.
In the 23 years since I left Mississippi, I’ve seen Aunt Leigh just once or twice a year. Uncle Doug died years ago, and since then she has lived alone with her fat, spoiled dog, growing a little deafer each year. My brothers and sisters and I go home for Christmas, and we often visit Leigh en masse.
This year, like every year, I couldn’t decide what to get her for a Christmas gift. She certainly has no need for gewgaws, I don’t know enough about her eating habits to send chocolate or a ham, and I wouldn’t dream of trying to buy clothes for an elegant 89-year-old. I decided to buy her tapes of music I thought she might like – Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Sinatra, and one of Bach organ pieces, since I knew she wasn’t able to get to church anymore, and the organ music was always my favorite part of church.
All of us visited together, with my sister’s two kids. I could tell Aunt Leigh was a little overwhelmed to have such a crowd around her. She opened the presents and expressed her delight with them all. After a half hour, I thought to ask, “Aunt Leigh, do you have a player for these tapes?” She said “Well … no,” as though it were clearly her fault that she had not been keeping up. I told her we’d get her one, and that evening, December 23, my brother and I braved the line of minivans loading up big-screen TVs in front of Cowboy Maloney‘s Electric City and bought her a small stereo. The next day, Christmas Eve, I stopped by again, alone this time, to deliver it. I unpacked the Styrofoam, hooked up the speakers, found a place to plug it in and cleared some table space in her bedroom. To make sure it worked, I put in one of the tapes and hit play. After about three seconds, I heard her behind me : “Mood Indigo, that’s Mood Indigo!” She was on the edge of her chair, mouth open, eyes lighted.
“Is there more?”
She called them out, one by one — Perfidia, Begin the Beguine, Deep Purple. I told her she would have made a great contestant on Name That Tune. When she didn’t answer, I turned to look. She was lost in the music.
“I don’t know how I let music get out of my life. This is the first time I’ve heard these songs in 50 years. I never realized how much I missed this.”
“I was worried that, because your hearing is poor, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy them.”
“What I can’t hear, my mind fills right in.”
We listened, and talked about finding happiness in little things. I was feeling good. For the first Christmas in many years, I’d found Aunt Leigh the perfect gift. When I got up to go, she reached out a hand to stop me. I guess I should have seen it coming, from a Texas girl.
“You know who I really like? Elvis. And Johnny Cash. I LOVE Johnny Cash.”
When I was 17 (in 1971), I had an artist friend paint a picture of my dad’s favorite sailboat, a hunk-a-junk Silhouette that he bought with the side stove in, then worked all winter to repair. He owned it for a two or three years, then traded up to a Corinthian. But he still had a soft spot in his heart for “Oracle”. I wrapped the painting so that he couldn’t guess what it was, so he was very pleased and surprised when he saw it. He loved that painting, but passed away a couple of years later (very sudden heart attack). The painting remained on the living room wall until my mom passed away about 7 years ago, when it came to me. It hangs on my wall, and I think of Dad and the fun we had sailing in that old wooden shoe of a boat.
Years ago, I was a Big Fish in a very very small pond. At a sports event, we few Big Fishes were given a rose and told to give it to someone we thought had competed well that day. There was this one quiet fellow – he won a few, he lost a few. He did ok. But I saw him helping people out all day – helping person A carry things, encouraging person B, congratulating person C. He made the day better for everyone around him with his kindness, happiness, generosity of spirit and joy in competition. When I pulled him aside and gave him the rose and told him why, told him that I saw him, truly saw him – the look on his face will stay with me all my life.
There is a Zen story that concludes, “It is the giver who should be thankful.” Here are two gifts that my wife and I were blessed to give:
1) Saw a Christmas giving tree type wish item from an old man with untreatable cancer. All he wanted was a used recliner so he could be comfortable while his time lasted. We happened to have “The Most Comfortable Recliner in the World” the like of which we have never seen before nor since. A little used but still pretty mint. We gave it up believing to this day that he enjoyed it more than we would have.
2) Our daughter-in-law had a pretty meager childhood. The year Nintendo 3DS came out we gave her one for Christmas. She asserts it is the best present she’s every received. We just are tickled to see that she is never without it.
Happy Holidays and give gratefully.
I’ve been fortunate in this area. One year I used my employee discount to get my sister the then-brand-new, just-released, hottest Christmas gift item – the original iPod. I still have a picture of her holding it up with the look of disbelief and excitement on her face.
For my parents fiftieth wedding anniversary my sister and I took them to the Aulani in Hawaii so they could vacation with their children and grandson at a place where everyone would enjoy it. One of our best vacations ever.
But the real winner is getting to call my parents on my dad’s birthday (and my sister-in-law on hers; same day) and tell them that we were expecting their first grandchild. My dad got really quiet and teary-happier than I’d ever heard him.
When my younger sister was just old enough that it was impossible to get her clothes for Christmas, and she was too old to get toys, I decided to buy her jewelry.. earings to be precise, since that was about all my budget could handle. It turned out that the least expensive ‘real jewelry’ I could get was a pair of diamond stud earings. Combined, they were a tiny fraction of a carat, but to my sister,they meant that I saw her as a grown up.
However, my most successful Christmas came a few years later. I’d decided to go all out on the gift wrapping, since I couldn’t afford any major gifts. I found some cheap little plastic puzzle games, and attached one to each gift. That was the year that I discovered that even my parents were happy to get a toy for Christmas.
I cross stitched a bunch of “Spock in Santa hats” Christmas ornaments when “For the Love of Spock” came to town and sold two, which more than paid for my ticket and coffee. I’ve gradually doled out the rest to family and friends of a sufficiently kooky vibe. Last year my BFF got one and was ecstatic. The last two just left home to live with new friends. I love cross stitching so it doesn’t get much better than that. Wish I could post a picture but I’m still maintaining a semi-adult LinkedIn page.
I’m the youngest of all my cousins and our grandmother passed before i got married. When my now husband and i bought our house my aunt (eldest aunt who was in charge of my now passed grandmothers finances) and gave me a card with money in it saying she didn’t want me to miss out of a wedding gift, but since you have your own home now i guess its a housewarming gift from Grandma. It may have only been money but it brought back so many thoughts of my grandparents and how we recently lost them.
In the ’80’s my three brothers and I got together and bought Mom the best radar detector on the market. Mom was an excellent driver, never caused or was in an accident, but she drove a little (hah!) on the fast side. She was so delighted! I haven’t thought of that for years. Thanks!
Just remembered. The BFF who got a Spock once gave me a 8 1/2 x 10 glossy of Errol Flynn, also many years gone at that point.
Announcing the arrival of the baby. We had the ultrasound pictures taken and handed those out. Since the new one is the newest by a large margin (her older brother, 16, was the prior youngest) all her aunts and grandma lost their minds over it.
She is now the most doted on child in history.
Several years ago, when my niece was 13 and heavily into Supernatural, she had a gigantic crush on one of the stars. For a Solstice gift that year, I got her a fuzzy blanket that had the image of her love interest emblazoned on it about twice life-size. When she opened the box and unfolded the blanket, her eyes grew to saucer-size, she clutched the blanket to her bosom and squealed “now I can sleep with Misha Collins every night!”
Many years ago, i worked in the accounting department of a retail company. Our sales manager spent a couple of months fining anyone who showed up late for a meeting. It never helped with punctuality and he got bored with the whole thing. In December, he handed the money he had collected to me and my office mate (we were 2/3 of the accounting department) and told us to spend it however we liked. I can honestly say that the lunch hour we spent in the Target toy department wringing as many small toys out of the $52.00 we had will always be my favorite holiday shopping memory. Everything went to Toys for Tots.
I gave my mother an empty box. To this day she says it’s the best gift she ever received.
My mom is very hard to buy for. If she wants it enough, or needs it, she gets it. One year I planned to get the family to buy her a home photocopier, when they were just barely getting cheap enough for home purchase. I came home to discover she’d just bought one. Another time I was going to work with her jeweler/friend to design custom jewelry boxes because she’d always had trouble organizing her jewelry. She called me to tell me that she found the perfect solution (plastic fishing tackle boxes, lined with jewelry padding). Gah!!!
One year I had no good ideas, no mediocre, and no bad ideas. Except “no gift,” which was tantamount to divorce. Then I saw my roommate’s discarded dorm fridge box and inspiration struck! My mother was notorious for losing shit in the house. She’d put it “someplace special” and it would never be found again.
I wrapped that fridge box with the fanciest paper I could find, stuck a huge bow on it, and labeled it SOMEPLACE SPECIAL.
She used that box for 15 years, till it fell apart when she moved. To this day she regrets the loss of that box.
The gift was to my best friend Joyce and was not a holiday gift.
We met in girl scouts in the early 70’s but didn’t really become close friends until the early 80’s when our then boyfriends (later husbands) introduced us and we both pointed and squealed “I know you” then started laughing, hugging, and jumping up and down. They moved out of state about 12 years ago.
In January of this year her husband died suddenly. Joyce was in both financial and emotional stress. She made the hard decision to sell their home, pack up or sell everything they owned and move back, across the country, alone. I flew there for the services and when I returned home I set up an iPad with Skype, her e-mail, etc. and shipped it to her with the promise that until she was home I would Skype every night. This was a nightly occurrence for approximately 5 months, some nights were 10-15 minutes and some were all-nighters. She has thanked me many times but the when I overheard her at Thanksgiving telling another guest that the iPad and daily Skype sessions were the only thing that got her moving and through that dark period my heart was full and life was good.
The payback? Joyce was with me in June when I had surgery for breast cancer. BFF’s :-D
I thought about this for a minute, and came up with at least one gift that was very well received. 2 books I gave my dad for Christmas this year. I promise I’m not making this up — for a few moments I forgot they were yours! Red Shirts and Old Man’s War.
To be honest, it’s hard to remember the times when a particular present evoked a “That’s going straight to the pool room!” type of reaction. What I *do* remember are the moments of good, silly fun we had together in giving and receiving.
One Christmas, we all safety-pinned thick winter socks to the ends of our beds. We waited until everybody had supposedly gone to sleep, then gathered up our stocking stuffers and snuck around from one bedroom to the next, in pitch darkness, trying to locate everyone’s stocking and put the right present in it. There were a few collisions in the hallway, a lot of smothered giggles, and much laughter at breakfast in the morning.
Another time, one of us received “Trout Fishing in America” by Richard Brautigan. The book was passed around at the big family get-together. One notable passage in it concerns a visit to a run-down old churchyard; this was read aloud to general amusement. Later, one of us who hadn’t heard it would come in from a different room, go “Hmm, looks interesting,” pick it up and page through it, and announce, “Ha ha ha, get a load of this! ‘Sacred to the memory of John Talbot who at the age of eighteen had his ass shot off in a honky tonk November 1, 1936. This mayonnaise jar with wilted flowers in it was left here six months ago by his sister who is in the crazy place now.'” By the end of the day, we could pretty much recite it by heart.
It wasn’t a Christmas gift, but it may count. I collect meteorites, and was contacted by a teacher up in Alaska on our listserv. She said she was doing a unit on space, heard about my odd hobby via a FOAF, and wanted to know if I could find some cheap meteorites for her students. I put together a dozen small specimens with labels in gem jars and sent them up to her. Later I heard that the students (mostly native Alaskans) were thrilled with the ‘rocks from space’ and were showing them off everywhere. She said, “I told them that I thought that they were out of this world, so I had something from out of this world for them.”
My stepmother lost her father at a young age. He was also a WWII veteran, so I ordered his service record , and added a timeline, table of contents, a brief narrative and maps and photos that showed the transport ships he took and where his unit fought on Iwo Jima. She cried a little when she opened the box with the papers.
Once I went Christmas shopping with my mother at a craft fair. One booth had a display of velvet hats with velvet flowers on them. Mom was rather taken with them, and looked for quite a long time at a black one with a red rose. She asked me, “Do you think I should buy this?” I answered, “No.” She was really disappointed by that, and asked me again a couple of times, and I kept saying, “No, I don’t.” She had a hard time letting it go, and asked me again about it later on, more than once. By the time we were at lunch and she said, “Did you really think I shouldn’t have bought the hat?” I found it rather hard to keep a straight face, because of course I had sneaked away and secretly bought it myself. (Of course I didn’t think she should buy it…!)
Come Christmas Day, she opened the box and saw the hat, and let out a SHRIEK of surprise. It was a truly satisfying moment.
Many years ago my brother in law (for whom it is famously difficult to select gifts) was being forced to retire his ancient Ford Fiesta. He loved this car which had seen him through his young adult hood and many fond memories. My brother and I made him a commemorative photo album where we photographed not just his Fiesta but others we found ‘in the wild’ throughout our city. He loved it and still displays the album in his office.
My parents were into camping once upon a time. For Christmas, I gave them 5 weeks of camping fees. Basically, it was 5 IOUs. When they planned a trip, I gave them the money to pay for the place to put their camper for the week. They loved it.
I gave my husband a bound draft of my first completed novel. He’d read loads of my short stories, but they didn’t take 18 months to write. I can’t share work in progress, because the storyteller in me declares things done then, but he didn’t realize how much I wanted to finish the book and share it with him. He thought I didn’t want him to read it. That gift touched him far more than I expected. He’s now my first reader for nearly everything and he’s fantastic at it, so I’m not sure who got the best gift.
Can I enter a second one? This really surpasses the quilt. My mom and I had a pretty fraught, difficult relationship. One Christmas, and I don’t know why, I inserted a slip of paper in her Christmas card with a thank you for the three things I got from her that really shaped me as a person: her love of words and reading, her great sense of humor, and her love of nature. She was totally overwhelmed, and later she demanded that that slip of paper go in the coffin with her when she died. I promised her it would. Unfortunately she had lost it by the time that happened, but those traits of course are written in my DNA and will last as long as I do. Thanks, Mom.
It’s not a holiday thing, but for my Mother’s 70th birthday the whole family put in to buy her a trip to France. She thought it was a joke when we gave her the tickets in a card. Best money I ever spent to see that look on her face when she realised it was for real.
I have to comment: this is such a moving and heartwarming thread to read!
A couple of decades ago, a few years before our (unhappy) divorce, my ex and I separated amicably for a year, during which–not having enough income between us to support two households–we rented a room from friends and switched off staying there and in the house with the kids. We agreed the room would be “his” in most ways, though, so he felt a sense of personal place, since he was spending a bit more time there.
When he and I became involved, he was a no-longer-religious Christian, and I was a still-practicing Jew. My two children were being raised in Judaism, and when he and I had a child, I was adamant that she would be Jewish too. (Update: the kids and I are all atheists, now, so it didn’t stick in the end!) He was fine with that, but we had one major point of conflict: Christmas. I’d never celebrated Christmas in my life, and didn’t want to start. I didn’t want Christmas in my house. (Not a pre-redemption Scrooge! We had Chanukah, New Year, lots of cheer and charity. Just no interest in the dominant culture’s particular version, that’s all.) He wanted our daughter to experience Santa, piles of presents, Christmas morning (all of those made me twitch, truthfully). I won (ish). The compromise was spending Christmas at his mom’s every year, where he could “do” it to his heart’s content. Just not in our house.
So, the year we were separated, the kids and I decided to do something special for him. We got a Christmas tree (first–and last!–of my life), brought it to his room and set it up while he was out, without decorating it. I’d bought some ornaments and lights, but the kids and I all made ornaments, too–it was during the craze for that bake-able polymer stuff, and we made personalized items for him. I wanted him to have a Christmas of his own, something he’d given up to be in our relationship.
I left the kids there to surprise him and decorate the tree with him, so he could have a special time with them. He called later to tell me how delighted he was. I don’t remember the specifics, but I can’t think of any other time a holiday-season gift of mine got a response that heartwarming.
My brother has been writing a novel for 20 years which will likely never be published, but he enjoys working on it. My sister-in-law likes to play computer games in the evenings and they had only one computer so both of them couldn’t do their things at the same time. My sister found a secondhand laptop in good condition and our whole family went together to buy it for my brother’s birthday so he could work on his novel whenever he wanted. I never saw anyone so thrilled with a gift when he opened it.
I’m always too warm, my partner and my mother (who lives with us) are always too cold. We have a gas furnace that provides way too much heat or not nearly enough, depending on who you ask. So last Christmas I had individual electric radiant heaters installed in each of their bed rooms. They were both thrilled, and I’m happy because I could set the central thermostat 15 degrees lower.
A bunch of us chipped in to send friends on a bucket list trip to Turkey.
Long, long ago, I spent a day hanging out with someone who had a huge garden. We spent a few hours chatting while we shelled a small portion of the popcorn from the garden. By the time i left, my hands were raw and sore. And we only got through maybe a tenth of all their popcorn.
I searched online and found an old cast iron hand cranked sheller. Put the ear in the top, turn the crank, and it shelled it in moments, and sent it to them for christmas.
They would spend a couple weeks shelling corn part time. With the sheller, they do it in a single day.
Every fall, when they shell their popcorn, i get a verbal report of how amazing the machine is.
And a can of fresh kernels for xmad
My Dad is an engineer who has spent his career in medical devices; he also has a nice, small train table. A couple years back, my siblings and I got a series of box cars, tank cars, hopper cars, etc., all done up with the logos of the various companies he’s worked with/started/etc. They still haven’t made it up to the attic train table but remain, year round, on the mantle over the fire place.
My brother finished his electrical apprenticeship and got his journeyman certificate just before Christmas one year. I gave him a set of Klein cable cutters – the nicest ones at the electrical supply company, with a lifetime guarantee. He was so moved he didn’t know what to say. It was great.
Without question, best received gift ever was the Star Wars/Pendleton wool blanket I gave my wife for Christmas a few years ago. Along with an also-gifted Kindle, she crawled under the blanket immediately and didn’t emerge until May, except for biological needs.
Also perhaps the hand-built case I built for a friend’s “vase” in college. But that’s just like, my opinion, man.
My friend from college had a lot of bad Christmases, trying to juggle two divorced parents who didn’t like sharing her time. For her gift one year, I made her an Anti-Christmas playlist. She posted on her social media how hard it was not to cry, and she was not the emotional type.
My best-received was in slow-motion. I gave my BFF an ice cream maker. She received it graciously, but I could tell she was kind of “What? You expect me to make my own ice cream?”
I had bought it for her because I know she loves ice cream, but has some issues with dairy/lactose intolerance. And over the ensuing weeks, she started making sorbets and ice cream with things like coconut milk.
This was at least 5 years ago, and she still sometimes calls me and says, “I just made froyo and it’s SO GOOD—that ice cream maker was a brilliant idea.”
I try to pay people I know enough attention to do well with presents for them, and I think I’ve had a reasonable share of successes. One day, though, my mother asked me to stop by to meet her high school best friend whom she was seeing for the first time since high school, and she mentioned that it was his birthday. Essentially, all I knew about this person was that he had the personality to have been close to my mother when she was a teenager. The afternoon we were to meet, it occurred to me that her friend might like a present, and that I knew enough about my mother to imagine what a person who had been her best friend might enjoy.
On the way to my parents’ house, I stopped in a good toy store and spent something like ten dollars on the silliest wind-up toy I could find. I was pleased, but not completely surprised to see that my mother’s friend was touched and amused by the gesture.
I didn’t expect what I learned later. The friend, a therapist, had decided to leave the toy out in his waiting area. He reported to my mother that it was surprisingly helpful to the atmosphere of the office and the mood of his patients; it had made a small but real change in his practice.
This was also something of a gift to me, as I always feel socially awkward, yet I discovered that a sudden intuition of mine play out so well.
My father had fond memories of Peek Freans Playbox cookies from his childhood. They’ve been discontinued since the seventies. Last year, I scoured the web for copy-cat recipes, purchased a used tin on Etsy and spent much too much time baking and frosting. The smile on his face when he opened that gift!
He was also slightly nostalgic about Andrès Baby Duck wine, which is sweet, slightly bubbly stuff. He thought it, too, was discontinued… He was wrong. (It’s still widely available around Christmas; I guess he just doesn’t go to that section of the liquor store! He’d probably say that his taste in wine has improved since his youth.) I gave him a bottle along with the cookies. That got a bark of laughter. The bottle was regifted to my godfather, who is famous in family lore for having gotten drunk – and his first hangover – on the stuff. I was absent for that handover, but was told there was much ribbing of my godfather. No idea if anyone ever drank the bottle though. Good thing it’s cheap!
a few years back I got my nephews significant other in the family gift draw and having a clue as to what she might like I got her a pair of monster feet slippers from Thinkgeek. I guessed right and apparently they were the best gift she had ever gotten in her life.
I love this thread, it prompted a lovely conversation with my Other. We have given each other many cherished gifts, but the following is the best.
About 10 years before my mother-in-law (MIL) passed, I enlisted her aid in creating a photo album for the Other. MIL was on the other side of the country, so we had many hurried conversations, which resulted in photos sent to my work address. It was great fun–we both enjoyed the sneaking around–and I got to know her in a way that our few in-person meets hadn’t accomplished.
I made the photo album from scratch, using old XMas cards from family as frontis, end papers, and pages. The photos themselves included pictures she’d never seen of grandparents, parents, especially her father, who passed when she was a child, and various other close family.
When I gave it to the Other, she just started leaking. Not even crying, just spilling over. We called her mother, and had a primitive conference call, with the Other and her mom sharing memories, explaining family stories and jokes, reliving special moments and events. It was a gift to and from all three of us, over and over again, and has generally been judged the best gift ever. Since I had the idea, I could say “I won,” but truly, half of the reason I thought of it was because I wanted to know more about her childhood and family. (I really like making things, too, so.)
As a great man once said
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by”
But more on topic: a dinner gong I found in a charity shop. My mother loves it.
I gave my dad a glider ride. My church was having a silent auction fund raiser and one of the items was a glider ride. I hadn’t purchased dad’s birthday gift and started bidding on it. My dad asked why I was bidding because I was well over the weight limit. I kept my mouth shut and shrugged. The bidding went past my budget, so I finally told dad, “It was going to be your birthday gift.
Dad said, “Keep bidding.” Flat and serious.
It was a gift to the church and the guy who owned the glider also. Dad had retired to Longmont 10 years after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, and 15 years after his first heart attack, so they hadn’t yet seen him as a guy who might take one year old twins camping, etc. I am still occasionally reminded of that purchase by church members.Twenty years later.
I never gave a gift like that, but one I received when I was a kid was a big wooden packing crate-for a fridge or something I believe. That crate served as fort, a submarine, a pirate ship- hoisted into a tree it made a great treehouse, with the top covered with chicken wire an impromptu aviary, with a wheel bolted to each corner a somewhat oversize and dangerous trolley. I think my father turned it into firewood eventually, but not before it had given a lot of pleasure to a lot of kids.