Monday, December 3, 2012

Thoughtful Gifts Don't Always Have To Be Expensive.

As we said goodbyes to Thanksgiving, we said hello to good buys for Hanukah and Christmas.

Where ever you are in the world, (except perhaps on a desert island or at the top of Mount Everest), I think it is difficult to remain immune to the messages around us to buy big, buy now and buy more... Every kind of media has been hijacked by buying fever.

With Jacob's birthday on Dec 2nd (yesterday) and our wedding anniversary in late December, I have been juggling milestone gifts with Hanukah and Christmas ones and my brain has darted from person to person and list to list, completely ineffectively.

You'd think since Jacob was turning twelve, I might have realized by now, that I needed to start the present buying frenzy early and at least nab some gifts on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. 

But no. 

Those SALE extravaganzas scare me. It's taken me 11 years to master Loehmann's** on a quiet day. ( No more needs to be said.)

As the third son and after 12 years of presents, we had really run out of ideas of what to gift Jacob. When asked, he couldn't think of anything he really wanted. (Except a dog-which has been his request for a long time and I'm afraid will continue to be for a longer one). And since his birthday always falls very close to Hanukah, this year  Jonny and I decided, the five of us would take a few days away as a family over winter break.  Jacob's birthday and all 3 boys' Hanukah gifts would be fun activities we thought they would love to take part in while we are away. 

Jacob agreed to this in theory, in advance of his birthday, but we were unsure how it would play out in reality.

So what did he receive as gifts yesterday, apart from a video game from his brothers, a sled for when it snows, spending money from his extended family and his favorite candy? 

Here are some of the special and unexpected gifts he received:-

* Telephone calls  and emails from 3 of his friends who wanted  to wish him a Happy Birthday. Jacob was so thrilled with these. He kept saying, "That was so nice that they called/emailed. I want to remember to do that."

* A surprise visit from Aida, his old babysitter who came with us to America, when we moved from Hong Kong. She is our 'family' here. And truly the only person in the Greater Washington area apart from Jacob's siblings who can say "I remember the day he was born" and saw him within 24 hours of his birth. Her visit, hugs and card/ gift seemed to make him grow inches in happiness.

* Cheese sauce! - Yes that's what he requested on his pasta for lunch. I think he thanked me 3 times for this one minute concoction.

* International calls/ cards/ emails from his Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles -He spoke to everyone with such joy in his voice, so pleased that they had remembered, that they love him and wanted to talk to him.

*Humor -The birthday card we gave him was exactly the same one as last year. We had forgotten. But he remembered and could even put his hands on last year's to show us! He thought THAT was hilarious. I thought it just showed what a rubbish choice there is for cards for SONS and how bad our adult memories are......

* We went out for dinner to his favorite restaurant.

*Jacob loved the variety of activities he will be able to choose from, when we go away. He thought activities were some of the  best gifts he's ever received. (Phew!)

So from all of this, what have I learned about the perfect gift? 

There isn't one.

But you can come pretty close, by putting thought and love into the ones you give.

And  the art of gift giving is not in buying the most expensive or largest gift but by making sure that what you give is what the recipient would like. 

It is about giving a thoughtful gift that shows you know that person well and have considered their needs and wants. You've observed their style, the colors they wear, the food they enjoy, the activities they love to do. Gifts can be gifts of time and love. A phone call, an unexpected visit or a thoughtfully composed card are precious gifts. (Well Jacob certainly thought so.)

Gift giving is not about you or about how much you spend. It is about the person you are buying for. The love, thoughtfulness, time  and care you put in, will show in the choices you make and send a message to that person that they are important and special to you.

Happy Birthday Jacob!

Please tell me about some of the best gifts you have ever given or received.

Happy gift sourcing.


** For non Americans - Loehmann's is a discount designer label clothing store. Their stock changes daily and you have to wade through it and visit often to find things you didn't even know you needed.

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Birthday in a Box

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  1. Dear Gilly,
    Since my mother was an anti-materialist we were raised with a skewed perspective on giving. You have taught me so much! Below is a brief list
    of what I have learned from you about this:

    1. Think about the receiver; their hopes and dreams, trials and triumphs. 2. Apply effort
    3. It is helpful to think in themes. He/she is a sportsman, a reader, a computer geek-it shows you have been paying attention.
    4. Small and thoughtful is fine.
    5. Handmade cards are special-even if simple (ok, that was mine).
    6. Giving is an art form- deep enough to be considered again and again.
    7. Giving sustains connection and friendship.
    8. Gifts make giver and receiver feel good.


    1. Hi Jessie - I think you give me too much credit, but thank you for crediting me with your gift giving prowess. I think your point about "paying attention" is actually the root to a great gift.If you look closely around someone's house, listen carefully to what's important to them, observe the kind of jewelry, scarves, chocolate etc they like and then apply your observations to a gift, you will probably make a very successful choice.

  2. Jacob is a good kid. Sometimes the little things are the best presents.

    1. Thanks Corey. Well as the saying goes good things come in small packages.... And if they are infused with love and thoughtfulness then they can be priceless.

  3. I agree with everything you write except one thing is nagging at me. The older boys got birthday presents and now there hanuka presents will be going away with the family, etc... Jacob has to give up his birthday present and Hanuka presents for the same ttip the older boys get and yet they got birthday presents. I'm super aware of this as my brother and sister (twins) have birthdays on Dec 21st. Every year I would get two presents from relatives and they would get the one Hanuka gift with a not saying it was Hanuka and birthday. Now my daughter has her birthday on Dec 4th I'm determined to celebrate it each year well before Hanuka and separately. I know you celebrated Jacob's birthday yesterday - it's just the present thing...

    1. Rachel you are right to have this niggle because we try to balance this every year. First thing. Jacob is having a birthday party -he wanted a sleep over and has a few boys coming next Sat night to watch a film.
      Second the activities where we are going the activities are substantial eg a ropes course/zip line/ ski lesson and we chose them BECAUSE we knew Jacob would love them. We gave Jacob the list of options on his birthday so he would have time to make his choices. He is incredibly excited. He will get to choose 2 or 3 the other boys will choose one. They can use their Hanukah gelt to try others.

    2. I knew you would have a great answer. I take it all back. :) Looking forward to reading all about it after the holiday. xxx

    3. I'm glad you asked! I'll take lots of pics -3x as many of Jacob as anyone else!!! Between Jacob's birthday, Hanukah and our wedding anniversary it is a real challenge not to lump everything together..Some years work out better than others :-)

  4. This sounds so aren't about the price tag. Your son sounds like he has grasped that at this young age.

  5. Hi Liz - i really do think that the thinking part of buying a gift is the hardest, if it matters that you choose something the person will want. Jacob is really excited about these activities.We knew he would want to do them. So suggesting they were his gift seemed to be easy for him to accept.