“I want you to open this with me… in private,” my boyfriend of one year told me on Hanukkah a few years ago, winking as he handed me a box wrapped in amNY newspaper as we sat with his family in their living room. I was so eager to give him the 2012 Winter Classic Henrik Lundqvist jersey I had spent weeks searching for, consulting with his friends and every hockey lover I knew to make sure I had gotten the right one. I couldn’t wait to see what he had gotten me and wondered why he wanted me to open it alone with him later.
That night, after everyone had gone to bed, we took my gift up to the guest bedroom, and I began tearing away at the endearingly haphazard wrap job as he eagerly watched. I finally opened the box to find…
A pair of athletic socks and black Underarmour leggings with a note: “I thought you needed a bigger size than this, but I called your mom and she said no, get this size.”
Yes, these leggings outlasted our three-year relationship, and I still wear them today. They do keep me warm, and they were the right size. (Thanks, Mom!) I’ll never forget the sense of sadness that washed over me at that moment, though. Was it all of the build-up from his talking it up for weeks? Was it the fact that he thought I was a bigger size than I am? And WTF was with the “opening it in private” thing? (He later told me it was because he thought the gift was “too cheeky” to open in front of his parents.)
I know he tried and meant well, and I wished I wasn’t as disappointed as I was, but I couldn’t help it. It’s tricky: When you love someone, how are you supposed to get them something to accurately convey your feelings, without belittling what you two share? On the other hand, what do you do when you care for someone, but it’s not yet serious? You don’t want to overdo it, but you don’t want to not do enough. Reflecting back on the gifts I’ve been so fortunate to receive from significant others in recent years, I’ve realized something: Whether it was a Keurig, a pair of Hunter rain boots, a set of red glass cups, a grey sweater robe, or a Tiffany diamond necklace, the only thing that really mattered was the love the two of us shared. Or didn’t share. The truth is, if I didn’t love the man, I couldn’t love the gift – yes, even that necklace from Tiffany.
The best gift is having that person that gives you the desire to find that perfect gift! And who says that person has to be a significant other?! 2019 marks the first time in seven years that I am single on the holidays, and I will be completely honest: I didn’t anticipate experiencing such a disorienting roller coaster of feelings about it. I’ll wake up one day feeling a sense of relief and hope for the year ahead; then, I’ll catch a few minutes of Love Actually on TV that same day and feel as if I’ve been punched in the gut with loneliness. Holidays are so often built on tradition, and it can be quite painful to have an annual routine you enjoyed come to a stop. All of the holiday decorations, Hallmark movies, and cheerful Christmas music being played EVERYWHERE make you feel even more pressure to be happy this time of year, too. It’s a lot. Alas, it’s time to make new memories, and what better way to do it than to get into the spirit of giving?! I cherish my friends, families, and supporters (including those of you reading this right now!) more than ever, and I can’t wait to get creative with my holiday shopping for those I love this season.
So, with Hanukkah and Christmas around the corner, let shopping be the least of your worries! Check out my list below for gift-giving pointers, and Happy Holidays!
1) It’s ok to ask. There’s no shame in a gift not being a total surprise. First, find out if the person you’re shopping for is more into experience-based gifts (like tickets to a show) or items (like clothing). Feel out if they’d like more practical gifts (like a new coffeemaker), or something like a fragrance or jewelry. (In my experience, guys seem to like the former, and girls the latter!) When in doubt, see #5 below. BTW, if you are looking for something like show tickets and don’t want to empty your wallet, check out my secret go-to: 92Y.org! I’ve seen Trebek, De Niro, Tom Hanks, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon, all for under $65!
2) Set a budget. If you’re exchanging gifts with a significant other or friend, set a price range that you’ll both stick to. (And if you don’t stick to it, just remember to remove the price tag…) This takes off SO much pressure.
3) Ask friends or family! If you’re unsure what to get someone, there’s no harm in talking to his or her friends or family for ideas. I really wish my brother had told my ex that Sleep No More was so NOT me. Read about my experience HERE.
4) Listen. Pay attention to the recipient’s interests and quirks. One of my BFFs, like me, always totes around huge bottles of condiments wherever she goes (hello, Sriracha!), so I got her THIS, which she still busts out every time we meet up for brunch. Have a friend who loves the gym? A class-pack to a great studio you love is a double-win — you could go together! How about a great gift for a chef who is strapped for time? There’s Hello Fresh and Blue Apron! If you know any proud NYPL cardholders like me, BookoftheMonth.com offers great gift packages for various budgets.
5) You can’t go wrong with a photo or name gift. Anything personalized that someone wouldn’t think to make for himself/herself is great. I gravitate to Zazzle.com and PersonalizationMall.com, and there’s a store in Flatiron called FujiFilm Wonder Photo Shop that’s great for in-person last-minute photo gifts at a great price point, too. I’m a huge fan of Promises Fulfilled in the UES, which can personalize just about any toy with a kid’s name in under an hour!
6) One word: CAMEO! One of THE most memorable, entertaining, thoughtful surprises I ever received was from my friend Yossi Rosenberg, who ordered me a personalized birthday video from Patti Stanger on Cameo.com! Check out the video here! This is, hands-down, one of the best gifts you can order from the comfort of your laptop at home in minutes, and the turnaround is pretty quick. Rates vary, and you may not find the talent you’re looking for to make a video, but it’s worth checking out!
7) Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you have no idea where to start, the internet can make you cuckoo with its never-ending options. Bundle up and get some fresh air by checking out small, creative local stores or outdoor markets with thoughtful, unique gifts, like: Union Square Holiday Market, Flying Tiger, Alphabets, Random Accessories, Dinosaur Hill, Delphinium Home, Lisa’s on 2nd, and The Market NYC.
8) If you DO hit up the internet, I swear by Etsy.com for one-of-a-kind things from small businesses and artists — just give yourself time, as custom gifts can’t be designed overnight. I’ve scored some great gifts on there, such as: a pocket square patterned with an ex’s business logo; an engraved music box for my ex’s parents that played their wedding song; and a personalized kippah for my mid-conversion (ex!) boyfriend. One of the best gifts I ever received was a sterling silver necklace with a custom Shabbatness challah heart charm! And, for all you internet procrastinators, never underestimate Amazon Prime!
9) Don’t forget that actions can speak louder than words (and items!). Two years ago, my then-BF surprised me by hiring a handyman to repair my broken bed frame. (Don’t ask how that happened.) He also installed a new shower curtain and rod in my bathroom, which had been bugging me forever, but I just hadn’t had time to get around to it. Woohoo!
Yes, we’re all strapped for cash this time of year, but you don’t have to splurge. There are really a lot of great, creative gifts (and acts of kindness!) out there that won’t break the bank. And never underestimate the power of a thoughtful, hand-written card (or poem)!
Plus, you know what they say: it’s the thought that counts, right?! Happy Holidays, y’all!