Present Sense

It's December and the festivities have begun — at the DLF Emporio in Delhi last week, there was a Santa Claus handing out sweets to kids and I could see hints of Christmas decor coming up. It's that time of the year again, to think about school holidays and a new annual ritual if you have children in the home: Christmas gifts. As a kid, I don't remember receiving a single gift on any day other than my birthday. But it seems the norm these days for kids to expect something on Christmas and, if you stretch it, even on Children's Day. Blame it on the relentless holiday marketing efforts: fancily decorated retail spaces, some neat deals and a general feel-good buzz wherever you go shopping. The urge to splurge that's hidden somewhere within all of us gets a gentle nudge from the environment that's encouraging us to spend.

No matter how old or jaded you get, there is something exciting about tearing open a shiny wrapping paper and shrieking with surprise at what's underneath. Unfortunately, when you're an adult, chances are you're shrieking with disappointment since you've already bought everything you need and you have a cupboard stuffed with things you don't know what to do with. This is not to take away from the gift-giving ritual, which has intangible benefits such as strengthening bonds and making the recipient feel good. And research suggests, it's the giver who reaps the biggest psychological gains by gifting.

Personally, I've always been a lousy gifter. I can never think of what to buy anyone, besides a small clutch of people whose tastes and preferences I'm familiar with. Shopping for men, especially, is a tedious, brain-wracking task. The best gifts were books and music, but iPods and Kindles have rendered them irrelevant. Unless you're buying the iPod or Kindle, which, especially if it comes pre-loaded with your favourite books and music, has got to be the best gift ever. Clothes are too personal and so are shoes. With a couple of my close friends, we just tell each other what we need or go shopping together. It kills the surprise maybe, but it's a lot more practical. After years of buying me stuff I didn't like, my husband resignedly hands me money in an envelope on my birthday. Frankly, it's my favourite gift.

Inexplicably, many people feel squeamish about receiving or giving money as a gift. Maybe its too blunt or it seems like you're not making any effort figuring out a thoughtful present. While I'm all for money gifts, I find the gift registry system, prevalent in the West, a little distasteful. It's really caught on in India as well: for example, Good Earth and Fab India offer registries for friends and family of a couple getting married. For the uninitiated, a couple lists out what they need from a particular store, and their guests buy them exactly that. While it makes perfect sense, it strikes me as a tad presumptuous. Surely, the giver's feelings matter a little as well and I may not agree that newly weds need candle stands. It's far simpler to tell your friends you'd like cold, hard cash. Judging by the economy, it's an even more valuable gift. Another school of thought questions the very existence of the holiday and occasion gift exchange between adults. It may be an old-fashioned practice or, as critics say, a commercialisation of holidays and weddings and a colossal waste of money, but everything can't be about efficiency. Sometimes it's nice to spend your money to make someone else happy, and even better when somebody else is trying to make you happy.

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