One of my favorite gift-giving traditions began about a dozen years ago. In the spirit of Oprah’s “Favorite Things” event (“… everybody look under your seats!”), my friend Christina arrived for her annual Thanksgiving visit bearing gifts. It caught me off-guard, because we hadn’t discussed exchanging gifts.
“Oh, it’s nothing really, just a few of my favorite things I wanted to share with y’all,” she said.
They weren’t necessarily expensive, but they were unique and spot-on for what my husband and I were all about. The first one she presented to both of us was a wonderful Michelle Obama tote bag.
“There’s a Chinese grocer downtown in Manhattan who sells these ridiculous bags,” she explained. As she unfolded its crispy plastic reinforced sides, I saw that there was a banner over the head of the smiling First Lady sitting inexplicably on a swing. “First Lady of Glamour,” it read. “Isn’t that just terrific?”
The other gifts were a package of spicy hot cashews that was perfect for my husband (“from a different grocer in Chinatown”) and a lovely scented candle. The unifying theme in her gifts was that they were things she did in fact enjoy, plus they were practical and easy to pack for her transatlantic flight to come visit us in Paris.
What is important in any gift giving as an adult is that it is a mutual affair of the heart, something that not only you enjoy, but are certain that the recipient is going to enjoy as well. It doesn’t need to be expensive or showy, just something that makes one think of the other person.
Since that first “favorite things” exchange, we’ve continued our Thanksgiving Eve tradition. Typically, I buy my gifts for her and her husband while my husband and I are on vacation somewhere. Inevitably we’ll be out walking on our way to dinner somewhere and come across something that makes me think of them. Last year while we were on a Greek island, I came across a quirky little shop that had refrigerator magnets of old Greek movie posters from the 1960s and 1970s. “Oh, well Christina would love this!” I said as I saw one of an overly dramatic woman screaming with the name of the film scrawled in Greek text at the top.
This year, we were on vacation in Italy’s Cinque Terre and while we were strolling on our way to an early evening aperitivo, I saw a charming local boutique. The original art design focused on the sea, and specifically sardines (which happen to be Christina’s favorite lunch snack). So, we bought a couple of cute tea towels and sardine magnets.
When I went back to the States this past summer to visit family, I came with a suitcase full of gifts from Paris. I purposefully tried to get things that were locally made in France and that each person would enjoy. For my cousin’s teenage boys, I bought a couple of T-shirts from a vintage French clothing brand (Sports D’Epoque) evoking the logos and designs from the early 20th century. For my other cousin’s tween daughters, I bought a mini purse that can act as a keychain (designed and made in France) and a stylish hair pullback thingy that girls wear (I have no idea what they’re called, sorry). Rounding out the gifts for the adults were local roasted coffee beans, some traditional French mariner striped sweaters, and “fun” themed socks.
Everyone loved them, or were very good at feigning delight, but for me the fun was in giving them.
With my other good friend, we tend to gift each other clothing, but because he has expensive taste (one word: cashmere), we opt for smaller accessories. Again, he focuses on giving something that he has used and loved, so last year it was a particular brand of underwear (“They’re a game changer!”) and the year before it was a portable battery charger for one’s iPhones (“You won’t believe how you lived without one!”).
Creating your own mini-holiday (for us it is Thanksgiving Eve) and developing traditions together, or celebrating a visit with surprise gifts, whatever the occasion, what is important is bringing your own individuality in sharing your own favorite things. Thank you, Oprah!