Ideas for Presents and Gifts
“Oh, another DVD”
Several Christmases ago, I gave my niece, at around six or seven years old, a small, square package, the contents of which I hoped and assumed would bring her a smile. Instead, after a mechanical “Thanks”, even before she had fully unwrapped my gift, she said to her brother, “Oh, another DVD”. Had her mother been in the room, she would have upbraided her for bad manners. In fact, her response had been less than polite, leaving me feeling a bit hurt and irritated. Still, I did not wish for her to be scolded, realizing her reaction mirrored the current mind-set of children her age. I suppose I still harbored memories of a time when a Saturday jaunt to a movie theater was fun, while a chance to view a live community theater performance comprised a real outing.
Dealing with changing ideas of fun and enjoyment
At ten or possibly even before, my niece could anticipate being picked up on her doorstep, and then driven by limousine with friends, to a hotel where the restaurant had been rented to celebrate a friend’s birthday party. How then could I expect her to receive yet “another DVD” without some dismissiveness?
At the risk of sounding like Ms. Methuselah, what ever happened to paper hats, balloons, cake/-ice cream and games such as pin-the-tale-on-the-donkey? As one friend commented, “If they visit the World’s seven wonders at twelve, what will there be to look forward to when they reach thirty-five?” Having said that, as adults we need to flow with the times. Technologies have changed an increasing number of countries in countless ways, with infinite potential. Still, in terms of those presents we give, we do retain a definite choice. We do not need to act as automatons, shackled to every innovation. We can buy those gifts which inspire thought and creativity.
Delight in self-assembling
Returning to the above-mentioned Christmas, I gave my nephew a craft kit of a model of India’s Taj Mahal. Within minutes, he had sorted out its parts, begun to assemble them and request suggestions as to color and design. Perhaps it was at that point I decided to choose, from then on, presents in terms of their likelihood to spur an urge to make things, and then delight in the pride of having done so.
Has our society, in which so much is ready-made, generated only enjoyable toys operated by remote control, games which encourage violence-in short, objects which obey the almost mindless flick of a fingertip?
A midpoint between being cool and creative
Naturally, children need to own certain toys and games in order to have friends and playmates. If the only games a child knows are Ping-Pong and monopoly, while all his friends are absorbed by the strategies of computer games, he can soon become left-out and ostracized, resulting in lasting emotional harm. During my own preteens, it was Barbie and unless one possessed a Barbie doll with a few outfits and accessories, one’s pool of friends could shrink, almost to nonexistence. Where then is a boundary drawn between permitting pursuit of every fresh trend and gadget, while remaining aware of their limitations in terms of mental development?
The relevance of parental values
If, from their earliest age, children are shown the pleasures of learning new skills, and the joy of seeing something which their hands have made, they are likely to find friends with kindred interests. When selecting gifts, it might be worthwhile to recall those gifts you yourself found most fascinating during your growing years.
One favorite of mine was a package containing pieces of cardboard in various shapes, each with an appealing picture and a velvety texture. My task was to frame these pictures by weaving a colorful strand into a series of small holes surrounding the picture. So enthralled did I become with this fledgling art as to begin drawing pictures with crayons or water paints, then borrow my parents’ paper punch to make holes around their edges, into which I would string a colorful yarn.
Building pride in achievement
This Christmas, my husband and I are giving our four-year-old niece a cress growing kit. This comprises a packet of seeds, a small tray, and the right amount and type of soil. A bright, inquisitive toddler, we feel sure she will enjoy planting these seeds, watering them when needed, and checking on their progress each morning. Then, when she can add her fully grown cress to the family’s salad, she will be proud and delighted.
A different type of doll
We will also be sending her a set of Russian nesting dolls also known as Matryoshka or babushka dolls. Though they come in various types, we decided on the round shape with the theme of cats, which are her favorite pet. We are certain she will be happy to fit each cat inside the one a bit larger in size, until the whole is completed. Such a gift teaches a young child that what exists can be hidden and via shape and design objects can be made so that they fit into their allotted space. Another idea is to buy a set of blank unpainted wooden dolls which can then be painted or decorated as a parent and child project. In our family we painted each doll to represent a family member. Annually usually at Christmas when we are gathered together that same Russian doll will be brought out, opened and the five interpretations of yesteryear will conjure smiles and more memories.
A gift of color and crystals
Crystals are inexpensive yet have the appearance of value, and an assortment either boxed or in a silk purse is a joy for the young inquisitive mind. Each individual crystal can instill awareness of minerals mined from deep beneath the crust of this earth. While pleasing both to look at and their tactile touch, these polished stones can lead to a fascination for further collecting and knowledge. By way of example, an exquisite diamond and a drab slab of coal stem from the same source.
Further functions range from the crystal used in early radios, and the significance of quartz crystal in computer technology. Children can Google and learn from such names as amethyst, aquamarine, dolomite, fluorite, opal, agate, carnelian, citrine, amber, jasper and emerald. Kits can also be purchased whereby children can build a crystal radio receiver set or even grow their own crystal.
Words are free
The game of scrabble uses small squares called tiles upon which letters of the alphabet are printed. Players connect the tiles to make words and score points. Children can play the game with each other and with adults. It is available in most languages and is an invaluable learning tool that teaches spelling and brings the use of the dictionary to the fore.
Science spins from the Yo-yo
The Yo-yo is recommended for children eight years of age and above, as the twine, misused by younger children, can result in injuries. The Yo-yo can instill wrist and hand co-ordination, developing a combination of mental and physical skills. It can also create curiosity as to why the Yo-yo, no matter the effort to keep it aloft, is always drawn towards the ground. This provides an opportunity for parents to explain the theory of gravity, kinetic energy, and its impact upon our lives. Mastering the tricks and spin of the Yo-yo can lead into the sport, competition, and recognition that experts in the field enjoy.
Watch an experts amazing demonstration of the Yo-yo
A “just because” present, or a gift meant to cheer and encourage
In our era of texts and emails, nearly everything most of us receive through the post winds up in the wastebasket, often before we have even unsealed or opened its envelope. Hence, there are few things more fun than finding a small gift with a warming note, especially when least expected. Still, there is a subtle etiquette to this sort of giving. It needs to be truly free in that the item bestowed is inexpensive enough to engender no obligation to reciprocate. Thus, it is best to avoid sending these gifts close to any occasion such as an impending birthday or Christmas. Ideally, these token gifts should relate to an issue in the recipient’s life which has been confided to you.
Geared to the underlying need
In John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, Ma Joad gives her daughter, Rosasharn, a pair of treasured earrings, after the young woman’s husband has disappeared and left her bereft. In a family where words of affection tended to be sparse, Ma Joad is conveying to Rosasharn that, despite her abandonment, she is still an alluring young woman. As such, she must not allow herself to grow dispirited.
The first promotion
Recently my younger brother was rewarded for his hard work at a law firm with promotion to a senior position. I felt this was an opportunity to reward him with a gift that voiced my respect for his achievement. His promotion included moving to a new office with a new wooden desk. I decided to buy him a pen set in a wooden flip case on which his name was engraved.
The best graduation gifts tend to be the most lasting
A briefcase might be a fine gift for a high school graduate, but is probably better suited to someone completing college, or entering a professional degree program such as law or medical school. As to those around age eighteen, approaching the edge of independence, we adults need not be afraid to provide something “dull”. Eager as these graduates may appear to be freed of parental constraints, they are also almost certainly feeling intimidated and just plain scared. They are in need of nurturing. Hence, rather than giving a cash gift which is likely to be consumed in a few nights out with friends, why not buy a mini-fridge which will fit into a dorm room or small apartment? During my college days, this type of fridge was among my most useful possessions, purchased with cash gifts I received at my high school graduation party.
Have quilts and comforters become too quaint?
Although not the most exciting gift at the time, as summer gives way to autumn, then autumnal breezes change into icy winds, any source of warmth becomes welcome. College dorms and buildings of flats near universities which charge fairly low rents to students often provide minimal or no heating. As one such young woman was told by her landlady, after renting a room in her home, “Oh, honey, I guess I forgot to tell you there is no heating in your room; still, you are so young you can take it.” And take it she did, but only after covering her bed with winter apparel, then smuggling in an electric heater.
The growing exorbitance of wedding gifts
A wedding reception is meant to be a delightful party commemorating the decision of two people who, based upon tenderness and a sense of belonging together, have decided they are prepared to spend the rest of their lives with one another. Sadly, if they adhere to current conventions, this couple incurs expense, which they then pass onto their guests in terms of wedding gifts. This implied obligation can result in a failure to respond to a wedding invitation, leaving the couple bewildered and hurt. Perhaps more truth needs to be voiced on both sides of the wedding equation.
Weddings need not be unduly expensive
The most delightful wedding reception I have ever attended occurred shortly after my graduation from College. It took place in a rented room in a restaurant. Refreshments consisted of kegs of beer, jugs of wine, and a buffet of every guest’s favorite dish, nearly always made at home from a family recipe. Due to ethnic diversity, there were foods from nearly every part of the globe-and an abundance of everything via self-service. (At far more costly receptions, the idea of a second helping of even a salad plate was viewed by the wait staff as the penultimate rudeness.) Returning to this wedding, as it was understood that neither this couple nor their guests had much income to spare, the entire event mirrored our over-all limitations. Still, each of us made every effort to give some object or device to help this young couple to set up a household.
What for the newlyweds that have all they need
As many of today’s couples tend to marry later, or remarry after divorce, their domestic needs are likely to diverge from those of young couples. Assuming, for the most part, they already have appliances such as microwave ovens and freezers, it can be a joy to give something which serves as a welcome addition to their home décor. I once gave a couple who met due to their shared interest in surfing and snorkeling a large, exotic seashell, which they placed at the center of their mantelpiece, where it remains. Seeing it there makes me smile, and will continue to do so.
Finding time for the elderly
As a helpline worker, the majority of calls I receive, especially as Christmas draws near, are from those who’s sense of isolation becomes more disheartening. Unfortunately, it is also the season when younger people are at their busiest. Still, if we can find a few hours to spend with a more-or-less homebound relative, it can prove a true blessing. As one lady said, “I’m in a wheelchair, and I would love it if someone in my family would drive me to one of the shopping malls where I could drink hot chocolate and listen to the Christmas musicians.”
No one will know it's you
What impresses you the most about the person who gives you a gift?
Gifts to establish a sense of connection
One Christmas, my grandfather, in his mid-eighties, was given a police radio scanner. As his mobility grew more restricted, nothing delighted him more than to sit by the hour listening to the various reasons police might be called. Also, as the sense of hearing declines, a phone with an amplifier can encourage someone to keep in closer contact with others. As to the internet, many people of any age can learn to use a computer, at least in a basic way. Sometimes we need to bypass excuses such as, “I’m way too old to learn anything new.”
Once they are shown, they are often amazed at the ease and convenience of email and Skype. And what about a “kindle”? Sight limitations often tend to force older people to give up their lifelong pleasure in reading. Kindles can be set to a large font, or include voice output. In short, why not rekindle a joy which has lain dormant for far too long? From the giver’s perspective, there is a wonderfully warming sense of fulfillment in bringing happiness.
© 2014 Colleen Swan