The Sophisticate: The gift of giving

By Michal McKay

With Christmas upon us, Michal McKay finds the perfect present is more about style than fashion.

Viva Christmas gift guide. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Viva Christmas gift guide. Photo / Babiche Martens.

In my schedule, 4am is the time I sit bolt upright in bed, slough off sleep and start worrying. Forget the blessings counted the night before for "things that have gone right". Like a relentless alarm, my recharged brain searches for something - anything - to set the worry bells ringing. A "must-be-faced" jolt into the cold light of day.

This week, then, it will probably be no surprise that the grip of gift-giving anxiety has overtaken. Forget the resolutions made, after the same panic last year, along the lines of "start the search early, so perfect presents will be produced come Christmas".

Also a helpful way to alleviate that other lurking niggle; namely a depleted bank balance due to excessive overspend with all the merriment of Christmas red splashed across it. In itself a guarantee to undercut the joy of giving, it can actually even promote a deep questioning of the whole ritual. Never mind the anticipated feel-good factor as a follow-up.

So how did it start - this act of generosity? No doubt it doesn't need me to tell you about the three wise men and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to one babe.

We probably should just be grateful we don't have to go searching for such elusive elements in this day and age.

Then there's the legend of the Feast of Saturnalia dating way back before biblical times, which prompts a whole other query on origin. Whatever, the pity is that these givers of gifts, whether the three wise men, St Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, the Christkind or even Italian mama Befana are strictly mythical and certainly can't be relied upon to take over the task at hand.

Should I be sounding somewhat curmudgeonly, don't get me wrong. Finding gifts I know will bring a smile to friends and family is fun. And heart-warming. The wrapping in itself is a whole creative think-tank that requires time, thought and tenacity. It shows you care.

There's the theme - ribbon, cards, colours, maybe a surprise sprinkle of stars - all adding up to a package which, from the get-go, will excite. This universal way of showing appreciation, gratitude, love, wrapped into the gift of giving, adds up to a bundle of positive pleasure.

Not forgetting the emotional high as joy flashes up on the faces of friends and family when all that thought hits its target. Definitely up there when it comes to the warm fuzzies.

However, for the shopaholics among us, this whole Christmas exercise can be a rude awakening. Totting up the amount spent on those little things doesn't always equate with that which otherwise could have been used for a welcome wardrobe addition; particularly when a desire for a Prada bag has been top of the list waiting for bonus time.

So I was amused to see the other day that the ultimate store for gift-giving ideas - Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, London - is running a campaign for the festive season focused on self-indulgence. In other words, anyone who admits to a guilty pleasure of gifting Number One first, with the second thought to loved ones.

Amid the overwhelming Christmas chaos it's a tongue-in-cheek poke at Yuletide with a very nice reminder that actually it is okay to spoil yourself while scouring the shops for suitable gifts to bestow upon your nearest and dearest.

So if picking up a see-through glass salt cellar for the cook, a pair of Valentino pumps for personal use (read Christmas party) could also go into the shopping bag; justified strongly by a subconscious "it's the thought that counts - isn't it?" Labelled the "Sorry I Spent it on Myself" campaign, fortunately it's full of light-hearted stocking fillers for fashion lovers and the perfect excuse to treat yourself with that must-have number that's been on the lust list all year!

Actually the receiving of gifts isn't a major on my "all I want for Christmas" list. But the giving certainly is. I'm a believer in the "thought that counts" theory. Real thought, I mean. And that search is full of stumbling blocks. Especially when he (or she) says "I don't need anything", which we all know is a pack of porkies and certainly not to be taken seriously. My mother is a prime example.

Like a limpet with information about what sparks her desires, forget appreciative thanks if the choice is something practical (a mistake my father made often, poor soul). A Dustbuster won't do it. Christmas equals indulgence. Rightly so. But straight-out asking won't get the answer.

Though I'm happy to admit anything Jo Malone goes a long way in my book. Rose gold, too (from Tiffany if you need a lead), many aren't so forthcoming. So here are a few pointers on picking the perfect present. Make the giving an event. Unwrapping can be as much fun as the actual present.

Hide the parcel with a series of clues on where to find it. Show imagination. One of my friends whose grandson is a foodie gave him a set of steak knives each with the name of a great steak restaurant tied on. Task at hand - to dine at all (accompanied by the grandees) and give marks accordingly. Think A.A. Gill. That deserves an accolade for ingenuity and loving thought.

What do your loved ones like doing? Gifts that match are sure to make them happy. Fishing? Magazine subscription. Films or live theatre? Tickets to 10 movies during the year or a specific show with the Auckland Theatre Company. Music? A CD of their favourite, whether country and western or opera; a subscription to Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra concerts is a treasure.

Readers will always relish the latest best-seller. And actually I have yet to find any gal who wouldn't love a beauty voucher. Make it personal - from the gifter who is a cook, home-made jam, chutney, pate are winners for those who are not. Recognise the difference between need and want. A hand-made tapestry cushion with my initials is one of my most treasured gifts.

Laughter works. For fans of Footrot Flats (like me) I'm pretty sure Dog can make any man (or most women for that matter) smile. Is there a "wish-list" lurking? Find out. Facebook can reveal a lot.

Reminders of the past are winners - and the range wide. Pineapple chunks . . . an old family photograph framed ... a vinyl disc of Bill Haley and the Comets for the baby boomers. And if you're still stretched, remember sharing is everything, and getting together with family and friends is probably the greatest gift of all.


- VIVA

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