Opinion | Avoid post-holiday gift drama

By Tara Pavithran, Colunnist

Christmas gifts are all fun and games until you don’t know what to get someone. You could just ask, but that seems impersonal – after all, shouldn’t you know the person you’re getting a gift for? 

As it turns out, gift-giving is an overall more efficient process when people are just vocal about what they want. It saves the gifter time and energy trying to figure out what the person wants, and it saves the recipient the emotional labor of having to pretend they like something that they’re actually going to spend the next few weeks trying to find gift receipts for so they can return it. 

The concept of gifting without a wishlist to reference is pretty foreign to me. Every year when my friends and I do Secret Santa, we create an elaborate Google Sheet wishlist that gives our secret Santa an idea of what we might want. 

This is great, especially with larger groups. It guarantees that even if our secret Santa doesn’t know us as well as another person might, we have a pretty good shot at getting something we want. 

I can understand not needing a list from people in your immediate family, but when extended family and distant friends and relatives enter the Christmas picture, it becomes a much more complicated guessing game. Before I just asked what they wanted, I found myself scrambling for shared experiences and glimpses of conversations I’d had with cousins to figure out what they might want. 

The actual act of asking what they wanted wasn’t more than a “hypothetically, if I were to get you something for Christmas…” Most of the time, it’s as simple as a lighthearted but straightforward question. And, as people who were about to be on the receiving end, they weren’t offended by the prospect of getting exactly what they asked for. 

In fact, the reason why gifting so often results in restrained disappointment is because of a misalignment in the goals of givers versus recipients. Often times, givers aim to give something equally meaningful and unexpected, prioritizing luxury of the item and how complete it is. This throws money as a gift completely out of the question. 

But recipients often have specific things in mind that they want or need. So, if you’re too shy to ask, rather than guessing what they are, money can serve as a useful gift. 

It seems crass, but money is undeniably beneficial and always foolproof, specifically for people who don’t yet have well-established careers, like high school and college students. We’re not yet at the age where we can get super excited about nice mugs or dishware, but we’re beyond the $15 iTunes gift card. That money is better received untied to one specific store or service, so people can treat themselves to whatever they want as a courtesy of your gift. 

So, during this post-Christmas season, ponder ways you can ask people what they want and communicate what you want while waiting in the customer service lines or shipping back return packages. You might not find yourself in the same situation next year.

Tara is a freshman in LAS.

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