Present tense

The gift-giving season is fraught with hazards


The festive holiday season is the time for gifts, something that should spark joy. Instead it fills me with dread. First, there is the stress of buying the perfect gift for someone, and then there is the stress of receiving stuff that I neither need nor care for, that someone has spent their hard-earned cash on.

I spent ten years of my childhood in New Zealand. During that time, gifts that my father sent over from London included a blue Chopper bike and a pair of roller skates (I was 15, think Xanadu), but it was the simplest pieces of stationery, probably from Paperchase (when it was great), that were true treasures to me. Such items were impossible to source in New Zealand at the time, and even the wrapping paper was carefully removed, ironed and kept for reuse as the local stuff was ghastly.

During the first lockdown, my friends and I treated each other to small treats. I sent out Perfumer H’s lemon-infused olive oil in a tiny 175ml tin (it’s also available in 100ml refillable handblown glass bottles) and Colomba Easter cake procured from Pasticceri­a Stefania in Florence, while I remember receiving a very decent but simple loaf of bread, left at the end of the garden path (contactles­s delivery, of course). Gifts like this, and bunches of flowers sourced from independen­t florists and Flowerbx, brought cheer and a lovely feeling that someone cared when we were all going through tough times.

Then there is the gifting practice otherwise known as seeding. It’s an odd concept when you think about it. Luxury goods (that you probably don’t particular­ly like) turn up with a note stating the product’s unique hashtag for social media, turning the gift process into a business transactio­n. Yet it can be really hard to be honest and say thank you but no, as one doesn’t want to cause offence.

It’s always a risk getting a gift for someone else’s home, unless you know them and their taste really well. Such gifts may end up in a regifting pile, in a cupboard, or only taken out when you come to visit, which is surely the most deceitful thing possible. I know people with cupboards full of scented candle gifts – if you are going to buy one, make sure you know your recipient’s olfactory tastes or offer a gift receipt so they can exchange.

I know someone who is plagued by Christmas hamper gifts in December, but generally I think giving wine and food, with a relatively good shelf life, should be a safe bet – just make sure that it’s not of the fur-coatno-knickers variety (nice packaging but otherwise disappoint­ing). The holidays are the season of gluttony but it needn’t be wasteful, so think small, aim for quality over quantity, and remember that less is always better.

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