Christmas Gift Buying: Did It Really Used To Be More Fun?

As I wandered around shopping for gifts today … online that is, not at the mall… I started to get nostalgic for the good old days when I would stroll purposefully from store to store looking for perfect gifts for my family and friends.

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There were always some “special” gifts to shop for during those years.

When my mother was still living, for example, I would buy her several gifts from four or five stores.  One gift, at least, would be something she wouldn’t expect like a silky bathrobe, a new watch or a beautiful sweater that wasn’t in her budget.

Then there was my girlfriend Patty. She and I exchanged Christmas gifts for many years before deciding a few years ago that we had about everything we needed at this age and that we would only exchange birthday presents.  Before that, however, I was always trying to find the perfect gift for her at boutiques, or Saks or Nordstrom’s. It had to be different, it had to be classy and it had to be great.

(I can’t decide if the gift hunting for Patty or for my mom was hardest – it was probably a tie. Patty said she had the same issues buying gifts for me.)

In the early days of our starry-eyed romance, when we were struggling financially as we started a new company, gift-giving between me and my husband Ray was special. He loved to surprise me; I loved to surprise him. He once bought me a size small vest that could have fit me when I was 10 years old – maybe.  I liked the fact that he saw me as a small woman even though I’ve never been one.  And, I once proudly presented him with an expensive brown cashmere sweater, which he said he loved but never wore.  I now know brown is his least favorite color. We had so much fun shopping for one another that we would even take $20 on Christmas Eve day, ride together to the mall, go our separate ways for thirty minutes and shop for stocking stuffers. So romantic!

By the way, Ray and I have only had one rule over the years:  no more than 5 gifts.  He has always given me at least 8 gifts and I’ve always stuck to the rules (which tells you a lot about us).

Presents under our tree last year – almost all of them for me and Ray. Someone cheated. Hint: It wasn’t me.

Presents under our tree last year – almost all of them for me and Ray. Someone cheated. Hint: It wasn’t me.

And then there were Ray’s two daughters, their husbands and our five grandchildren who came into the picture in the 90’s and 00’s.  It was such fun to shop for all of them! Beautiful sweaters, blouses and jewelry for the girls or sometimes household items like serving platters that they wouldn’t buy for themselves as they started out in their new lives with husbands and babies.  There were also carefully chosen shirts and pullovers for the guys. And, we’d buy toys and more toys for the grandkids. (We still cringe about the time we bought one of the first life-sized dolls that could be “programmed” to talk. It was even able to say Happy Birthday to your grandchild on the correct day of the year. When our granddaughter woke up the day after Christmas and the doll said “Let’s play”, she got scared, said the doll was too bossy and refused to play with it again. Obviously, grandma and grandpa had gone overboard.)

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In my memory, I had a great time searching for all of these gifts, along with presents for my siblings, nieces and nephews, several employees and a few friends. I would go from store to store, smiling at little kids on Santa’s lap, enjoying the ringing of Salvation Army bells in the distance, being part of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas crowd, and inhaling chocolate, cinnamon and evergreen scents swirling in the air.

If I’m really honest about this whole gift buying thing, however, I spent a lot of time agonizing over finding the right gifts and even more time getting irritable as my feet started to hurt, as the shopping bags got heavier and heavier and as I stood in line behind people trying to use a $5.00 off coupon that expired two months ago.

And I’m not even going to talk about gift-wrapping, other than to say that Ray would conveniently find something else to do far from the house when I started getting out the paper, bows and scotch tape. No amount of Christmas music or scented candles ever got me in a good enough mood to wrap what seemed liked hundreds of gifts at the dining room table with an aching back.

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So, maybe I’m not that nostalgic. Online shopping is easy and fast. I can quickly scan a lot of options, I can use an auto-fill function to put in my address and credit card numbers, and I can even get things gift-wrapped and sent directly to my relatives and friends – with delivery tracking included.

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These days, the teenage grandchildren want gift cards anyway.

Ray’s daughters, now in their 40’s,  have all the clothes and household items they need, so restaurant or entertainment gift cards purchased online seem to work well for them and their husbands.

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Ray and I still buy gifts for each other, but let’s just say we give each other a lot of coaching and “hints” about what to buy, then act surprised on Christmas morning. By now, he knows the clothing brands I like, and I know his. I tell him every year that I’m allergic to wool. He tells me every year he doesn’t need underwear. We get gift receipts. We talk about how many gifts to exchange. He still doesn’t stick to the rules. We buy about half of our presents for each other online and watch carefully for the boxes being delivered to our door so that only the addressee opens them.

So, I’ve been asking myself. Do I really miss shopping malls? Santa? Salvation Army bell ringers? Mingling with busy shoppers in various states of good and bad cheer?

Not so much.

But what I do miss is coming home exhausted but satisfied after finding those few perfect gifts for the very special people in my life – gifts chosen with love and care and sore feet!

Cathy Green

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