Lists vs. inspiration

Dot writes: there were many presents. I honestly can’t think of anything the boys wanted that they didn’t get, though I’m sure sooner or later they will. We were awoken on Christmas Day by Frank bursting in to tell us that Father Christmas had brought him the wrong Skylander, but fortunately Auntie Meriel provided the right one later in the day. My little niece was showered with toys and pretty outfits, though she was magnificently uninterested in her stocking (actually a pillowcase – she still wasn’t interested). The adults were all, I think, happy with their haul.

As far back as I can remember my family have always used a system of writing lists of what we want. My sister and brother-in-law still use this enthusiastically, but they prefer online lists, formerly with Kaboodle, now with Amazon. The list system works well for the children as they are full of urgent, specific desires for stuff. It has obvious advantages in that it should prevent one from buying a present the other person already has, and it should ensure that the gift is welcome. There is an increased danger of duplicate gifts, but with the online system you can update the list when you buy something from it, or with old-fashioned written lists you can tell people. However, I am getting less and less keen on lists.

My parents find it increasingly hard to write lists because there is very little they can think of to put on them. As my father says, if he wants something inexpensive he buys it himself, and if he wants something expensive he can’t expect someone else to get it for him. I can usually think of things to put on my list, especially at the moment when Ken and I are having to be careful with money, but I like unexpected presents, and I don’t like the way a list creates disappointment: because one has to think of things to want, one inevitably starts wanting some things one doesn’t get.

I also like to shop off-list. I don’t much enjoy shopping online. I do it to some extent, but I’d far rather go into a real shop and support local employment and business. I enjoy the expedition of Christmas shopping – I like the lights and the bustle; I like to shop close to Christmas, not months in advance; and I get cross ordering things from the US and finding that the postage costs more than the item. But, if shopping in shops, online lists become a nuisance. They are five pages long when printed and you have to remember to go and update them afterwards. Moreover, while searching for specific items is very easy on the internet, in shops one is much more likely to come up with a pleasing gift by having a general idea and then seeing what’s there rather than by doggedly pursuing one single thing. I like hunting around and being inspired. For me the most telling objection to the list from the giver’s point of view is that one doesn’t get to think of a good idea. One’s scope for pleasing the recipient is only really to be more or less financially generous, or perhaps more or less hardworking in tracking something obscure. With non-list presents one has a chance to surprise people, or show them something new.

In practice, both in what Ken and I gave and in what we received there was a mix of things specifically asked for and things chosen by the giver. As a recipient, I was extremely happy with both my asked-for and my unexpected presents. I hope our family similarly liked the things we chose for them as much as the things they chose. Probably one doesn’t need to take firm sides in a debate like this. But what do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Lists vs. inspiration

  1. Mairi Jay

    I find the whole Christmas gift-giving scene enormously stressful. It’s stressful because of the psychological complexities of deciding who to give gifts to, what to give, how much to give etc etc etc and its stressful for the sheer act of shopping in crowded, noisy places, and its stressful on the wallet. Lists help to reduce the stress.

    I loathe the gift-giving aspects of Christmas; I wish Christmas could be less a festival of material abundance and more a celebration of friends and family; and in the southern hemisphere, coming at the height of late spring-early summer, it should also be a celebration of the wonder and glory of creation.

  2. Coming from a family of readers, last year I stumbled upon the idea of a ‘book lucky dip’. My family were all gathered at my sister’s, except for me, so I ordered a selection of books to be sent to the adults and everyone could choose the one(s) they wanted. I had individual titles in mind for people but it turns out they mostly chose different ones and had good fun picking and then could happily swap once they’d read their chosen book.

    Some of the best gifts I’ve had have been ‘off-list’ ones but also some of the worst. Using a list at least means you don’t inadvertently reveal you don’t know somebody at all, or they don’t know you, especially with in-laws

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