By DAVID BROOKS
For those of us who are lousy at thinking up Christmas presents for family and friends, the pandemic has a silver lining: Finally, we have a good excuse.
Some stores have closed, we don’t feel safe shopping in person, supply chain snafus mean stuff isn’t available, the postal slowdown interferes with shipping – so here’s a gift card. Happy holidays!
Fair enough, but we don’t have to take refuge in the lamest of presents, those corporate gift cards that are as impersonal as cash but much less convenient. Here are some other thoughts about ways to approach your second pandemic Christmas, courtesy of my family’s worst present-giver. Which would be me.
Make a charity donation in their name
This is a great present in theory but has a big problem: There’s nothing to unwrap. The popularity of “unboxing” videos online shows that the best part of presents is opening them.
But there’s a work-around. Don’t print out the charity’s acknowledgment and shove it in an envelope. Learn a little origami – YouTube videos are perfect for this – and fold it into a swan or a beetle or, if you’re adventurous, a hexaflexagon. (Look it up; you’ll be glad you did.)
That will charm your loved one and be a lot more fun to open than a box covered in generic Santa paper. Plus, it makes you look smart.
If that’s too intimidating, many charities are aware of the need-something-to-unwrap problem and will let you bundle donations with a teddy bear or tote bag or branded tchochke.
Buy local – a thing or an experience
You’ve heard this forever but the pandemic’s blow to local stores and stages has made “buy local” even more important.
If you want to buy a gift, don’t go to some gigantic e-commerce site named after a large river. A few minutes with Google will often find in-state crafters or manufacturers or distributors who could use a portion of your money.
Better yet, shed the work-from-home habit and go check local stores. A small funky item bought from a store on Main Street will mean more than the same funky item tossed on your doorstep by a harassed delivery contractor desperate to make their daily quota.
It may be slightly more expensive because massive conglomerates squeeze costs in often unpleasant ways. We don’t see that unpleasantness when we click the “buy” button but they still exist and our shopping choices can help reduce them, which is a very Christmas-y thing to do. If you need a more self-centered reason, remember that local stores pay local taxes so that you don’t have to!
This applies for “experience” presents such as pre-purchased tickets or promises for an outing. Whether it’s all day at Santa’s Village, a Red River Theater showing followed by dinner downtown, a play at Hatbox Theater, dance lessons (I know you’re dying to learn the salsa) or a ski lift ticket, these are presents that show you care and also help New Hampshire folks.
Don’t be afraid to regift
As I said at the beginning, the pandemic is the perfect excuse for the present-buying-challenged. You’ve finally got cover to unload the Uncle Floyd’s thingamajig from Christmas 2018 that you never wanted!
Make something yourself
As a kid I hated it when my folks gave this answer when I asked what they wanted for Christmas, and my grown daughter hates it from me even today. But it’s true.
It really does mean a lot when you give a loved one a drawing you made, or a corny poem you wrote or a little song you recorded, maybe a knitted scarf or a candle made from your earwax (OK, not that last one). Even if the creation is second-rate and amateurish, the time and thought that went into the gift is what counts.
Just make it clear that you won’t be offended if they don’t hang the picture in their living or wear the scarf to a job interview or turn your song into their ring tone. It was the thought that counts in the creation and it’s the thought that counts in their acceptance.
Food or drink
No explanation needed. I’ve found that monthly subscriptions for items people don’t explore much – cheese, ciders, sauces – are a hit.
And you can put the notice inside a hexaflexagon!