Commentary: ‘Tis a gift to successfully give

By Adam Granger


Journalistic fiat dictates that I open a piece like this by saying, “It’s that time of year again,” but when it comes to gifting, any time and every time is that time of year. As tempting as it is to blame this column on the holiday season, it could be published any other month and the narrative would be the same.

Although the verb “gifting” sounds like fresh coinage, I found it on page 1,141 of my Compact Oxford English Dictionary in a phrase from The Wife Lapped in Morel’s Skin, a misogynistic early 17th-century “Taming-of-the-Shrew”-themed poem whose author wisely remained anonymous. The word was then shelved for 387 years before being revived by the writers of “Seinfeld” (in an episode in which they also talk about “regifting”).

Four centuries is a long time for a word to lay fallow so, not wanting to jeopardize my estimable credibility with Bugle readers, I treated “gifting” as a new word and subjected it to my two-part Neologism Smell Test. First, is the word necessary (or does it simply duplicate an extant word) and, second, is the word too, well, silly to be usable? “Gifting” passes the test, if barely: It has a more nuanced meaning than “giving,” and it’s not so goofy that an adult wouldn’t want to use it.

OK, let’s talk gifting. We all give presents to—excuse me, gift—all types of people on all types of occasions. Within families, covenants can be struck. My better half, Renee, and I are at the age where we have everything we want, short of private Mediterranean islands, world peace and the like, so our demographic is hard to buy for. We don’t want more stuff. If we’ve lived this long without something, we don’t need it. We’re trying to downsize, and, at the risk of appearing ungrateful, that whaling harpoon and the Dr. Who phone booth seriously impede that effort.

As far as our boys, 26 and 40, are concerned, I have no idea what they want or need. Gift cards, those supposed paragons of flexibility, are chancy: “A $500 Sizzling Steakhouse gift card? Dad, I’m vegan!” So, for big gifting, we ask our sons pointblank what they want and get it for them or just give them money and let them buy it themselves. Problem solved and everyone’s happy.

Other situations are trickier. Renee likes to bring a hostess gift when we visit someone, say, for dinner. OK. What to bring? Wine? Surely our hosts have planned the evening’s imbibing. So, flowers? One would assume the hosts have the floral agenda determined. Dessert, then? Can it really be that our hosts haven’t already thought of dessert? See how complicated it is? In no time, we’re reduced to things like golf gags and rosette irons. Risky territory. Stuff that we’re likely to run into—unopened—when we visit thrift stores in their neighborhood. I suppose we could bring cash: “Hi, thanks for having us. What a beautiful house! Oh, and here’s $20 to help defray the cost of dinner.”

I’m not making fun of my thoughtful bride here; hostess gifts just never were part of my (well-documented) flawed upbringing. Pre-Renee, I had never even heard of a hostess gift. I always figured—and still do, I guess—that leaving our warm, comfortable home and trekking to theirs was gift enough. She says, “I don’t want to come empty-handed,” and I say, “Let’s come holding hands. That way, we won’t be empty-handed, and our hosts will know that we’re getting along and that the evening won’t be spent arbitrating marriage-threatening disputes.”

The Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Christmas gifting season is a time when things can easily get out of hand. The trick is to keep a lid on things without zipping yourself into a Grinch suit. In counterbalance to our large gift policy described above, members of my family take great pleasure in trying to think of modest Christmas and birthday gifts that are inexpensive, unexpected and that will be appreciated and used. A roll of quarters for our pinball-playing older son, garage sale retro electronics for our tech-geek younger son, a Shutterfly book of pictures of my dear departed cat for me. And our older son’s girlfriend gave a donation to a bluegrass music promotional and educational foundation in my name.

Great gift ideas all, personalized, and none of them adding appreciably to the remorse of possessions we all already own (“remorse” is the collective noun for possessions).

All right, with a “Happy holidays!” to you all, I’ll close with my recipe for successful gifting (replete with new mintage): If you apply common sense and maintain perspective, good gifting will result and, conversely, if you’re not in a state of happy anticipation while watching someone open one of your presents, you have probably misgifted.

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