How To

By Lauren Flaum

The stockings are hung by the chimney with glee
But what on earth to get Great Aunt Dee?
You’ve stressed and fretted, frittered and sweated,
But choices are endless while appetites are whetted!

You’ve got more in your brood than Saint Nick has on his naughty and nice list, and not a clue as to what will delight. Here’s some advice to make your wade through the retail bog of the holiday season a little easier.

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Stop and smell the roasting chestnuts.
Sure, Santa manages to pull off his amazing gift-giving feat in one night, but he also fits down a chimney and has magic reindeer to help. If he had to ride the subway like the rest of us, this would never happen! So take your time and get it right; don’t pick the first thing you see for the sake of speeding up the process. If you put time and thought into picking the gifts you give, how can you go wrong?

Remember whom you’re buying the present for.
“You must divorce your own personal taste from this gift,” says shopping expert Heidi Wasserman, who was the VP of Sales in the corporate gift division at Tiffany, Inc., Beverly Hills for 10 years and has since launched her own gifting business, catering to clients such as HBO, FOX and Disney, just to name a few (www.heidigifts.com). Wasserman, who describes herself as “the oldest living shopper you’d ever want to meet,” emphasizes that you must keep your target in mind at all times. Sure, that Hello Kitty alarm clock is darling, but just because your little sister is younger does not mean she wants a pink cartoon cat mingling with her English Country bedroom decor. “You want it to be something that adds to their collection – not yours,” says Wasserman.

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Become a super sleuth.
“You almost have to become an investigative reporter,” Wasserman says. It’s time to make Woodward and Bernstein proud. Observe your recipient closely. What do they wear? What do they enjoy doing? Pay attention to the subtleties such as what store windows they peer into while walking down the street, and what items they compliment on others. This will help give you a feel what for what they like and would want, without making the obvious blunder of being forthright and asking them what they want (talk about a lack of creativity)!

If it’s someone whom you don’t know very well and don’t spend a lot of time with, this can make the process even harder. Although it may seem cliche, using their profession as inspiration is always something to fall back on. Try to think about what they might need for their job. This does not mean you should give a “World’s Greatest Teacher” magnet. “Choose something that they can use everyday and think of you,” Wasserman says. And if they don’t work, there are always hobbies, sports teams and other interests to consider.

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Keep in mind the customs of a foreign country and religion.
You wouldn’t belt out “Happy Hannukah” to your Jehovah’s Witness co-worker, so don’t make a jingle bell jerk out of yourself by giving something sharp (like a set of knives) to an Asian –this symbolizes severing the relationship– or presenting a bottle of Baily’s to a Buddhist (you can’t achieve enlightenment if you’re smashed).

Think classy.
“Quiet elegance whispers good taste,” says Wasserman, noting that logos are a no-go. If it’s got the name of a company, especially yours, pass on. Note, this rule does not apply if the logo is say, Rolex, on the face of a watch. Those gifts have been known to please.

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Don’t blow your budget on the present.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a splash,” says Wasserman. If you were too preoccupied in school to learn the lesson in “The Gift of the Magi,” I’ll make it short and sweet: Don’t spend more than you can afford. Otherwise you’ll only have your Dior fur-trimmed ski boots to keep you warm when you can’t pay the electric bill.

It’s all in the presentation, so wrap it right.
“It gives you a higher perceived value that what was spent on the gift,” Wasserman says of the way the present is wrapped. If you haven’t yet learned to wield your opposable thumbs, then let a professional handle it. A messy tape job is just tacky.

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And oh yeah, have some fun! “The process is called gift giving, so it shouldn’t be a traumatic experience picking it out,” Wasserman says. So remember, when the lines are long and the salespeople are crabby, wipe that frown off your face, hum a little “White Christmas,” and just stuff it (the stockings, that is)!

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Originally published December 2006
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