I'm going to sound like an ungrateful ass here, but only, I hope, momentarily.
We're getting into holiday season and its requisite gift giving. Bah humbug. Sometimes I wish people wouldn't even bother.
And by "some people," I have specific family members and a few acquaintances in mind. Allow me to demonstrate. This summer, I visited my extended family on my father's side, and they place a huge emphasis on symbolic gift giving; what is given is less important than the actual act of gift giving--except, of course, that the gifts must be appropriately showy. The perfumes and jewelry they gave me? I passed them right on. And then there was the family who gave me... books. Hey, they figured, Twit likes books, these are books, it'll be great. They were religious tracts (first mistake), written in French. No hablo francaise. In the interest of luggage space and weight, I passive-aggressively "forgot" them there. I guess it was a step up from the Dollar tree soap baskets they used to give. Still. If the act of gift giving was what was important, perhaps we could've all pantomimed and smiled and pretended to be thrilled; it would've had the same emotional worth.
I actually enjoy finding gifts for people, gifts I know they'll like, and more importantly, use. There's nothing quite like seeing people's faces when you give them something made by hand, whether it's a scarf or baby blanket or scrapbook (not my thing, personally, but it's a craze right now). Or something that shows you know them and have been listening even when they think you weren't paying attention, like a book mentioned off-handedly or something in a favorite color. One of my best graduation gifts was from a close friend who gave me one of the most mind-blowingly awesome books I've read in quite some time based on a comment I'd made in an e-mail about it being on my "Books to read before I die" stack. And to top it off, she included some tea and a music download card. This friend, by the way, always gives such well-thought out gifts, including one gift set that included a bell, a book, and an old-fashioned candle holder. Her gifts are always the perfect blend of her personality and an awareness of the recipient.
Heck, if you don't know much about a person, you should know enough about his or her general interests to find an appropriate gift card. I am of mixed opinion on this matter. On the one hand, it's a bit impersonal, but on the other, it's a safe bet if the person is, shall we say, difficult to buy for (as people seem to think I am...) or the acquaintance is not too deep. Coffee fiend? There's a gift card for that. Craft addict? Plenty to choose from. Young couple renovating a house? Get 'em a Lowe's card. The point is, it's not brain surgery to put a little thought into things.
Even a card is something, with a hand-written note of thanks or acknowledgment of a person's worth (as some faculty did when I was an administrative assistant). Don't just sign your name to it; write something. Think, pause, mentally revise, compose--once upon a time, people wrote whole letters crammed margin to margin with things to say to their intended recipients.
These things take time, I understand, and time is money. But a boxed set of whatever or a watch or a make-up kit or a soap kit is only worth as much as the price sticker says. That value won't last and will in fact only degrade over time. In the end, it's not about the gift itself; all that is, as Kansas put it, "dust in the wind." What it is--or should be--about is what you put into it, showing that you've paid enough attention to understand, at however superficial a level, what has value to other people, or at least, how their minds function. It's one way to connect, and if that occasion only comes around once a year, it'd be a shame to pass up the opportunity.