Holiday Guide 2014: Giving thanks

Sentimental gifts can be the most rewarding

Holiday Guide 2014: Giving thanks

Here’s a rant I bet you’ve never heard: Commercialism has demolished genuine sentiment.

I kid, of course, since it’s an argument as ancient as the original Scrooge, and it’s scoffed off as regularly as Christians with locked elbows holding up “Keep Christ in Christmas” cardboard protest signs. But as a beneficiary of a fateful Christmas on which I got something I never asked for and it caused an unexpected interest to blossom, I’ve converted to align with those who don’t necessarily get their gift ideas from Black Friday e-blasts.

Two years ago, I unwrapped a Canon Rebel T-3 camera and curiously looked to the gift-giver for explanation. I’d never expressed an interest in photography. Instead, the gift arrived because he’d heard my complaints about my inability to adequately cover live music when I had been newly hired to be Orlando Weekly’s music editor, and he sought to solve the issue for me.

In addition to toting the camera along to shows for its intended purpose, I found myself drawn to capture the beauty I encountered in my regular day trips to continually explore Florida’s unique environments. Thus, the camera became a regular companion, opening me up to fresh expression and very literally changing my worldview. It was a practical gift, but it was also an eye-opener.

Giving gifts induces panic for me. It’s hard to know what people want, and since I see my friends and family in spurts, it’s nearly impossible to know what they need. So instead of sweating over catalogs, I look to the relationship. Think about what you do with the person you are buying for. Take the time to relish your fond memories. This sounds extremely corny, but it can divine a more proper gift to express your bond than hitting dead ends in the confusing maze of the mall.

Even if your main activity is sharing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and streaming Netflix, there are gifts to be mined, whether it’s a new blanket to curl up under, matching sundae bowls, curating the dream queue (and cleaning out the ones you know you’ll never watch), or any associated measure. No matter the extent of cost or effort, the memory will be present. A home filled with the stuff of memories is often the happy accident determined by the people we meet and the places we see.

Of course, this is also an easy way to fail. Embarrassing embroidered pillows and well-intentioned tchotchkes litter thrift shops around the world. As anyone who is labeled as “the cupcake girl” or “the sci-fi nerd” knows – via any number of ways our broader interests become persona-defining elements through ample link-passing and Facebook wall-cramming – it’s easy for people to force a perceived interest as a connection. Resist that temptation. Facebook is not your friend.

It’s both an ambitious and obvious route for gift-giving inspiration, especially when the reward upon opening is an instantly befuddled “Thanks?” Over time, though, like a friendship, the oddity morphs into a memorable gem.