“He gives not best who gives most,  but he gives most who gives best.”

Author unknown.

Well I suppose the first answer that springs to mind, is NOTHING. Because there are so many people in the world who have nothing and really need things, and the most logical thing to do would be to spend the money on buying a useful gift item for someone who really needs it, or donate the money to charity instead.

Which I believe we should do anyway.

Having said that, most of us give presents at Christmas and I’m betting that there are lots of people out there like me who have been trying to buy presents for people, who in all reality have everything they physically need and we’ve been forced to ask the question: What can I buy for the person who has everything? Because we want to buy them something, and we feel the need to buy them a present as a token of our love for them.

What to give?

I have a love/hate relationship with the lead up to Christmas. On the one hand I hate the perverse consumerism that surrounds the festive season, while on the other hand  I’m always intensely concerned and wrapped up in (‘scuse the pun) the decisions about what gifts to give my nearest and dearest.

It’s not that I dislike giving. Oh no, it’s the trying to decide what to buy for everyone that gets to me, especially because it  seems that in the Western World we live in a society that really doesn’t actually need very much any more.

A lump of coal

When I was growing up, Christmas gifts and especially stocking fillers consisted mostly of what you really needed, and things like socks, pants, pens, pencils and for me, novels (new or second hand)were often put into our Christmas stockings. And growing up in the UK, we always used to find a tangerine (they were only available around Christmas time) and a lump of coal in the bottom of our stockings too.

A lump of coal. That got me wondering. Why a lump of coal?  Google ….and I find among a host of answers that probably the tradition originates from Italy where it was customary to stuff coal into naughty childrens’ stockings. How horrid! At least we only got one piece of coal in ours, and I hazard a guess that it was more in an attempt to bulk-up the stocking than to gauge our naughtiness.

Stockings are one thing – and these days there’s all manner of cheap plastic crap that gets into stockings – but personal gifts are another thing altogether. What do you wrap up for under the tree?

A useful present or something unique?

How much to spend, and on what? Do you buy something you perceive somebody needs or that would be useful, or do you go for something they wouldn’t buy for themselves – rare or unique perhaps? And on top of that, what would most please the receiver that’s within your budget?

Present giving equates to another form of ‘giving out love’, for me anyway, so I do want to give something the receiver will like.

I have to admit to spending an inordinate amount of time aimlessly wandering around the shops, listening to tinny Christmas carols played through annoying sound systems wondering what to give people, and my hubby is no exception. He’s not a man of expensive habits, and he’ll readily admit that he has everything he needs, so each year I have to become a little more inventive. Sometimes my gifts to him have been spot on, others not quite so.

Worst or best present of all time?

Once, in our dark and distant past shortly after we were married I gave him an electric carving knife. At the time, this didn’t go down very well, and I did question my decision, but deciding that I wasn’t going to hear another  swear word or complaint or give him reason to bust a blood vessel – ever – about there being no sharp carving knives in the house with which to carve our Sunday roasts, I remedied the problem toute suite that Christmas. Yes, it was an act of love – promise.

He lived off the carving knife story for quite a few years, getting lots of laughs and sympathy from family and friends who looked at me as if I was at worst a potential serial killer, and at best a really rotten gift giver, until one day, he said. “That electric carving knife was such a good present. 20 years later and I’m still using it.” And he is, I kid you not. We’ll most likely use it on the Christmas turkey.

My best gifts have also stood the test of time. I have a Swedish friend I haven’t seen for 28 years coming to visit me soon. When Dave and I were married she gave us a small crystal glass, candle holder. After 11 international moves I still have it, and all these years later I’m going to bring it out and put it on the table when she arrives.

Some Gift Ideas

My most successful gift ideas for him:- A gift card for an ‘experience’ – like a hot air balloon ride, or a sporting event, or a parachute jump, or a scenic flight. Or perhaps it’s this year’s present – but I can’t tell you yet.

For me? – Costume jewellery, books and massages.

The most noble present of course – giving or receiving the gift of a voucher for something that has already been given to a charitable cause.

Life Lesson

It’s not the size or the price of the gift that counts, but how apt it is for the person concerned. BUT some gifts that seem strange or  unlikely white elephants may quite likely turn out to have silver linings.


So is longevity the crux of a great present, or does the life of a gift have nothing to do with its appeal? What do you think? Tell us, what have been your best or worst presents ever?



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  1. gabrielle cheater

    I find I buy for people something I would like for myself, I am then quite loath to part with it! But I do love the excitemnet of receiving pressies and buying them and only hope that the reepients enjoy the article as nuch as I would!! Happy Christmas!

  2. Johanna

    I know what you mean! I often do that with ‘girlie’ presents too! It is exciting buying presents for other people though. I also I love that moment of being handed something all wrapped up that’s just waiting to be revealed. Thanks for your comment, and Happy Christmas to you as well!

  3. jenny@atasteoftravel

    I love buying presents for other people though sometimes it can be very hard to find that perfect gift. I also do the same as both you and Gabrielle in that I inevitably end up buying one for myself as well! I have say that I don’t mind what I receive but I wasn’t too happy when my husband gave me a compost tumbler!

  4. Johanna

    That is so funny, Jenny! Thank you for sharing! I wouldn’t have been too chuffed either. Yes, the ‘one for them and one for me’ syndrome is alive and well in this household! It needs strapping down this year. Have a very merry Christmas!

  5. Carolyn @ Holidays to Europe

    Another great, thought-provoking post, Jo. I agree that males are really difficult to buy for and when it comes to my female gift recipients, I’m like you all and also like to give something that I, too, would like to receive.

    I’m glad you still have your Swedish candle holder, Jo. Two Swedish friends we met whilst travelling in Europe gave us a pair for a wedding present. They don’t get used often but I do love them even after 20+ years. They definitely win the ‘great’ gift award!

  6. Hi Carolyn, what a coincidence that you were also given a pair of candle holders as a wedding present 🙂 As you say winners of a ‘great’ gift award! Yes I still treasure mine, and it’s weathered so many international relocations that it stands I think as proof of an enduring friendship.

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