Like a fastball to the gut from Josh Beckett (and so ends my annual sports reference), there's a special feeling that comes with the holiday season as the day draws nearer. Most often it comes as you're racing home on Christmas Eve and suddenly you remember that there's someone special on your list for whom you forgot to shop.
What follows is a deranged scramble to find a gift that doesn't make you look like a putz, but doesn't require weeks of deliberate planning. Unfortunately, mistakes are often made while you're standing in line at the gas station.
5. Say it with Flowers
Flowers are a lovely gift for almost any occassion, but they're not quite right for the holidays.
First, they require some care and attention to keep them fresh and bright for more than a night. Who has time for that when you're bounching back and forth between parties? The holidays are also a time when even normally dowdy halls have been decked, so what you thought would be a cheeful bloom of color will get lost in a dazzling display of lights, sparkle and evergreen.
Flowers are also best on special occassions when they're played as an opening act, the prelude to a special evening or event. Chances are if you're picking up flowers at the last minute, you don't have any of that planned. Still, it's better than showing up empty handed and might give you time to pick something up later if you can sneak off.
4. Gift Certificates
For the exasperated, most stores now have oversized racks of gift cards from hundreds of different stores and restaurants in dozens of denominations. It seems like an easy way to quantify your appreciation for a person and show you have some vague understanding of their interests. Well, she said she likes Italian and she's super cute, how about a $50 gift card to the Olive Garden? It's a classier way to just give people money than some tattered old bills stuffed in a card.
There are two problems with this approach. The first is that a gift card doesn't help hide the fact that you went shopping at the last minute. We've all given and received gift cards over the years and know what it means.
The dismal science gives us our second reason why gift cards are terrible, they're worth less than other gifts. To start with, when you thoughtlessly give a gift card, you've thoughtlessly given someone a chore. The recipient must go to a particular store and find their own present. Invariably the things you want either cost more than the value of the gift card or appreciably less. I think we all have gift cards scattered around with $5.36 left on them that we just can't bear to throw out but never remember when we go shopping.
For the more neurotic among us, the wrong gift card can give the wrong signal. Just what do you mean by giving me a card to Bath and Bodyworks?
3. Lottery Tickets
It's like a gift certificate but worse. Sure you get to scratch off some numbers and that's always fun for 30 seconds but usually that's the end of it. Unless you've got an inside man at the lottery commission and know where all the $10,000 tickets are it's best you just go with a gift card and achieve defeat with honor.
2. Big Ticket Items
Sometimes in a panic, the brain overreacts rather than curling up into a ball and sobbing. When it comes to gift buying this results in overcompensation during last minute shopping, hoping to conquer neglect with overwhelming force.
As with gift cards, the first problem is that you're going to have to pay more for a big last minute gift that gets the same impact as a modestly-priced gift that was well thought out.
With big purchases there are also hidden pitfalls. Sure you'll make a big splash when you reveal the BMW with a bow on top, but they're not going to be so happy when they're excise tax bill comes in (or when they find out how much an oil change costs). The same goes for puppies. They're absolutely adorable but rarely come housebroken.
1. Sexy Lingerie
As a wise sage once said "it's a trap!"
Lingerie is rarely a present for the recipient, it's usually just the giver projecting their fantasies and desires. Giving a gift to yourself in the guise of being generous to someone else is a jerk move.
That alone isn't enough to make this a terrible gift idea. What catapults this into the 38th paralell of gifting is size. Even buying a shirt, getting the size wrong too much in either direction can send the wrong message. Tolerances are even lower with lingerie, and we can safely say that the average man knows less about buying a good fitting bra than he does about quantum dynamics. Combine that ignorance with your frantic attempts to pantomime your significant other's size and shape to the clerk and you're sure to find disaster.
Of special mention are novelty underpants. At your classier convenience establishments you'll sometimes find a display of panties artfully folded up to look like roses combining the romance of flowers with the thrilling frisson of lingerie. Except, of course, it has none of that because you bought ill-fitting underpants at a gas station.
With these bad ideas in mind, hopefully last-minute holiday shopping can go a little easier and if you're in doubt, just go with the gift card.