Put a bow on your gift giving this season — make it joyful, make it thoughtful and, best of all, make it easy.

It's a wrap - YAM Holiday Issue 2023

By Liam Razzell

Picking the perfect present can be hard. How do you get your holiday gift shopping done in time and without too much stress? What gifts are appropriate for the different people in your life? And, most importantly, what can you do to make sure your gift will delight, not dismay?

With some advance planning, secret list-making and thinking more about social norms and who you’re buying for, your gift-giving experience can be all about showing love and appreciation. Here’s how.

1 Consider Who You’re Buying For

Before delving into the practicalities of presents, consider the psychology behind exchanging gifts. It’s an act of reciprocity, which in social psychology is the idea that if you do something for someone else, they should do something for you. Reciprocity is an important part of building and maintaining our social bonds.

When you give someone a gift, they feel compelled to give you something in return, even if it’s just a grateful smile or a thank-you note. That strengthens your relationship — most of the time.

“If there’s a mismatch or if what you give is more than what you would expect from the type of relationship you have, then that could be uncomfortable,” says Kelci Harris, a UVic assistant professor of psychology, who studies friendship, personality psychology and intergroup relations. 

She urges you to think clearly about your relationship with the person you’re buying for. “When I think about the relationship I have with my parents, for example, we are more likely to exchange practical gifts,” she says. “Whereas, for a close friend, I may be more likely to give them a thoughtful, fun gift.”

In other words, “It depends on the person,” says Janet Corey, owner of Fan Tan Home & Style. “You really need to make sure that you understand what makes them happy.”

For your closest personal relationships, it’s not necessarily the gift’s monetary value that matters, but how much attention you have paid to the giftee’s unspoken — and sometimes spoken, but not heard — needs and desires. It’s rarely, for instance, a winning situation to give a black cashmere sweater to someone who already has three. And sometimes the best gifts are experiential rather than physical — tickets to a concert or sporting event, dinner at a restaurant where you share fond memories, a spa treatment, a dream trip.

Gifts for work colleagues can be especially fraught because you need to be careful not to jeopardize your professional relationships. These gifts should be thoughtful and meaningful, but there’s a certain line you shouldn’t cross.

“Anything intimate at all would not be appropriate,” says Moira Pittam, owner of Paboom. “Sometimes people think something might be interpreted as funny, but I don’t think it’s a place you should really go, just in case it’s not interpreted that way.”

Anything that touches on physical appearance, uses foul language or makes light of a colleague’s work or personal habits should be a no go. (And yet, Etsy and other websites have countless “co-worker gag gifts” just like these.)

Also, when shopping for colleagues — or anyone, for that matter — you should keep sensitivities around culture, religion and orientation in mind so you don’t inadvertently offend someone. And, if you plan to give food or alcohol as a gift, be conscious of possible allergies, aversions or other dietary issues.

2 Avoid the Last-Minute Panic

It should go without saying that if you shop early you are more likely to find a better selection of gifts and, if you are shopping online, to have them delivered in time. But sometimes we sabotage our own good intentions.

Buying gifts can tap into some major stressors — specifically, worries about money and time, both of which can be in short supply around the holidays — and that leads many of us to leave it to the last minute. 

That’s because, when you’re stressed, “Your cortisol gets activated and floods the system, and it can lead to those fight, flight or freeze responses,” says Harris. Those who experience flight or freeze responses may procrastinate and find themselves in a massive and harried lineup as the clock ticks down.

“The longer you wait,” Harris cautions, “the more stressful it will be.”

Instead, Corey suggests thinking about gift-giving throughout the year, not just during the holidays. Pay attention to hints dropped and experiences shared. If you need to, write them down, or make your purchases when your loved one tells you how much they like a certain book author or fashion designer.

But maybe you haven’t done much advance planning and are now crunched for time. 

In that case, Corey suggests you think about everyone you have to buy for and jot their names down on a list. Below each name, make a note of their interests, hobbies and passions. Do some research, in person or online. If you need help, ask mutual friends or family and study gift guides for ideas. 

 “A lot of people will do the circuit, they’ll go around and do a lot of window shopping prior to [actually buying the gifts], so they’ve got a really good knowledge of who’s got what and what the price points are,” says Pittam. 

Once you have a list, break out your calendar and plan out exactly when you’re going to get your shopping done. Allow yourself a week or two so you can work through your list in a relaxed manner — and don’t leave it to the last minute!

Buying gifts can tap into some major stressors — specifically, worries about money and time, both of which can be in short supply around the holidays — and that leads many of us to leave it to the last minute. 

3 Pay Attention

Picking gifts should always be informed by your active listening. Have your friends mentioned something they need or like? Do they like practical or “wow” gifts? What do they do for work?

Say a friend of yours starts work every day at 6 a.m. He never has enough time to make coffee in the morning and starts work before coffee shops open. You remember this and buy him a simple drip coffee maker that can be programmed to start making coffee as he wakes up. No, it’s not as exciting as an evening of axe throwing, but it solves a problem in his life and shows that you’ve been listening.

So, the key to giving great gifts is to think about who you’re buying for, whether in terms of active listening, social norms or your relationship. After all, we give to make people happy, to show them that we love and appreciate them, to make their lives easier. 

It’s the thought that counts. Literally.

Presents with Presence

Sometimes, our imagination fails us. We panic, we forget, we run out of time. And suddenly, we find ourselves at the drugstore right before closing on December 24, buying a gift that is less than inspired. Here we’ve rounded up seven traditional last-minute gifts and provided examples that are thoughtful, beautiful and locally made instead.

It's a wrap - YAM Holiday Issue 2023

Instead of white sports socks

Try this colourful Outway
performance socks

Instead of mass-market chocolate

Try this handcrafted treats from Sirene, Chocolate & Co. or Rogers’ Chocolates

It's a wrap - YAM Holiday Issue 2023
It's a wrap - YAM Holiday Issue 2023

Instead of a gift card from a coffee chain

Try this fresh-roasted beans from Mile Zero, Caffe Fantastico or another local roastery

Instead of mass-produced commercial spirits

Try this craft whisky from DEVINE Distillery, Macaloney’s Island Distillery or Stillhead Distillery

It's a wrap - YAM Holiday Issue 2023
It's a wrap - YAM Holiday Issue 2023

Instead of the wrong size or style of clothing

Try this a gift card from a local boutique or designer, packaged with a cool pin or scarf

Instead of a random celebrity fragrance

Try this a bespoke scent from Zingaro
Floral Perfumery 

It's a wrap - YAM Holiday Issue 2023
It's a wrap - YAM Holiday Issue 2023

Instead of a coffee mug with a “cute” saying

Try this handcrafted pottery from Wicked Wanda in Sooke