let's start with my philosophy on presents.
they are lovely. one should give presents for birthdays, holidays, life events, and just because it's tuesday. paradoxically, if one is not moved to give a gift at any such time, there should be no obligation unless there is already a social norm within a particular social grouping.
you know, like your family. you should probably get something for you mom's birthday whether or not you have something awesome in mind just because.
my mom actually doesn't want stuff and she really doesn't want me spending money on stuff just for the sake of stuff and if i happen to have found something nice that i know she will love it's ok with her if i buy it, but mostly she just wants to know that i took the time to remember her birthday, which can be accomplished in a number of ways.
as for me, at present receiving times, i like to have some mystery things to open. i don't have a list of things i want people to buy me but it's largely convention in my family that if i need or want a piece of gear or something pricey and i need it in june, i'll pretty much just get it but if i need the same item before my birthday or christmas, it goes on the list and i unwrap it instead of just going to the store.
but my favorite things are the surprises.
because it's not about stuff. it's about surprise and delight. it's about catching someone off guard with little things or goofy things that make them laugh or make them happy or they need but didn't know about.
and you can't have a hit every year with every person.
do not get me started on the exchange of money as gifts, or gift cards. because if it comes right down to "here's some money; now you give me some money", there's no actual gift being exchanged. and gift cards! well, that's less of a gift than it is a moneymaker for the company that sold the gift cards.
and don't all pile on me about how convenient those things are. they have their place. you think a good friend and her husband ought to enjoy a dinner for two at a fine restaurant? fine. buy a gift certificate for the likely tab. my stepmother knows that ever since i'm retired, i don't have the money to spend on itunes like i used to, so she hooks me up with that. and my brother-in-law knows that when i travel, i often come out of the backwoods sans cash and could use a hot cheap meal, so he makes sure i have a dunkin' donuts gift card to carry in my wallet. it's like emergency gear.
done that way, the gift cards become personal gifts.
but recently i was asked what i want for christmas by someone who ought to know what i like. i wanted to say "i'm sorry, but have we not been exchanging christmas and birthday gifts for forty years? have you no clue what things i like or might need based on conversation or even just reactions to what gifts you've gotten me over the years?"
because maybe you're supposed to look equally happy at every gift you receive and while i am happy with every gift that someone took the time to pick something for me because it is really nice when people take the time to give me a thing to which i am not entitled, my face does not observe this convention of politely greeting each thing with the same enthusiasm.
my face tells you just exactly how excited i am by any particular present.
and sometimes it just registers surprise, or the humor, or excitement at a thing i did not know i needed up until that point.
here is a prediction about my face christmas morning: i know my mother is getting me a tent. i need a new tent, and i want a new tent and she is getting me a very nice tent. because i know this ahead of time right down to the brand and model, my face will not register the same kind of wild delight that it will when somebody gives me a thing i love that is a total surprise.
the fun of it is finding what the person will like. the fun is figuring what you can do to create some enjoyment for them.