One of the hardest things about the holidays can be buying gifts for someone that you are not terribly familiar with. In-laws I have discovered are particularly difficult in the gift giving and receiving arena. You don't always know them and they don't always know you, but you all feel obligated to give gifts.
I know that I personally am pretty good at asking other people about said person before I go out and attempt to buy something for them. This is also why I am a huge fan of the Amazon wish list feature. Sure it isn't incredibly thoughtful, and it is fairly generic, but at least you know it is something that they will like.
If all else fails gift cards are the best option really. If I have no idea what their hobbies are, or if they are readers, or movie people, I resort to Target gift cards, because surely they can find something they like at Target. It is my least favorite option though.
My way of thinking is not the same as everyone else, as is evident by the gift cards I get every year from my in-laws. Now I am not saying I am in any way ungrateful for the gifts I received. I am thrilled I really am. It just highlights the fact that they don't know me at all. Just a glance at my Amazon wish list, which is massive, will show you I am a movie fanatic. It also shows I really like books. Or that I like Amazon in general. Three gift card options right there.
Instead this year I got a gift card to Bath and Body Works. I suppose the assumption is that I am female and therefor like smelly bath stuffs. This is a completely valid thought pattern, yet it doesn't really work for me.
I stopped shopping at Bath and Body Works almost a decade ago. Back in the beginning of the shop they had some recognizable and sensible scents that I really liked. Body sprays that were not perfumes, but just clean fresh scents. Smells like lavender, and jasmine, and freesia, and other flowers I could easily identify.
Little by little they pushed out those familiar names and smells and replaced them with increasingly sweeter and more pungent scents with names that in no way tell you what you are getting. When I look at a bottle of lotion labeled 'Dark Kisses' or 'Winter Night' that really doesn't help me any. I mean they could at least say that it is a combination of jasmine and vanilla, or whatever they used. Instead though you are left to smell the bottle and guess.
This entire smell the bottle thing leads quickly to the problem of over stimulating your poor nose. If you have a sensitive olfactory sense, like I do, going into that store is sort of like turning on a strobe light near an epileptic. I can't distinguish one smell from another, and honestly it makes me more than a little ill.
Still I got this gift card and I was determined to use it. Surely there had to be something in there I could use. So yesterday we happened to be in the mall to see a movie, and afterward I decided to just go ahead and get it over with. I went in and found that it was as bad as I thought it would be. I did not recognize a single name on any of the products in the first room. The scents were all overwhelmingly sweet and I couldn't really find a body spray vs perfume. My body chemistry doesn't always work great with perfume so I try and avoid it.
I managed to make my way to the aromatherapy section and rejoiced as I found something I recognized. Lavender chamomile body spray and lotion. Lavender is my preferred scent so I quickly grabbed a couple of things and headed to check out before the smell of the store made me ill. I was just hoping that later when my nose could distinguish individual smells again that I would like what I was buying.
The lady rang me up and went through trying to send me mailers and store cards, and other promotions, but I politely declined and insisted all I wanted was what was in front of me. I was trying to maintain my holiday zen and not get annoyed by pushy sales people.
After running the transaction I realized I had failed to spend all of the money on the card. There were still almost $4 on there. I knew that I would never spend that $4. I will probably never go back into that store unless I receive another gift card. I have a few girlfriends who might shop there, but again it was only $4. It seemed pointless. Still I didn't really want the money to go to waste.
As I turned to leave, bag in hand, I realized something. The store was packed with shoppers with baskets full of stuff. Just because I didn't like the store didn't mean lots of other people didn't love it. I turned to the woman standing behind me in line as she perused the little last moment items near the register. I handed her the gift card and told her Merry Christmas. I told her there was only about $4 on there, but I would never use it, so I hoped she could enjoy it.
She looked both shocked and pleased by my gesture. Sure it was probably going to do little more than cover her tax, but it really at that point wasn't about the amount of money. It was about the gesture of kindness to a complete stranger. It is by the little things we do that we can make a difference.
I hope that I in some way made that woman's day a little brighter. This is what the season is really about after all. I know I feel better for it.