4 Easy Ways to Be a Better Gift Giver

November 28, 2017

How do we holiday? We cook and celebrate; we give gifts and give back; we burn the turkey and laugh about it; we get on each others’ nerves a little, too. But throughout the season, we come together—in celebrations large and small.

It’s this sense of togetherness that informs How We Holiday: Join our community of home cooks, in their kitchens and at their tables, as we talk to them about their tips, tricks, and traditions. Today's topic: What makes a great gift?

Try Something Unexpected, by Amanda Hesser

There’s something wonderful about the gifts that are not checking boxes off of a list. My husband, Tad, is a very good gifter. If I ask for something, he’ll give it to me, but he usually throws in a few surprises, too—and they’re real surprises. For instance, one year he got me this bird’s nest, which had three ceramic birds' eggs in it. I put it on a shelf, and it’s just so pleasing to look at. Does one need a bird’s nest? No. But it pleases me so much.

About a half-dozen years ago, we got this advent calendar that has pretty big pockets, bigger than just for candy. That first year, we made the mistake of going all-out, and we would stuff two gifts in each pocket each day for twenty-four days, one for each of our twins. Let me tell you, that gets exhausting. So now we have this whole system where we collect all of the gifts and put them in plastic bags and number them. Then we put them in the pockets each night to surprise the kids in the morning. They love it so much, and I am so happy when they get their little thing out of the pocket, even if it’s just a doodad like a pen or tattoo. It was a rookie mistake to commit to this so early on in their childhoods, but I know it’s worth it.

Amanda Hesser is a co-founder and the CEO of Food52. She and her family live in Brooklyn, but not the cool part.

Photo by James Ransom

Consider A Cookbook, by Noelle Bitner

If someone already has everything, that’s when I pull out the cookbooks—there’s a new one every year, and no one can ever have too many. Rather than focus on technical cooking, the books I give contain ranges of ideas and delicious flavors. I also take skill level and interest into account. This year, I fell in love with Diana Henry’s Simple, so that definitely will be on my list. I always inscribe each book with a personal message.

Sometimes books backfire. My father and I have very similar interests; a few years ago, not only did we buy the same book for each other, but he also had bought a copy for himself! So we had three copies in the immediate room. That happens more often than you’d think.

Last year, in addition to their gift, everyone got a donation in their names. I have a core set of organizations that I trust, and I try to match donations to each personality. I felt like it was a year that we really needed to give forward. I’m going to do that again this year.

Seven years ago, Food52er Noëlle (a.k.a. enbe) started our Holiday Swap with a simple post on the Hotline, calling for interested participants to join in a holiday food exchange—and she's continued to work with us on it every year since.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Gather Ideas Year-Round, by Joanna Goddard

For gifts, I always try to think about what my loved ones are into—but I try to be creative, so that people don’t get typecast! For example, my brother likes spicy food, so I gave him salsa, hot sauce, and peppery gifts for like, a decade—until finally I was like, "Hmmm, maybe he likes others things, too?" Now, I try to keep an ear out year-round for things my loved ones are drawn to, and I jot down the ideas. My mom recently mentioned that she thinks our bedroom smells good, so I'm getting the same Annick Goutal diffuser for her this Christmas. Also, when in doubt, a magazine subscription is a great, affordable gift that keeps on giving. And edible gifts are always appreciated — I have my eye on these salami bouquets and heart chocolates.

Our family is English, so on Christmas itself, we leave a glass of sherry out for Santa (he needs it). We also hang everyone's stockings at the end of their beds while they're sleeping...I try to tiptoe! If a kid wakes up in the middle of the night, full of excitement, the rule is that they can open one present—the rest of the presents are opened with the family the next day.

Joanna Goddard is the founder of the women's site Cup of Jo, which covers style, design, culture, food, and parenting.

Photo by Julia Gartland

Think Simple But Special, by Gus Anagnopoulos

As a kid, I watched my mother give gifts to people we saw every day, like our grocer or mailman. She’d give edible gifts, like cookies, olives, or her amazing spinach pie. Today, I try to do the same with the people I see the most. I’m just so thankful for people like our postal and garbage workers. They have some of the hardest jobs, and I think it’s especially important to thank them.

I love giving gifts for the kitchen that someone can replenish, like salt cellars, butter keepers, or decanters. The kitchen is the life force of the house. It nourishes you. Lately, my go-to gift has been olive oil from my family’s grove in Greece. It’s something special to me, it's useful, and, most importantly, it's refillable (there's a lot of it!).

If I don’t give olive oil, another go-to is poetry. I studied poetry in college and don’t think people encounter it enough. They get intimidated. My favorite books to give are Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself or Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara. In fact, I’ve been known to order 100 copies of Lunch Poems at once.

Gus Anagnopoulos owns and runs Sir Madam along with Jesse James, his husband and business partner.

Interviews conducted and edited by Brette Warshaw, Katie Macdonald, and Valerio Farris.

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