Ever have someone apologize for a present as they hand it to you? They're really saying: "I'm sorry. I care, but I have no idea what to buy you." In these situations, one must be kind. After all, it's the thought that counts. Still I feel bad for them and the awkwardness they clearly feel, so I have decided to address the issue of gift cards.
Like everyone else, I get some gift cards for Christmas. This year was a nice take: $100 for amazon, $15 for iTunes, and $10 for ice cream. However, some poor misguided souls feel guilty about giving gift cards. Others openly spout off about how gift cards are impersonal, and people should take the time to personally pick out gifts. I disagree 100%. Gift cards rock! To understand why, think about it from the receivers point of view.
First, there's the joy of opening a present and finding a gift card. It's the same feeling I get when (or, more accurately, if) someone handed me $100. Yippee!!! It says: "I love you; have a shopping spree." I love that sentiment, especially since I'm 'difficult to shop for' when it comes to books, music, and movies.
But then, the realization of the power of the gift card sets in. I often have a lot of the music, DVDs, or books I'm interested in. So, because gift cards aren't my money, they are a great way to buy something I normally might pass on. Things that I see and think: "Nice, but pricey" or "I sure would like to try this author/director/artist, but what if I hate it?" I can splurge and experiment with no risk! Then I can tell the gift-giver what I purchased and be really, honestly happy about it. Which makes them happy. Side note: this is an often skipped step with gift cards. It's essential to tell the person that you used the gift card, and what you bought with it. It gives them closure.
But back to the gift card experience. Next comes the 'kid in a candy store' euphoria. Should I get that 5-volume set of ancient Zen translations I've eyed every so often over the past five years? How about trying something by Rafael Sabatini? I'd love to listen to more French rap music. I've always wanted a hard cover version of my Arion edition of Moby Dick; then I could use my paperback version as a place to write notes for the rest of my life. Another Tony Jaa flick for my slowly growing martial arts DVD collection? The possibilities are endless, and I spend quite a bit of time exploring to make sure I get something really good with my gift card money. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving; it's usually a month before I finish with my gift card by actually making that purchase!
Beyond all that: aren't gift cards really the essence of why we give at Christmas? Sure we give presents to let people know we care but, equally important, is that we want to make them happy (or, in some annyoing cases, as happy as they can be). Yes, it's the thought that counts. However, if I think of a way to ensure someone is happy with my gift, then that's a better thought than loading them down with some half-assed guestimated purchase that's just going to end up in the white elephant bag next year. At the end of the day, manners and etiquette are about common sense, not tradition.
Of course, there's always the shocked and offended change-resistant ninnies to deal with. "So I suppose people should just not buy presents at all?" Insert harrumph. The response is: Of course I don't think that! If I know what someone will like, then naturally I'm going to buy it for them. Presents are still as fun as they ever were. But if I don't know what they'd like - and with the ever-expanding accessibility to everything via web shopping it's not hard to have friends and family members you have trouble shopping for - then I think of them and go for the gift card. When it comes to spreading Christmas cheer, I do a good job.
So give gift cards with your head held high! And if anyone raises their eyebrows or in any way seems offended, shove their nasty Scrooge face in the pumpkin pie. And tell them: "It's the thought that counts." When they lift their head up to look at you with that shocked, pie-smeared face (hopefully you shoved it in there really good), then you can laugh at them. After all, 'tis the season to be jolly!
Plus it'll make you feel better about that hideous pastel sweater they just gave you.