The expert's guide on clever gifting
IT'S one of those Christmas-related things that creeps in with old age . . . ike chilly joints, broken veins and heartburn . . . and that's Christmas shopping ennui . . . the dread of trying to trawl the shops to find inspired gifts – things that aren't socks, scarves, pocket warmers (microwavable or otherwise) and perfume sets.
I find the scent of vanilla candles toxic, my heart sinks at the sight of a ‘sexy' celebrity calendar and box sets are now redundant thanks to Netflix and other digital means of downloading great viewing.
In case you think I'm all bah-humbug about Christmas, I'm not. Since I can remember, I've counted down to the festive season. As a child, a teenager, and then a twentysomething working in London, the days of December were the highlight of my year. My husband, Trevor, and I got married in December, because of my love of fairy lights, carols, holly and ivy, and his love for me.
When Christmas goes right, it truly is the most wonderful time of year . . . when families who want to be together, get together (and others might be surprised by the fun of catching up); when old friends regroup; when the office closes and there's nothing pinging on email, or in our collective corporate conscience.
So, the pressure of trying to find fresh, innovative, exciting gifts for those we really love builds year-on-year, as all bright ideas are steadily exhausted through the decades.
Not all of us are lucky to live beside Brown Thomas's Marvel Room, or can meander around Arnotts' profusion of clever pop-up not all of us are gifted with the creative smarts to make the sort of gifts people would want to receive . . . so, what to do?
I have to say, in recent times, as my gifting fatigue has developed, I've been steering more towards giving ‘experiences' rather than ‘things' . . . something that can be wrapped (or better yet, come beautifully packaged), and handed over on Christmas Day, but equally, something the receiver can lookforward to enjoying long after the last pine needle has been hovered up.
I've given hotel vouchers, and some places get very creative with packages at this time of year. The Merrion Hotel always have interesting stays to offer – arty ones, sporty ones, gastronomic ones . . . and each comes packaged in a stunning box, wrapped in ribbon, then in tissue, then in a bag.
For vouchers that look less attractive, I've popped them into other things, like a gardening course voucher I got for someone,which I presented, nestling in a tissue-stuffed birdhouse.
I've given concert tickets to people who couldn't think so far into the future, and yet the date came and the treat was there waiting. And my mother and I spent a weekend learning how to decorate cakes as another Christmas pressie.
My sister Melissa, the most creative gifter, brought me to London to take a course in making handbags – the result from which I still wear with pride. And each year she collects family photographs to form the basis for my father's annual Christmas calendar.
Gifting experiences needn't be expensive – sometimes it's the promise to cook dinner, or host a party; I've also offered my services as chauffeur and chaperone around Kildare Village and/or Newbridge Silverware (with afternoon tea included).
Speaking of afternoon tea, it's hard to beat a voucher for champagne tea at The Shelbourne (€84.95 for two), or its new Lord Mayor's Lounge supper menu – three delectable midi-courses, priced in accordance with the choice of main, but none over €30 per head.
Spa vouchers may seem obvious, but show me a woman who doesn't like as much pampering as they can possibly get, and are often too guilty to indulge for themselves. My father gave my mum a great present one year, of a massage a month for a year . . . which came after the time he arranged for flowers to be delivered to her on the last Friday of every month for the year – gifts that keep on giving.
He's also called a rose after her (the late Maeve Binchy's husband Gordon Snell's genius idea), and proudly presented her with a dozen bushes of “Rosa Valerie Morris”, ready to bust into bloom come summer.
Other times, he's redesigned old pieces of jewellery for her, into more wearable, contemporary treasures.
I have to say, I think the notion of the bespoke gift is a lovely one, and while it takes a bit of forward planning, and some time, the response on giving is amazing. This year (don't tell anyone), I'm commissioning the very clever Mia Russell of Mia Loves Jay (check her out on Facebook) to make her beautiful doggy applique cushions for my friends with furry friends. She uses Liberty prints and, I don't know how, but manages to interpret each dog's personality perfectly in patchwork.
As for hampers . . . many are uninspiring, or the same year-on-year, and really, who wants 16 jars of jam? But for those with an eye on quirky sweet treats, head to biscuiteers.com and feast your eyes on their offerings. I gave one of their big boxes to my sister's evergrowing, multi-generational family last year and am still getting showered with thanks. It not only had cakes, chocolates, cupcakes, iced biscuits and gingerbread men, but also cute tea towels and their fab cookery book.
Someone in Ireland needs to come up with a similar offering.
But the best present I almost got in recent years was from Trevor, my husband before he was my husband. He'd bought me a stunning Shaun Leane ring, and was all set to present it to me in a make-up bag he'd bought and stuffed with Pick'n’Mix. We were travelling in Cambodia on Christmas Eve when he discovered the ring had been stolen from his suitcase. Instead of admitting defeat, the next day, we went out and bought the biggest, blingy-est fake pearl ring as a temporary pressie until we got home and he could reorder the proper one, and we had Christmas all over again. I still wear both with glee.