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Why We Should End The Taboo About Giving Gift Cards

The holidays are here and we should not let the general awfulness of 2020 prevent us from celebrating. I just want to put that out there because I feel like it needs to be said. I understand we can’t celebrate the holidays like we have in previous years due to a once-in-a-century pandemic, but we should still celebrate.

If nothing else, we should celebrate having made it through this year. Regardless of your religious affiliation or traditions, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

I love Christmas and the holidays. I fully intend to celebrate in my own festive way with friends and family. I already have my Christmas tree up and I’ve had it up since the first week of November. However, this year may require certain adjustments from my usual holiday activities, but I’m willing to do that for the spirit of the season.

As I and many others do so, I think this is a good time to re-evaluate certain holiday taboos. I’m not referring to any of those associated with religion. There’s a time and a place to talk about that exceedingly touchy issue. This is not one of them.

This particular taboo has to do with gift-giving, which happens to be the holiday tradition I take most seriously. Ask any member of my family, from my parents to my siblings to even my former roommates, and they’ll say the same thing. I go the extra mile when it comes to Christmas presents.

I’ll spend more money than I should.

I’ll buy more gifts than I should.

I’ll put in extra time, thought, and effort.

I’ll often pester people in asking them what they want, making a point to tell me before Thanksgiving.

Getting Christmas gifts for my loved ones is a big deal to me. I take pride in my ability to go the extra mile and make my family feel extra loved during the holidays. It brings me a special kind of joy.

As a result of that approach to holiday gift giving, I tend to avoid the kinds of low-effort gifts that send the wrong message. That usually means I try not to get gift cards or cash for someone. To me, that’s just too impersonal. It implies I didn’t make the effort to show how much I love and care for the person I’m giving this gift to.

I’m not alone in that feeling. Gifting gift cards does have a bit of a taboo to it, even as more and more people shop online. If you were to give your lover a gift card for your anniversary, chances are they’ll be somewhat disappointed. It almost seems like a cop-out, as though you don’t trust yourself to get a meaningful gift for someone.

I understand that sentiment to some extent, but I also think that taboo is waning somewhat. After a year like 2020, when millions of people were stuck in lockdowns for weeks on end, I think it’s waning even faster. Honestly, I think that’s a good thing and we should use this holiday season as an opportunity.

For many people, including myself, it’s just not going to be possible to travel for the holiday. The big holiday gatherings that so many of us treasure just can’t be done safely during a global pandemic. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exchange gifts. We just have to be smart about it and gift cards could help.

These days, gift cards are a lot more useful than the traditional gift certificates of the past. I’m old enough to remember how limited they were. Before the days of Amazon, getting a gift certificate usually meant getting something for a specific store. You could only use it at that store and it usually had an expiration date.

In some instances, it worked out. If you knew someone went to a place like Best Buy or Wal-Mart all the time, a gift certificate could certainly be useful. It was still considered very impersonal. It wasn’t the kind of gift you gave someone for Christmas. It was usually a birthday gift and even then, it was often a gift of last resort.

Now, in an era where you can buy pretty much anything online, the time is right to flip the script. If you know someone has an Amazon account that they frequently use, then why should a $50 Amazon gift card be taboo? Why should it be a gift of last resort that requires an excuse?

Love them or hate them, you can buy a lot from Amazon with a $50 gift card. You could buy a movie you don’t have, both digital or Blu-ray. You could buy a video game, although not the latest releases. You could buy multiple books and be certain they’re books you want to read and haven’t read already.

From a practical standpoint, that gift card is very useful and there’s a near-certain chance it’ll get used. You can’t always say that about a traditional gift. I’ve gotten people gifts that I was certain they’d use frequently, but they never made it out of the box. That’s the chance you take with any gift exchange.

It’s still a great feeling when you get someone that perfect gift. I can attest to the joy that comes with that accomplishment. I also don’t deny that the perfect gift is not always possible. I’ve got plenty of relatives and family members who are hard to shop for and often tell me they really don’t need anything from me.

However, I know that even those hard-to-shop-for relatives would get use out of an Amazon gift card. That may not make it the perfect gift, but it would still be incredibly useful and sometimes that’s the most you can hope for.

In a year like this, when traveling and shopping have been incredibly restricted by the pandemic, I think a simple Amazon gift card should be acceptable. Even if you don’t like giving or receiving gift cards, this is the year when we should all be willing to make an exception.

That doesn’t mean it has to be impersonal. You can still make giving someone a gift card feel festive.

One year, I got an $50 Amazon gift card for a relative. However, I didn’t just stick it in an envelope or bag. I actually put it in a standard 14 by 9.5 box and wrapped it in shiny wrapping paper. To hide the contents, I even put some washers inside to make it heavier. The relative loved it and I know they used that gift card.

You could either do that or find some other festive way to present it. You don’t have to be overly elaborate with wrapping paper or packaging. You just have to show a little extra effort, which will go a long way towards making a gift card feeling less impersonal.

In the future, long after this pandemic has passed, we may get to a point where that kind of gift-giving is no longer taboo. It may even be the norm, if only to ensure that your loved ones get something useful on the holidays.

There will always be a place for more personal gift-giving. I don’t doubt that. However, I think certain practices and taboos need tweaking. We already live in a new era where shopping from home has never been easier. Let’s use that as a way to supplement our holiday spirits moving forward. After a year like 2020, we’ll need it.

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Filed under Current Events, rants