By Louise Sukle
Editor & Publisher
Woman Newspapers

So, you’re a veteran shopper of sales and this year you scored the perfect gift for your fashion-conscience sister: a gorgeous cashmere sweater from Neiman Marcus marked down to a bargain price. Wrapping the sweater in it’s beautiful silver gift box, you’re downright giddy. Then you pause. Even though you paid the same amount for each gift, next to the book your brother asked for, the inequity bothers you.

Welcome to the time of year when we express ourselves not in our words or actions but in our gifting chops.

With all the wonderful things about the holiday season, it’s a shame that giving gifts can cause us so much stress. It’s true that there are rules of etiquette that come with gift giving, but everyone’s interpretation of the unwritten rules is different.

Grown adults give their empty-nester parents gifts they neither need nor use. Well-intentioned crafters are crushed when a handmade gift is unwrapped to a lukewarm response. And there’s the feuds breaking out among families for gifts that didn’t go over well.

For most of us, especially when it comes to the people closest to us, we want to surprise them. It takes a hundred times more effort, but that’s OK - those are the gifts people really treasure, right? It turns out that- surprise!- people don’t like surprises as much as we think they do.

We search high and low for the perfect gift, one that proves just how well we know them. But research shows that going the extra mile to be more creative can actually backfire if being creative means ignoring other’s wish lists. People who receive gifts from their wish list actually deem the giver more thoughtful, not less.

As adults, making a Christmas list is tacky, right? That’s what Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin, thinks. She says sharing a list makes people appear greedy and robs the giver of the opportunity to be thoughtful or creative.

But can you argue with wanting to make the recipient happy and giving them what they want? Isn’t that the whole point of gift giving?

When it comes to the unwritten rules of gift-giving, there is really one simple rule of thumb: Gift giving is not about you. By ignoring wish lists, we wrongly assume we will be seen as more thoughtful than if we gave the recipient something he or she specifically requested.

Which brings me to another point: gift giving is a lovely and meaningful gesture, but in reality it can be pointlessly wasteful when you consider the countless gifts exchanged every year that end up unused, trashed, donated or re-gifted. All that money could have gone toward things that would be truly useful and appreciated.

If you’re worried that buying off someone’s wish list will make you seem lazy, squelch that thought! Look at your friend’s and family’s holiday wish lists as an opportunity to learn more about what they like. You may find that - though your job of finding the gift might not be easier - it will certainly be more interesting.