MEL Magazine, December 2019

In this month's issue, we're unwrapping the art of gift-giving.

Mistook your monthly magazine for a pack of One Wipe Charlies and flushed it down the toilet? No worries, here’s the online version!

In this edition:

  1. The Christmas Elf’s Guide to Easy Gift-Giving
  2. The Festive Guide to Dropping Hints (Without Looking Greedy)
  3. How to Buy For the People on Your Naughty List
  4. When is it a Good Idea to Give Cash?
  5. Why You Should Spend That Cash On a Gift For Yourself
  6. History’s Most Elaborate Gifts
  7. What Can You Buy on the 30-Minute Ride to Your Host’s House?
  8. Slice of Heaven
  9. Oh FAQ: How Do I Wrap This Awkward-Shaped Gift?
  10. Get to Know Your Body: Thumbs

1 – The Christmas Elf’s Guide to Easy Gift-Giving

Gary Hicks, AKA Snappy the Elf, has been playing elves at Christmas parties and malls for over 35 years, so he knows a bit about what kind of gift will make someone smile.

What’s the best kind of gift to get for someone?
“I’ve done a lot of Christmas parties, and the best reactions I’ve ever seen from adults are gifts that make them feel like a kid again,” Snappy says. “So get something fun instead of practical. That’s what Christmas is all about. The best part of my job is when I can make someone a believer in the Christmas spirit, and that’s what a fun gift does.”

Any advice for parents whose kids have long Christmas lists?
“This can be tough because it’s hard to say no, but I’ve had kids sit on Santa’s lap with a long list printed from their computer! In those cases, I try to tell the kids that there are boys and girls in the world that don’t get anything, so you’ve kind of got to leave some stuff for them.”

What’s it like being a Christmas Elf?
“It’s an amazing gift to make people happy over the holidays. In addition to parties and malls, I’ve done a lot of work with Santas for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where we’ve given kids a ride in a Batmobile and things like that. That’s the most rewarding part of what I do.”

Any downsides?
“Some people think they can pick me up just because I’m a little person, but please don’t, that can really hurt someone!”

2 – The Festive Guide to Dropping Hints (Without Looking Greedy)

Kids have got it made in this area; they can say, “I want this for Christmas!” all year long. Adults, however, have to be a bit more subtle.

Hints for the Honey
Your partner is probably the person you have the most hint-dropping opportunities with, but don’t lay it on too thick. Laura Fabrizio, of Coastal Concierge — which offers gift-giving and other personal services — explains that questions like, “Do you think this watch would look good on me?” while pointing out something on your phone should be enough. If you’re worried that they’re not getting the hint, point it out in a store, but stop short of trying it on in front of them — that’s just obnoxious.

Exceptionally Unexceptional
“Oftentimes, if you’re surprised, you’re disappointed,” Fabrizio says, so don’t shy away from opportunities to tell people what you want if they ask. You can also create these opportunities with friends or family members that you exchange gifts with by asking them what they want for Christmas. Generally, after telling you, the person will reply by asking what you want — if they don’t, then they’re probably a selfish jerk and you should totally cross them off your list.

Sucky Santa
When it comes to office gift-giving, Fabrizio says there’s no good way to drop hints to your potential secret Santas. You can try talking about restaurants you like in the hopes of a gift card, but more than likely your office present will suck 95 percent of the time, so you’re probably just going to regift it next year.

3 – How to Buy For the People on Your Naughty List

What to buy for that person you don’t really like, but are obliged to buy a gift for anyway.

You’d rather forget about your annoying boss on Christmas, or gift-wrap the nuggets from your cat’s litter box to let your brother-in-law know what you really think of him. But your relationship dictates that you have to play nice, so it’s best to suck it up and get something for that loathsome person.

To make things more psychologically palatable, gift-giving expert Laura Fabrizio, of Coastal Concierge, says you can buy for them as opposed to just him. So, say you can’t stand your brother-in-law but love your sister, get a gift for both of them, or for the whole family if they’ve got kids, like couples massages or a gift card for the bowling alley. That way you’ve still included him, but you didn’t suffer the indignity of buying him an individual gift.

Another option is to get a gift that requires no thought whatsoever, like a black cashmere scarf, which is always nice for anyone. You can also go for a whatever-of-the-month club, like beer or fruit or something like that. The only downside there is that you risk them calling you every month to thank you, which you definitely don’t want. 

But if you can’t bring yourself to get into the holiday spirit and you’re looking for a passive-aggressive gift, just give the guy a tie. As Fabrizio explains, “No guy ever wants a tie.”

4 – When is it a Good Idea to Give Cash?

With help from Diane Gottsman, of the Protocol School of Texas, here’s a guide to when it’s cool to give someone cold hard cash in their Christmas stocking.

When it Ain’t About the Benjamins
First things first — never give someone cash if they’re expecting something more personal. Cash may be fine sometimes, but for a spouse or a parent or anyone else super close to you, you should know them well enough to get a real gift.

Lonely Lincolns
If you do decide to get someone cash, never give them cash by itself. Pair those bills with with some candy or a heartfelt card — anything, really — to show you put at least some thought into things.

Permission Granted
Gottsman says that cash is generally welcomed by those who are financially in need of it, so college kids are perfect for this, as are newlyweds. You can also give cash to someone you know is saving for something specific, like a house or something like that — just say in the card that it’s to help them towards their goal. 

Jacksons for Junior
Kids are tough to buy for, especially if you’re not sure which inane cartoon your nephew is into this week, so cash for a kid is generally okay, but only if they’re old enough to get the value of money. If you’re looking to give money to a young kid, just give the parents the cash and buy a token five dollar gift for them to break five minutes later.

5 – Why You Should Spend That Cash On a Gift For Yourself

That cash gift usually just goes into your wallet to be used for gas and other boring stuff, but you really should be spending it on an actual gift instead.

“A lot of people — especially parents — feel guilty about getting a gift for themselves, but after a holiday season of giving, you shouldn’t be afraid to reward yourself,” says Lindsay Jackson, life coach and co-host of Necessi-Tea Podcast. She urges that treating yourself is a really important part of self care, which you’re likely in need of after the stress of the holidays.

Additionally, the person who gave you that cash wanted you to enjoy it, so by getting yourself a real gift, you’re using that money in the spirit it was given. Spend that cash, then, on the gifts you didn’t get for Christmas, like that expensive booze you like or that remote-controlled droid you wanted — or perhaps you can use that money to build yourself a booze-drinking droid — t’is the season of miracles, after all.

Once you’ve embraced the cash gift, how can you let people know that you’d prefer cash? Unfortunately, etiquette expert Diane Gottsman says, “There is no polite way to solely ask for cash for Christmas. You can let people know if someone asks, but don’t make it a point to tell people. A gift is not an obligation and someone can give you whatever they would like.”

So if you do get cash, be sure you cherish it — your booze-loving robo-buddy is waiting for you!

6 – History’s Most Elaborate Gifts

This issue’s all about gift-giving made easy, so treat this round up of complex gifts as your guide to what not to do.

The Statue of Liberty
In 1865, French politician Édouard de Laboulaye proposed that France gift America with a statue celebrating our upcoming centennial in 1876, and so French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design the statue. Originally assembled in France, the torch was finished in 1876 and the entire thing was finally completed in 1884. It was then disassembled, shipped overseas, reassembled on Liberty Island, and was presented to America in 1886 — which is kind of the ultimate expression of “better late than never.”

Hanno the White Elephant
King Manuel of Portugal presented Pope Leo X with the gift of a white elephant in 1514. The elephant was transported by land and sea from India and it became a spectacle for the people of Italy, which hadn’t seen an elephant in centuries — not since the fall of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, Leo wasn’t the best pet owner and Hanno died just three years later after an illness. His remains are actually buried under the Vatican.

The Taj Mahal
The architectural wonder that is India’s Taj Mahal was first conceived in 1631 by emperor Shah Jahan following the death of his first wife, envisioning a magnificent palace as a gift to honor her memory. Principle construction of the building was completed in 1643 and it’s believed that it took 22,000 people to assemble the palace, as well as more than 1,000 elephants to transfer materials from all over Asia.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The multi-tiered gardens of Babylon are regarded as one of man’s most stunning achievements, even being named one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Although some archaeologists argue that they never existed (booo), most believe they did: The story behind them was that Neo-Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II built them for his wife, who missed her home in the countryside. Presumably, this was long before the invention of the house plant.

Richard Nixon’s Pandas
In February 1972, President Nixon opened up trade with China, ending a decades-long diplomatic standoff between the two nations. As a show of good faith, Mao Zedong gifted two Pandas to Nixon, who turned them over to the Smithsonian National Zoo. Fortunately, while much of the Nixon administration would soon be embroiled in scandal, the pandas themselves were not implicated in the break-in of the Watergate Hotel, nor the subsequent cover-up. Phew!

7 – What Can You Buy on the 30-Minute Ride to Your Host’s House?

It’s Christmas day and you completely forgot to get a gift for the people cooking you dinner — here’s what to do.

The mall is closed, as are the department stores, so what can you do for that last minute gift? A few places are open — drug stores, gas stations, movie theaters and big-name coffee shops — but that’s usually it. 

Since your gift will inevitably be lacking in quality, go for quantity, which means combining related items. Laura Fabrizio, of Coastal Concierge, recommends trying to make some sort of basket, so in the drug store, find a basket or a bucket or something like that and put together a handful of items that cater to the recipient. If your host is a car guy, grab stuff from the automotive section; if it’s your aunt who’s into beauty products, grab some lotions and creams. If you do all that and you’re not satisfied, get a gift card and add that to the basket.

Another way to go is to swing by the movie theater, get a popcorn bucket and throw in some candies and a gift card to the movies. Or, swing by the coffee shop, buy a mug and throw a gift card in that. Aside from that, your choices are limited: The only other option is to go on your phone and buy tickets to something — and while you’re at it, schedule a reminder to not wait until the last minute next year.

8 – Slice of Heaven

You know that feeling of absolute bliss when you’re cutting wrapping paper and those scissors sail through it perfectly? What makes that feel so good?

Science has yet to dive deep into the subject of wrapping paper sensations, but psychology professor Steve Joordens has a couple of theories as to why you feel so perfectly satisfied when your scissors start to glide. 

One possible reason for that joyful rush is that you’re getting a mini hit of dopamine from a task done well — just like when you toss a ball of trash perfectly into the garbage can, you feel like you’re in tune with the universe and your mad skills are undeniable. Tiny dopamine hits are also why it feels good to set small goals for yourself — that sense of accomplishment makes you feel successful, and it can help to propel you towards a larger goal.

Joordens also says that good feeling may relate to the sound it makes, explaining that there’s a certain sensuality to particular sounds which causes a sort of low-grade euphoria. This experience is known as ASMR, or “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response,” and it’s most often associated with a tingly feeling on the back of your neck. 

Or perhaps it’s just one of the great, unexplainable things about the holiday season, like that warm feeling you get from spreading Christmas cheer, or how Santa is able to fit his big butt down a chimney.

9 – Oh FAQ: How Do I Wrap This Awkward-Shaped Gift?

Guitars, bicycles, highly realistic rubber dolls — there are tons of gifts that are super awkward to wrap, so Angel Lee, of It’s A Wrap NYC, has some tips.

Step #1: Avoid wrapping paper patterns with straight lines — go for something like polka dots or paisley, as they’ll look better over an oddly-shaped surface.

Step #2: If you can wrap your awkward gift with one sheet, measure the longest side of the gift end-to-end, then cut yourself double that amount.

Step #3: Objects with vastly different parts — like a guitar — may require two or more pieces of wrapping paper, and each section is wrapped individually.

Step #4: Place your gift in the middle of the paper and fold two edges over each other, then secure with tape — repeat this as needed if the gift requires more than one sheet.

Step #5: With the remaining open edges, fold the paper into a triangular pattern, like an envelope; rounder objects may take several of these folds. 

Step #6: Put a big bow over the gift to hide any wrapping imperfections, then watch in horror as your beautiful wrapping job is destroyed by your loved one.

10 – Get to Know Your Body: Thumbs

Since you’re all thumbs when it comes to wrapping those gifts, let’s learn a bit about those opposable appendages.

Thumbs Down
“The thumb is not a finger!” hand surgeon Dr. Neela Janakiramanan explains definitively. “We have four fingers and a thumb.” So yeah, you’ve been counting wrong your whole life.

Opposition Research
What does “opposable” actually mean? Janakiramanan explains, “Opposable means capable of facing or touching the fingers. Interestingly, children born without a thumb will automatically substitute their index finger — it will undergo certain anatomical changes where it will naturally try to turn around and rotate like a thumb. So there’s clearly something about how humans use their hands that fundamentally prefers an opposable digit.”

Toe Up from the Flo Up
If someone loses a thumb (say, in a thumb-wrestling match that gets out of hand), Janakiramanan explains that, “a toe transfer is most commonly performed on adults who have lost their thumb, as it’s possible to take either the second toe or the big toe and reattach it microsurgically in the position of the thumb.”

Beware the Koala-pocalypse
The opposable thumb is often pointed to as a landmark moment in human evolution. However, the koala has two opposable thumbs, which it uses to get a good grip on the eucalyptus trees it hangs out on. Which raises the question, while we’re all worried about the forthcoming robot revolution, who’s been keeping an eye on the seemingly innocent koalas?

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