Buying presents for grown-up children can be a minefield. They’ve moved out of home, and have lives of their own – lives you might not know all that much about.
If they have children of their own, grandchildren can quickly become the focus on Christmas Day, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect your own offspring.
In fact, a small and thoughtful present to them – especially if they are hosting you – can make all the difference in making the festive period run as smoothly as possible.
But if you are staring into the void, without any ideas of what your grown-up children need or want, it can feel like a Sisyphean task to find the right gift.
Never fear. With my years of experience helping shoppers pick out the right thing, I know exactly how to achieve that glowing feeling of having given a perfect present on Christmas morning.
Here are my top tips for being the best gift-giver this festive season.
The first steps
As hard as it can be to rid your head of all of the endless gift possibilities, especially given how many advertisements there are at this time of year, don’t start with the product itself.
Begin with the person that you are buying for. Use what you know about them to create a shortlist of ideas that are tailored to them as an individual.
Think about what they have done during the year, and the conversations you have had in the last few months. What do they like to do in their spare time? What do they want to do in the next year? Figuring out their passions will help you choose something that is both useful and wanted.
Social media can help with this, for the au fait, as can talking to other relatives and friends of the loved one. Avoid talking just to those in your own generation, as their opinion might be skewed.
While small children cannot always be relied upon as arbiters of taste, they might be able to offer insight into how their parents are enjoying their free time.
If there’s a comedian or an artist they watch all the time on television, or a film they’ve been wanting to see, their children may well have the inside line.
This poll has been active since Nov 10, 2023
Alternatively, is there something you’ve noticed that they might need? If they’re a keen baker, for example, a replacement for a cracked or damaged item in their kitchen, or an upgrade of a piece of equipment, might be very well appreciated.
If they’re a sports nut, ask yourself whether you know which team they support. Could tickets to a game be appropriate, or if they play, equipment or an offer to pay their annual team fees?
Do they wear the kit of their team when they go to support and, if so, has there been a new strip recently?
The problem with collectible items is that collectors usually get there first, so it can be worth making sure that they haven’t already got the present you have in mind.
If they are a keen reader, then the next book in the series is always a wonderful present, although you might need an insider to help figure out what they’re reading now.
Alternatively, often the best gift you can give bookworms is the chance to go to a shop and browse for hours – if you can promise a day out, then it becomes a way to spend more time together after the festive season.
Remember, the present is just one aspect of a gift. The wrapping and experience of the giving is important in creating memories, and a card with a handwritten and thoughtful message is, of course, also key.
While the demands of buying presents for a large family can be significant, you can also rely on the well-established names to provide general advice and support.
Trusting the great institutions of taste, such as Harrods, with what information you do know can be effective, efficient and enjoyable.
Should I ask them what they’d like?
I don’t feel there is a reason not to do this, despite some believing that the very best presents are a surprise. Sometimes a gift that is expected can bring just as much joy, especially if it is still thoughtful.
If you do ask for ideas, be prepared to seek out the gift that has been requested. If you struggle to give up all of the element of surprise, adding smaller and complimentary gifts around the initial request can help to deliver an extra level of thought.
If you are gifting to a close family member, I would recommend purchasing the present requested and a little something extra to open on the day. This is more important if the present that they’ve asked for isn’t something they can open on Christmas day.
All the hoops you have to jump through to secure a Christmas food delivery
Even having a book or a chocolate bar to open can help everyone feel included, and stop any lingering resentment.
You could also add other gifting moments in the run up to the big day. Consider giving close relatives and friends an advent calendar at the beginning of December, as then the Christmas season, and its memories, can be extended.
Should I choose an object or an activity?
Both! Consider Xenia, the ancient Greek social rule about giving something material and non-material (such as hospitality, or in this case an activity).
If you can combine an object with an activity, then you’ve hit the jackpot. For example, offering to take someone for a day out with an express purpose, such as going to a bookshop, can see you combine a more traditional gift with time together.
If you live a long way from where you will be spending Christmas, gifting experiences or tickets to shows or plays can also help lighten the load for when you travel.
But, as a word of warning, giving a shrinking violet a voucher for indoor skydiving might miss the mark entirely.
If you are giving tickets to the theatre, try to make sure it’s something your loved one would want to see. There’s not much worse than being forced to sit through a musical if they make you want to run out of the room screaming.
So, remember to properly tailor your choice, whether it is a physical gift or an experience, to the person you are giving it to.
What should I do if they don’t like my gift?
We have all, at one point or another, received a present that, with the benefit of hindsight, could have been better. But it pays to be polite and grateful, so as the gift recipient, try to hide any disappointment on Christmas morning.
If you are in the unfortunate position of having given someone a present they clearly don’t like, don’t panic. There’s a reason why the saying goes that the thought is what counts, so be gracious in accepting the feedback but don’t feel the need to apologise if you’ve put effort in.
Take note of the criticism, whatever form it takes, and make sure not to make the same mistake next time. If the person you bought for received an excellent present, perhaps have a conversation with whoever gave it to them – it can be a good way to find out what they really like for next time.
If the shoe is on the other foot, be gracious in receiving, and either regift the unwanted present to someone who will like it, or quietly donate it to a charity shop in the new year.
You can then allow your circle of influence to carefully disperse more accurate messages about what you might like better, just in time for next Christmas.
Fifteen freebies up for grabs on your birthday