The Gen X Last-Minute-Get-Creative Xmas Present Alternative

By Maggie Wells on 18 December 2008 4 comments
Photo: iStockPhoto

    I’m not quite sure how this all started, but for most of my teens,  twenties and thirties those I exchange xmas gifts with and I have given each other things in threes: music, book, and random. By music, book, random, I mean that each person on my list gets a book to read on winter nights, along with some music, and then something that can only be found in my neighborhood. Back in college this meant a used book, a tape I made myself, and some random item found in a .99 cent store: perhaps a candle or an ice scraper for the car windshield.

    Perhaps not everyone over the years has appreciated my gift giving tactics, but I’ve heard few complaints. The magic of Christmas of course is in the giving and perhaps someone out there was waiting for just that book, song, or that bar of goat’s milk soap. Who knows?

    And so I offer these suggestions for those of you , like me, who are long on intentions but short on cash. You might even explain your little bag of gifts as you give them. Knowing that thought went into everything really does overwhelm the receiver at times--in a good way. Generation X-ers seem to be particularly susceptible to this kind of giving and receiving.  It some how goes with our ethos to have something to read and listen to and something completely inexplicable and rare. We like that. We respond well to anything that sounds not quite in the mainstream of things. We are our own cliche. So, following that logic, here is my last minute get creative Christmas gifts for the gen-Xer in your life:

    The book. Go to your nearest library and find the Friends of the Library sale. If you pay more than $1.00 for a book you paid too much. Go to libraries in nice areas or areas where you know there are book clubs. My advice is someplace with lots of old people. They religiously join book clubs, buy best sellers, and then turn them back in within a few weeks because they get up at 4 am to read and do so too quickly.  If the almost new bestseller isn’t to the taste of the recipient go for the kitsch value. I found my brother in law the sheet music booklet to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album for a dime. A dime! Priceless indeed. Other finds of the season are a set of those damned Ladies Detective series for my mother and the new David Sedaris. The last two for a buck.  Major score was a Mother’s Encyclopedia from the 1950s with great color photos with collage potential for the craftster chicks on my list.

    The music. Now over the years this has definitely been one of those things that has evolved. I no longer make tape compilations with handmade labels. I no longer make CDs with embossed seal makers either. I let iTunes gift cards do the work of it instead. But giving a $10 or $15 gift card is so impersonal and doesn’t say anything to the recipient about music that you think they’d like. Remember too that odds are your friend or relative's musical experiments stopped with either high school, college, or graduate school graduation depending on how far they got in life educationally speaking. Their tastes have fossilized. When they buy new music if at all, they buy the new record by their favorite balding, now corpulent rocker of old.  So now you have the chance to save them from themselves and give them back some dignity in the process. If you don’t give them suggestions they’ll just go and download an old Joe Jackson record (with new bonus tracks!). Help guide their purchases for some contemporary street cred.  I wrap up the gift card  in a nifty list of my top ten suggestions for them to purchase with the gift card based on their past musical taste and where I think they should be headed.

    So, my recipients this year who liked twangy and ethereal chick singers of the 80s and 90s are getting suggestions of the new Jenny Lewis or She & Him for example. It makes aging Gen-Xers feel good about their aging irrelevance to say they own something that came out in 2008. Help them help themselves. And if they are gay, Mexican, your grandfather or all three? You can’t go wrong with suggesting Eydie Gorme’s Personalidad.  That gives them retro street cred. Timeless.

    There’s not an alternative, hipster, gen-Xer worth his or her salt that doesn’t buy into the mantra of think globally, act locally. This is as engrained in our heads as Schoolhouse Rock songs about grammar and government or the Indian Chief crying at all the litter by the river bank in those seventies commercials. So buy your recipient something that is only made in your town. For my family that means goat milk soap and beef jerky (jalapeno flavored). We give the soap to the vegetarians and the jerky to the beef eaters. End of story. These two companies don’t even have a website. You can only find their products where we live. Giving those relatives one of a kind gifts like that mean that they have bragging rights at work. (“See this jerky? It comes from these special cows found only in Plumas County...”). Our generation always wants to feel unique. And voila. For 5 bucks, you just helped them feel different from the rest.

    So these three items go in a used gift bag or a lunch bag painted Christmas-y. And there you have it. If done correctly, you shouldn’t have spent more than $16-20 tops. Depending on your sense of propriety (music downloads) this might even be cheaper.  And of course you could just do one of the three.  If done really well, you may not have even had to leave the house for more than 30 minutes. Happy Holidays.

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Guest's picture

What about your vegan friends?

Guest's picture

Frankly, if you were one of my friends, I would look forward to your gift every single year. I loved the idea of the Christmas stamped paper lunch bags as well. Thanks!

Guest's picture

Loved this. I used to give mix tapes constantly and my husband made cds for a while. We actually own Jenny Lewis but still feel like we haven't found new music that rocks our world. Last great find was Res. So now instead of music, I bake while listening to music. Tomato pie, cheese crackers, derby pie...

Thanks fellow Gen X, you make your generation proud


Guest's picture

I didn't have the same system of threes, but I did used to give books and music and random items as gifts together - when I was in my 20s-early 30s. I do find it hard to find new music I like. Thanks for the reminder of "She and Him" - if I get an iTunes gidt card for Xmas, I'll be downloading that.