Black Friday Thoughts on Gift Giving

I have a friend who speaks at HR conferences and meetings throughout the country. It is common for the organizers of these seminars and conferences to give speakers a thank-you gift of some kind.  When asked, my friend said that the best “speakers” gift s/he ever got was a $25 gift card.

Sounds pretty ordinary, doesn’t it?

My friend went on to explain that many conference organizers try to give things that are tied to the region in some way, or have some type of local significance. For example, a speaker at a conference in Louisville, KY, home of the Louisville Slugger baseball bat, might get a miniature baseball bat from the organizers as a thank-you gift. It sounds cute and thoughtful, until the speaker drags the bat to the airport and then tosses it in a trash can, because there is no way the TSA will let you have a bat on an airplane, and the speaker didn’t really want a baseball bat anyway.

It’s not the gift – it’s the thought that counts, right? But gifts like a miniature baseball bat beg the sarcastic question: what were you thinking? That’s the reason a nice, simple gift card from a retailer that sells just about everything was the perfect gift for my friend. It conveyed the proper thought, and was useful and desired by the recipient.

Considering the shopping and buying frenzy that surrounds Black Friday, the entire country is caught up in this idea that they can find the perfect gift at the perfect price, being cute and thoughtful to boot, if they plan properly and get up early enough.

Bullshit. And here’s why:

I love scarves. Anyone who knows me even casually can see this, because I wear them all of the time. But because I love them so much, I buy them a lot and have oodles of them. So if you go to Target on Black Friday and buy a scarf  for me, thinking it’s a great gift – you will probably be wrong. Either I won’t like the color, or the weight, or the shape, or I have 3 just like it.

So now I will have to make a trip to Target, where I will exchange the scarf for Sterlite storage containers. I use those babies everywhere, and I never have enough. And they are expensive. But they aren’t the kind of thing that anyone buys me as a gift.

Wouldn’t it have been easier on everyone if you had just gotten me a Target gift card – at your convenience – in the first place? Less expenditure of precious resources, like gas. Most certainly a time saver. And it isn’t any less “impersonal” than the scarf you got up to buy at 5 am. Since it is what I wanted in the first place, it’s highly personal.

Given the lengths of the return lines I see at the stores right after Christmas, I am not alone in wanting something other than what you bought me. So why do people persist in  this shopping and gift buying nightmare?

In this digital age, it’s super simple to give gift cards or electronic gift certificates. They save everyone time and resources. They’re always the right color and fit. They save precious resources, including time, which everyone wants more of.

Most importantly, they tell the recipient how you feel – which is what giving a gift is all about.





I’m Thankful for People Who Work on Thanksgiving

For the first time in our 25 year marriage, my husband and I will be alone together on Thanksgiving. We will be over 1300 miles from our children and grandchildren, whose number is so large that I am usually required to roast two Thanksgiving turkeys. With just two of us to celebrate the holiday together this year, my Thanksgiving dinner solution was simple.

Eat out.

I live in Naples, Florida, which is mostly a resort town. People flock here from cold climates every November to April to enjoy the beaches and the golf courses. Winter holidays find the area packed with people who all have to eat, so restaurant dining options are plentiful on the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant gets prepared and served by employees. Working stiffs. Waitstaff and dishwashers and prep cooks – people working on the holiday.  I don’t know who will get to share the tip,  but I’ll leave a big one, because I will be thankful that their dedication to their jobs allows me to have a meal without worry and bother.

As a former police officer, I have worked a lot of Thanksgivings (and Christmases, etc.), usually responding to family fights at homes where too much liquor was consumed by too many relatives. So I can sympathize with people whose job forces them to bundle up their kids and ship them off with relatives for the day while they work, because I have been there and done it.

The author, around 1978
Me, around 1978, a working police officer.

I don’t sympathize too much with people who gripe about working on Thanksgiving, though, like the workers from Target. After all, police officers, medical personnel, hotel service, restaurant workers, football players and others* have been working the holiday for years. Everyone seems to have survived just fine.

Maybe the Target workers who are complaining about the loss of  “family time” should think about what they can be thankful for – and it’s not that they have a job. They can also be thankful for others that are working on Thanksgiving, like the police officers who show up  if there is a fistfight  in their store, or the ambulance driver who responds when a customer has a heart attack. These employees, and countless others, have sacrificed family time for years in order to serve the community, keeping it safe, happy, and entertained.

And serving the community is really what working on Thanksgiving is all about – no matter what your job is.

*(Movie theaters are generally open on Thanksgiving, staffed by workers. Here’s a great letter to Target workers about that. Thanks to author Matt Stollak, as well as Victorio Milian for inspiring this blog. )