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An (Oxmas) gift-giving guide

As a child, my dad once got a ketchup bottle for Christmas. It is a story that inevitably resurfaces every year as we sit around the Christmas dinner table, discussing the presents we have received – the good ones as well as the not-so-good ones. As the story goes, he once made a passing remark to an aunt about liking ketchup, and it appeared she took the comment to heart. 

Another genuinely bizarre gift that comes up in family conversations is the bra travel case I received when I was twelve or thirteen. At the time I didn’t own nearly enough bras to put in it, nor did I have many exotic places I needed to transport them to. A few years later I opened a Christmas present from a not-to-be-named family member – a new notebook. Upon opening it, I found there were already multiple entries inside. “Dear diary,” one of the entries read, “Today I got dumped”. 

In the wake of these terrible but amusing presents, I decided to try to discover what it is that makes a good present. In my search, I stumbled upon a video by Van Neistat called The Rules of Gifting. In it, Van (the lesser-known brother of famous NYC vlogger Casey Neistat), lays out his ‘Holy Trinity’ of gifting rules. What the Holy Trinity decrees is that a gift should always have at least two of the following three qualities present (see what I did there). 

The first of the Holy Trinity is thoughtful. Thoughtful presents are ones that are specific and show you have thought about what the person you are giving it to likes. A good example of a thoughtful gift I still think about is a CD I was given several years ago when I had just started driving myself to college. My car, a tiny Ford Fiesta, was equipped with a radio and a CD player but no aux outlet. When one of my friends noticed this, they bought me my favourite album on CD. Very thoughtful.

The second of the Holy Trinity is nice. Nice should be self-explanatory. If the present is something you know the receiver will enjoy, then it is a nice present. Niceness, whilst fairly abstract, should be the easiest of the Holy Trinity to achieve. It is a property found in any good-quality, well-made object. If you are really stuck, Van’s rule of thumb is to buy something which is cheap but expensive. There are certain things that are usually cheap, but if you spend a little more money than usual, they become nice. Take chocolate, for example. Chocolate is cheap, but nobody wants just a Snickers for Christmas. Yet, investing ten pounds in some artisan chocolates from a local store should be relatively affordable and result in a gift that is undeniably nice.

The third of the Holy Trinity is made. Made is a little more ambiguous, and the hardest to achieve of the three. What made means is either making a gift yourself or leaving a personal mark on it. Books are an easy way to incorporate an element of made-ness since you can write a short message on the inside cover. Adding the receiver’s name, a short greeting, and the date can go a long way. If you are creative, then homemade jewelry, home-baked goods, playlists and old-school CD mixes, as well as crafted, knitted or crocheted items are all examples of made gifts. Of course, making gifts isn’t always easy in practice. If you’re not very creative nor artistically inclined like myself, then there is often the option to add someone’s initials or other details on items like notebooks, wallets, or bags. Made means that your hand is in the gift in some way.

Van includes an additional rule to made gifts which I should also mention. Gifting an object that you have made entirely yourself can be a risky business. Whilst it is usually true that the gift receiver will like something that you have made yourself, there are always cases when this can go wrong. You don’t want to give someone a large painting that won’t fit in their tiny student house, no matter how good it is. Therefore it is a good rule to only give homemade gifts that are smaller than your hand. This way, it won’t take up too much space, and they won’t feel too bad if they don’t like it.

Thoughtful, nice, and made. Two of these together will make a good present. But if you can check off all three, that’s the Holy Trinity of gift-giving.

Van adds that if you listen to the people whom you need to buy gifts for, they will usually tell you exactly what they want. If you are shopping with a friend and they make a comment about their favourite perfume or a book they have been wanting to read, make a mental note of it. Or, better still, write it down to save for later. This way you will always be prepared for what to buy for someone. 

Buying gifts for lots of people – especially at Christmas – can certainly be overwhelming; hopefully this advice helps.

Adapted from Van Neistat’s video, The Rules of Gifting – all credit to him. Go check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqYIkm66RSI

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