Cognitive Daily

[Originally posted in December, 2006]

So it’s December 22, and you are one of the few people who hasn’t already bagged out of work to get ready for the holidays. You’ve been absolutely deluged — swamped with work — the entire month of December. You’ve hardly had time to think about Christmas, let alone shop. But now, with the holiday just a couple short days away, you’re faced with the shocking truth. You’ll be attending three different Christmas parties (or whatever alternative you prefer). Gifts will be exchanged. What’s an overworked procrastinator to do? Would gift certificates be appropriate? What about cash? Everyone can use cash, can’t they?

Well, maybe they can, but what will “everyone” think of your thoughtfulness when it’s obvious that you spent very little time thinking about what to get them? That was the subject of last week’s Casual Friday study. You know, the one you were too busy to even think about participating in.

Fortunately, 192 readers took enough time off from holiday shopping to respond to our survey, and their responses about the appropriateness of a wide range of gifts were remarkably consistent. Read on to find out what to give (and what NOT to give) for Christmas:

We first asked readers to tell us how they’d like to be told what gift recipients want. Here are the results:


As you can see, providing a list is seen as the best way of telling loved ones what you want — though it’s not significantly different from requesting a single item, or asking for no gift at all. The worst thing you can do is to refuse to indicate your preference. We were curious if the age or spending budget of the gift-givers was related to how they want recipients to tell them what they want, but we could find no significant relation, though there was a trend for older gift-givers to prefer a list.

But what about the gifts themselves? If you’ve waited until the last minute, is it okay to give a gift certificate? Apparently, it is:


In 20-20 hindsight, I probably should have included “a specific item requested by the recipient” on the list of choices, but among these choices, gift certificates of all kinds were rated as “appropriate.” A donation to a charity on the recipient’s behalf was somewhat less appropriate, and cash was, though still appropriate, the least appealing gift of the bunch. While again there were no significant differences between age or budget groups, there was a trend towards older respondents rating a donation to charity as more appropriate — though still not as good as gift certificates.

Finally, what’s an appropriate way to get rid of an inappropriate gift? Here, our respondents were quite opinionated:


Simply throwing the unwanted gift away was nearly universally disliked, while exchanging for the proper size was almost unanimously approved. However, though trashing a lousy gift was unacceptable, donating the same gift to charity was seen as relatively appropriate. There was a trend for older givers and those with larger budgets to approve of both exchanging gifts for another item and returning them for cash, but otherwise, there were no significant differences in the responses to these questions either.

This year (2008) we’ll be posting repeats for the next week. In the meantime, why not use the comments thread on this post to exchange holiday greetings, or to let us know what your favorite / most appreciated gift was?


  1. #1 Size
    December 26, 2008

    I’ll get things started (I don’t comment much, but I do enjoy the blog considerably). I hope everyone has had a great holiday so far and I wish you all a happy new year! Party heartily, my friends!

  2. #2 Ben_Wraith
    December 26, 2008

    Happy Boxing day everyone! My favorite gift this Christmas was actually cash.

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