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Author: Brian B

Celebrate Greenery, Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year, with a Return to Spring Dinner Party

Celebrate Greenery, Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year, with a Return to Spring Dinner Party

spring field
You can never hold back spring, or its greenery | Image courtesy Stocksnap.io user Allef Vincius

My wife and I live in Chicago, near Lake Michigan. We walk to the shore often to appreciate its wild beauty, an untameable giant abutting one of man’s great cities. And while it is beautiful, the howling and biting wind that whips off it this time of year reminds us that we live in a very cold area. Once Christmas passes, our thoughts and hopes immediately begin to turn to spring.  

This year, our longing for a change of seasons came a little early, partly because it’s been a mild winter, which makes me think spring is just around the corner (spoiler: it isn’t!), but also because we learned that Pantone’s Color of the Year 2017 is Greenery.

Pantone produces the best color guides out there. If you want Sky Blue to look exactly like the sky, you go to Pantone. Fashion mavens and manufacturing professionals, packaging businesses and graphic artists all turn to them. And, this year, they’ve decided we could all use a little more Greenery, described as a “fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when nature’s greens revive, restore, and renew,” as well as “life-affirming.” Honestly, we agree.

That’s why we’ve already started planning a “Return to Spring” party. We’ll be hosting our soiree as soon as March goes out like a lamb, which could be early this year. A spring party can have many themes, with many ways to celebrate, but here are some ideas to make sure your renewal celebrations feel like something new, fresh, and dewy, with earth-bursting hope.

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Greenery Sets the Tone

floral spring wreath
Open your party with something pretty | Image courtesy Etsy seller Leopard

The cool thing about Greenery is that it works well with so many other colors. Pantone calls it a “transition color,” as it fits on a bunch of different spectrums, everything from Forest Floor to Moody Blooms to Calm It Down. When choosing colors for your party, you have a lot to work with, and it comes down to personal choice.

Myself, I kind of like calmer spring colors, something bright, but still a little subdued, with a hint of winter’s cold still trapped inside. I usually lean toward darker violets, purples, and reddish-pink for accents. It feels to me more transitory, less abrupt.

Of course, you may prefer brighter paisleys, more explosive reds and yellows, or the pastel colors of Easter. Anything you choose will be great, but you should try to pick a dominant theme. And this might depend on if your party is simply to celebrate the changing of the seasons, or if you’re tying it to a specific date or event.

A Spring Fling Theme

There are so many reasons to have a spring party. My favorite is “just because,” as in “a party just because we’ve made it through the teeth of another Midwest winter, and, also, I’m bored.” But in case you were looking for more themed ideas, here are a few good ones:

spring derby hat
A Kentucky Derby party demands great hats | Image courtesy Etsy seller IrinaSardarevaHats
  • Spring Equinox: The Spring Equinox is officially on March 20th in the Northern Hemisphere this year, which falls on a Monday. For those of you who can’t host a Monday party (read: most of us), it’s ok to have it on the preceding or following weekend. Set up a fake Stonehenge. Honor Dionysius with wine and bread. Or, have guests make pledges for the rest of the year, fresh with the gift of renewal. For some reason, a lot of people also try to balance eggs on the Equinox, although the symbolism there is unclear.
  • Cinco de Mayo: This Mexican holiday happens on the 5th of May, which this year is conveniently on a Friday. If you want to have a party along these lines, make sure you have a good margarita set, plenty of delicious Mexican dishes, and, most importantly, a sincere appreciation for a wonderful and vibrant culture. This year, make a pledge to honor what makes the diversity around us so wonderful, and something to be celebrated, instead of just borrowed.
  • The Kentucky Derby: “And they’re off!” My wife loves the Kentucky Derby, and it’s hard not to. The raw power of galloping horses, the thrill of competition, the age-old traditions, and, of course, the hats. People love getting dolled up in seersucker and fancy dresses with eye-catching headwear while enjoying fine finger foods and mint juleps. This year the Derby is on the 6th of May.

The Many Colors of Spring

mason jar bouquet
Feels like a farm afternoon | Image courtesy Etsy seller EmpatheticElephant

But, again, you don’t need a specific date to recognize the coming spring, you just need to recognize it. Which is why this year we’re going to plan for a few activities for our dinner party, including making flower arrangements. After all, Greenery evokes feelings of a bouquet just waiting to bloom. Why not make a real one?

You might remember that my wife and I love rustic farm-style everything, like our rustic farmhouse-inspired dinner party last fall. Over the years, we’ve collected a bunch of mason jars of different colors, sizes, and styles that we’ll pull out for our guests to use, as well as a supply of thin rope and twine, and flowers of all different colors. Then, we’ll just encourage guests to play with and explore creating their own spring arrangements. Some of the flowers we’ll be providing include:

  • Daffodils (with their bursts of yellow and white)
  • Anemone (whose pale blue seems bolder against the green)
  • Tulips of any color
  • Lily of the Valley (normally late spring, but blooms early with a mild winter)
  • Witch Hazel (yellow or red and blooms late winter to early spring if we have an earlier party)

Set a Spring Feast for Your Guests

Our Greenery-inspired party is planned, but we’re still debating on the meal. We’ve narrowed it down to:

spring green onions
Bringing green to your table | Image courtesy flick’r user Eugene Kim

Roast Chicken with Spring Onions and Fennel: This is one of my favorite dishes, and is surprisingly simple, with the spring onions providing a buoyant and crisp, but not overwhelming flavor. Ideally, you can get the spring onions and the fennel very fresh, like from a farmers’ market, when both are still bulbing.   

Or

Rabbit Confit: Rabbits are a sign of spring’s renewal, so why not enjoy their bounty. That’s my argument, anyway, and this recipe, which finishes with a brief taste of barbeque smoke, makes spring feel like the prelude to summer, rather than just the end of winter.

And that’s sort of what it’s all about. Spring, to me, is a state of mind. When I start reading about pitchers and catchers reporting to training in late February, I already feel the warmth of a baseball game, even if it is snowy outside. I start to get the feeling of the grade-schooler who stares at the clock, knowing that each moment brings her a little closer to running around a playground.

That’s what a spring party offers. It reminds me that underneath these wintering layers, my friends are still there, still with their same jokes and excitement for tomorrow. I know that the scratchy skeleton trees will bloom again, occluding our windows with their glorious greenery. I know it’s coming. Planning for a party lets the colorful spring butterflies flutter inside me.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate the coming of spring? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Meatballs and Meditation: How to Host an Eat, Pray, Love Friendship Book Club Soiree

Meatballs and Meditation: How to Host an Eat, Pray, Love Friendship Book Club Soiree

Just after Valentine’s Day 2006, at a time when people thought print was dying and new books couldn’t move the needle, a comedic memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, at once both reverent and irreverent, cynical and romantic, hit the shelves. Despite (or maybe because of) the romantic holiday having just passed, it became an immediate best-seller. This was Eat, Pray, Love, a tale of divorce, frustration, and travel. It is, at its essence, deeply human. And that’s why it was, and still is, so celebrated.

eat pray love sign
Eat and pray and love | Image courtesy Etsy seller WoodSignStudio

To say it was a phenomenon is an understatement. It remained on the New York Times best-seller list for an astonishing 187 weeks. It was sanctified by Oprah. Its popularity only grew when the 2010 movie version, with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem came out. And now, it is a staple of book clubs and friendships, and people still have Eat, Pray, Love parties.

There’s a good reason for that. What do we do when we gather with friends? We eat, of course, celebrating the fundamental and the libertine luxuries of life. We celebrate the connection we have with each other, and the spiritual energy that flows within us. And, most of all, we celebrate love.

So if you’re thinking of hosting an Eat, Pray, Love party, here are a few tips. You want to offer a holistic experience, much like Gilbert did. You want to celebrate and laugh, you want to think and learn, and you want to be connected with your friends and loved ones. A well-thrown Eat, Pray, Love party doesn’t have to take you around the world. It just has to let you travel the universe.

EAT!

There’s a very good reason why Gilbert traveled to Italy to indulge her corporeal side: very few people celebrate the joy of eating well with more verve than the Italians. Food is a huge part of the culture—or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the culture revolves around the joy of eating. Large tables full of laughter, wine passed around, days spent cooking with the people you love, and amazing food as a result. The food and friendship blend together. It all gets passed back and forth.

Italian cook book
Who is your favorite Italian chef? | Image courtesy Amazon.com

You can use amazing Italian food to do the same at your own party. You can try modern cuisine, like a mushroom risotto or Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico, or classic dishes like a Panzanella. If you don’t feel like putting together a full meal, instead offer a couple appetizers:

  • Grilled octopus
  • Flatbread with prosciutto and fontina
  • Bruschetta
  • White beans and rosemary crostini
  • Margherita pizza

Needless to say, you don’t have to stick to Italian food. While their particular cuisine and gioia della vita plays a huge role, the point is acceptance, not accents. You have to accept that food isn’t something to be steered away from, but to be celebrated.

Our ability to enjoy a meal is part of what makes us human. We don’t eat on the run. We can sit back with a full plate of amazing food, laugh with the ones we love, and enjoy a slow, languorous meal as the evening turns into night. There’s nowhere to go, but everywhere to be.

PRAY!

mala beads
Meditative mala beads | Image courtesy Etsy seller TribeAzureFairTrade

After Italy, Gilbert, of course, goes to India, on a half cock-eyed, half-searching quest for spirituality, a kind of sincere expression of longing that is absent from her very modern life. She finds it in fits and starts, sometimes getting close to touching the divine, and sometimes feeling very far away.

But through it all, she’s learning more and more about herself, her capabilities, and how she can find her inner self away from the fleshy and honking confusion of the world. And, to many, that is a form of finding the universal.

You might not have time for all of that at your party, and you might not have the finest yogis in attendance, but you can still meditate or practice yoga. It’s a great way to get your body relaxed before the big meal, and to clear your mind. It’s a way to find a center in our busy lives.

yoga mat spray
Yoga mat spray to set the aromatic mood | Image courtesy Etsy seller DaveandAthena

Ask people to bring yoga mats, or provide your own. Even if you aren’t trained (or don’t have a friend who is), you can help walk people through beginner stretches. Some might be pros, some might be doing this for the first time. None of you will likely receive total enlightenment. But, everyone will be trying something.

You can also set time away to meditate. You’ll want to create a peaceful room where people can explore, and then silence, that insistent inner monologue. Turn off the lights, and light up some meditation candles. Use aromatherapy to relax people, helping them find their center. White noise, or crystal singing bowls, can get people in the right spirit.

Gilbert didn’t pack it in and become a shaman, and your guests won’t either. But you’ll have a new appreciation for stillness, which isn’t the opposite of joyful noise. It’s the perfect companion.

Never forget to LOVE!

So how do you celebrate love? Both of the other aspects—the libertine and the spiritual—were forms of love, of course. And they revolved around love. A meal is just food on a plate unless it is accompanied by love, and finding yourself is a way of connecting with the driving force in our life. But at your party, how do you celebrate like Gilbert? It seems impractical at best, and really pushy, to demand that people find a new love of their life by the end of the evening. So, I suggest a friendship book exchange.

Friendship is such a powerful force and, to celebrate your time with those you love, give each other your favorite books about this incredible and complicated subject as a way to remind others that they’re important to you.

Charlotte's Web
What’s your favorite book about friendship? | Image courtesy Amazon.com

A book exchange, which can be organized like a gift exchange to make sure that everyone gets exactly the book they most covet, is a way to celebrate friendship. The books can be modern or old, for adults or for children (indeed, children’s books are often the wisest about friendship). But they should be about that unique bond. Like what we eat, or how we find our center, friendship is a bond we choose. That makes it special. That this can also help spur the next book club meeting is a bonus.

Some of our favorite books on friendship include:

  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Giving Tree
  • My Brilliant Friend
  • Summer Sisters
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
  • Truth and Beauty
  • Circle of Friends
  • Let’s Take the Long Way Home
  • Into the Tangle of Friendship

These are fiction and memoir, for young and old. Really, for everyone. These are new books, or classics to revisit. They can always spur incredible conversation, and reflections on what matters in your life.

That’s sort of the whole point of the Eat, Pray, Love party: to remember what matters most. It’s a reminder that life is a constant journey, even if you are staying home. It’s a way to look inside ourselves and find who we are, and in the party, to celebrate it with those we love, whose company nourishes us as much as food or meditation.

You may not go to Italy to dine or India to meditate or Bali to find love. But you don’t have to. You can do that all at home, with the friends you love. You can find the universe that isn’t just within yourself, but is yourself.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate your favorite book? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Modern Paper First Wedding Anniversary Gifts for Couples Living in the Digital Age

Modern Paper First Wedding Anniversary Gifts for Couples Living in the Digital Age

When my first anniversary was coming up, all those long two years ago now, my wife and I had to look up what the traditional gift theme was. She had guessed it was paper, but I dismissed that. “Paper,” I scoffed incredulously. Turns out, as is so often the case, she was right and I was wrong.

paper heart tree
The roots of love | Image courtesy Etsy seller DayThreeCreations

My wife and I are not very traditional, so, paradoxically, we decided it would be fun to try to follow the spirit of the anniversary traditions. But paper is a hard one, especially in a world that is increasingly less paper-oriented.

I wanted memorable and in-theme so I had a decision to make. Should I do something with paper, but that’s original, interesting, and reflective of both our relationship and the digital times we live in, or eschew paper altogether, but still somehow try to fit the theme. 

I say you can do either. The point of these gifts is to exchange a thoughtful reminder of your love. I don’t think using the “themes” is constraining. Instead, it’s like a haiku. Sure, freeform poetry allows you to say anything you want, however you want to, but writing a haiku makes you think more about how to express yourself. The constraints, the form, force more thoughtfulness. And, like Hamlet’s nutshell—indeed, like within your heart—there is an infinite world inside those boundaries. And so, here are a few of my favorite ideas for a modern couple on their paper anniversary.

A Photo or Pushpin Map

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picture map
A celebration of where you’ve been—where you’re going | Image courtesy Etsy seller MemorableMats

One of the great joys in life is being able to see new things with the person you love. I often tell my wife she’s one of the greatest appreciators of things that I’ve ever known, which is why I love going places with her. She sees things I miss.

That’s one of the reasons I love putting pushpin or photo maps up in our house. We have pictures from the states we’ve visited, and a pushpin map of the world reminding us that we need to go out and see more together. Every time I look at the state map, I see a reminder of a great meal or an aching sunset or even that rainy night spent in a surprisingly creepy hotel on the lapping shores of Lake Erie. And every blank spot is a possibility for future memories.

Of course maps, in general, are a great anniversary gift. A vintage map of the town in which you met or were married or honeymooned in can be a visualization of that memory. They aren’t just pictures printed on paper: they’re representations. They indicate something real and solid, human and wild. People don’t have maps on the wall because they’re lost. They have them because they’ve found something.

An E-Reader (Loaded with Some Favorites)

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Even though we’re old-fashioned and partial to paper books, I’ve begun to accept that e-readers are just considerably more convenient, especially when traveling. They also make great gifts for an anniversary because you can give something very useful, that’s technologically redolent of paper, and that can contain so much in the way of thoughtfulness.

Maybe you can find books they read as children, and aren’t going to buy again, but hold a special place in their heart. Maybe you can find a collection of poems, or a reading from your wedding. Maybe you can get a subscription to that cooking magazine he’s been wanting. Whatever it is, your e-reader opens up a world of possibilities for the year ahead.

A Folded Book Art Sculpture

folded book art
Folded book art | Image courtesy Etsy seller Elysianthings

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Maybe books are still a huge part of your life, even if you have switched partially or entirely to an e-reader. In that case, a big trend now is book origami. This takes a full hardcover book and carefully folds each page to create an image, some letters, or a note.

I’ve seen a lot of couples use their initials with a heart in between. It’s a striking 3D image, jumping out at you like a personalized pop-out.

These are surprising, both as gifts and in the house. It takes a few seconds for people to appreciate the level of artistry and care. This can be a DIY, or you can have an artisan make one for you. You can select a book that might mean something to both of you (as long as it isn’t the last copy in the world) or a generic sort of Reader’s Digest compilation. What’s important is that you are using paper to create, and to celebrate, something unique.

Work on a Picture Frame Project—Together

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Gifts don’t have to be exchanged. They can be crafted together. A more handy friend of mine once built some montage-style windowpane picture frames, and she and her husband spent part of their anniversary putting in photos from their relationship. They went through albums and picked out their favorites, spending a pleasant and warm evening of reminiscing.

You can make one together. Or you can buy one. It’s sort of the inverse of the digital age, actually: sitting down with real, tangible photographs. They may not last as long, and they may fade, but there’s something less ephemeral about holding an actual picture, and putting it in a frame, and hanging it up. It’s something you’ve created together, out of paper, that can last a lifetime.

Plant a Tree in Their Honor

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plant a tree
Water with symbolism | Image courtesy Etsy seller MemoryGiftTree

As we move more fully into a paperless age, and one in which forests face unprecedented threats, you might want to move away from paper entirely. Indeed, you might want to do the opposite of using paper, which is to plant a tree. There are many services which allow you to plant a tree in someone’s name, usually in a federal forest, for a small fee.

You can do so for them, or for a cause they believe in, or in the name of someone they have lost. But no matter what you do, this is the most movingly symbolic gift.

The first year of your marriage is still a greenshot. It’s a promise and a possibility. You’re bursting out of the ground, looking for light and air, with years of growth ahead of you. You’ll grow and mature, and have lightning strikes and summers where children read beneath your spread branches. There will be darkness and falling leaves and there will be renewals. There will be long summers. There will be the full stretch of life.

You’re only a year in. You’re still so much potential energy, like that contained in the smallest seed. No matter what paper gift you choose, you’re honoring the short but life-changing past, and your life-containing future.

Paper may seem flimsy and smooth. But fold it over a few times. It may have more wrinkles, but it keeps getting stronger. It becomes nearly impossible to tear.

Tell us your anniversary ideas on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.

Relaxation Gift Ideas for Anxiety Prone Loved Ones to Inspire a Calm and Serene Mind

Relaxation Gift Ideas for Anxiety Prone Loved Ones to Inspire a Calm and Serene Mind

inhale, exhale
Inhale. Exhale. | Image courtesy Etsy seller GalaDigitalPrints

We all know someone who’s always anxious about, well, everything. While everyone gets nervous about this or that, for some people, anxiety affects their daily life. We often refer to them as “nervous” or “a real worrier,” but those labels simplify what our anxious loved ones experience, and even giving them a gift can create stress for both the giver and the givee. After all, you don’t want to give them something that will make their anxiety worse, like concert tickets if they have social anxiety.

Remember, you aren’t trying to “fix” them. So, when gifting to an anxious friend or family member, the hope is to support them, nourish them, and call out all the wonderful things you love about them while, yes, keeping their anxieties in mind. Gifts should ease stress, and help reduce some of the secondary symptoms or primary causes of anxiety. After all, giving a gift should never be about you, but about helping your loved one enjoy life to the fullest.

Gift Ideas for People with Anxiety

Many of these ideas can be helpful for people with normal, wholly explicable anxiety about specific things, such as being new parents or having your team in the Super Bowl (and no, I’m not comparing the two…really). But they’re also extremely helpful for people suffering from general anxiety disorders:

yoga mat
A home yoga mat can be a solitary way to find peace | Image courtesy Target.com

A White Noise Machine

Some of the symptoms of clinical anxiety include restlessness, fatigue, and an inability to sleep. The mind is always running, and it can be extremely acute. But white noise machines can help drown out that insistent inner voice, and are proven to encourage sleep. That shouldn’t be underestimated. Not sleeping right is downright unhealthy. A good night’s rest isn’t a cure, of course, but it can help mitigate some of the symptoms of anxiety and stress.

Yoga Classes or Accessories

One year, I signed my particularly anxious friend Mark and I up for yoga classes. I had never done it before, and neither had he, so we were able to be yoga newbies together.

Now, that doesn’t always work—the public aspect might be hard for people with specific types of anxiety, and you might seem like you’re forcing them into doing something.

But there are other ways to enjoy the proven therapeutic benefits of yoga without having to take classes at a studio. You can gift them yoga mats, DVDs or Blu-Rays (or subscriptions to streamed health channels), yoga pants, and much more. That way they can enjoy it without being out in public.

An Indoor Fountain

indoor fountain
The soothing sounds of running water | Image courtesy Amazon seller T&R Company

This is similar to the white noise machine, but for when your friend is awake. People love fountains. The sound of running water is inherently natural, and stands in contraposition to the unnatural way in which so many of us live, surrounded by pinging technology.

There is so much of the modern world that can cause stress or nervousness. Being able to sit on your couch, close your eyes, and feel that you are in a Tennyson-esque idyll can help some of that unnecessary anxiety to melt away.

Organizational Tools

One thing that Mark always talks about is being disorganized. So, for his birthday this year, I’ve been looking at easy organizational tools, like closet organizers or better shelving systems (which improve upon his careful system of putting whatever, wherever).

It’s not just a matter of buying things, either. I’ve sent him really helpful storage and organizational guides so that he can get a handle on what needs to be done, and my wife and I have volunteered our time as well. Well, she’s much better at it than I am. But I can take directions.

Soothing Bath Products

bath caddy
Baths can offer peaceful alone time | Image courtesy Etsy seller LoveYourselfBath

There are times when being alone can be uncomfortable for someone with anxiety. But, there are also times when it can be great, if the mood is right. And a warm bath always seem to help that mood.

People who fear disaster might be overanxious about dropping their book in the bath, or spilling their beverage, or knocking a candle in. But a bath caddy can prevent that, letting the mind be at ease. Bath salts and bath bombs are also great aromatherapeutic ways to relax, and let the mind be free of itself.

A Journal

Sometimes, with anxiety, the mind is an enemy, always working its way around to the worst case scenario. A mind that’s allowed to wander unchecked can find some dark corners. That’s where a journal can come in handy.

A journal can create focus and reflection in a more organized way, letting an anxious person work through their thoughts, rather than letting their thoughts work through them. It allows for creativity and personal growth. It lets the mind work for, rather than against, itself.

The Gift of Friendship

a leather journal
A journal lets the mind find itself | Image courtesy Etsy seller MedievalJourney

Really, the line running through all these ideas is friendship. Your friendship and your understanding are keys to helping an anxious friend cope with the world, whether it’s temporary, cause-driven anxiety over something specific, or a clinical condition.

You are being there for a friend, and are taking their anxiety not as something to be cured, or dismissed, or certainly not something they “should just get over,” but as something to live with in the best possible way. You’re helping deal with symptoms while working on causes.

You’re looking at your friend and saying you’re there for them. That, your presence, is the ultimate present any loved one with anxiety needs.

Let us know how you help friends with anxiety on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.

Last Minute Oscar Party Planning Ideas That Blend Hollywood Glamour with Glitzy Fun

Last Minute Oscar Party Planning Ideas That Blend Hollywood Glamour with Glitzy Fun

I have a confession: I don’t hate the Oscars. I know I’m supposed to grumble about how you can’t really objectively judge art, but my wife and I watch every year. I’ll also pretend I don’t know who everyone is, saying things like, “What’s a Hayden Panettiere,” or whatever, but I peruse the celeb clickbait articles. Sure, I’ll tell myself that my fingers did so on their own, but we know the truth. When it comes down to it, I still love the glamour of Hollywood.

oscar party invitation
Your invitation to the Oscars | Image courtesy Etsy seller KristenMcGillivray

What I don’t love, is throwing an Oscar party, because the Oscars are kind of weird, right? If you have friends over for the game, you can talk during it. If people are over to watch a movie, you don’t really talk at all (that’s not a hypothetical: you do not talk during movies at my house).

But the Oscars are different. You want to hear what the people are saying so you can joke about it, but you don’t want total silence, since hearing a millionaire thank their investment consultant can get a little tedious. It’s long stretches of tedium punctuated by drama and excitement.

But, I finally realized, that doesn’t have to be limiting for a party. In fact, it’s liberating. It gives you a chance to do some cool stuff as a host to break up the long stretches, and to make sure that everyone is having a good time throughout. I mean, I can’t promise that your guests are going to have as good a night as someone who wins an Oscar. But, they’ll have a much better time than someone whose idea of an Oscar night event used to be fake-complaining to their wife (and, it goes without saying, a way better time than the wife).

Here are a few ways to make sure your party is better-remembered than Crash. Envelope, please?

Oscar Ballots, Red Carpets, and Gift Baskets

Fruit basket prize
A Golden State variety gift basket | Image courtesy Amazon seller Golden State Fruit

This activity is a no-brainer. Have everyone fill out a form picking the winners—but not just the standard categories. Feel free to be creative! Some ideas include:

  • Longest speech
  • First person to mention politics
  • Jokes made by the host that no one laughs at
  • Most revealing dress
  • Times the camera cuts to George Clooney grinning ruefully

Of course, the winner needs a prize. A gift basket is the way to go here, like the bags every attendee of the big show gets to take home. It’s no different than studios wining and dining voters.

And, you can present the prize on its very own “red carpet,” or, basically, a fancy red table runner. This is also where your snacks and appetizers can be shown off, along with whimsically framed photos of celebs, if you’d like. The size differential will let movie stars know that, no matter how famous and beloved they are, pigs in a blanket are always more important.

Elegantly Dressed Appetizers

fondant cake toppers
Fondant makes it easy | Image courtesy Etsy seller SugarDecorByLetty

OK, maybe pigs in a blanket aren’t terribly Hollywood, although they have a permanent place at any of my parties. Here are a few more elegant options:

  • Spinach and goat cheese tartlets: You can change the name of these to “starlets,” if you want to make it more movie-like.
  • Seared steak lettuce cups: The steak makes you think of the decadent glamour of old Hollywood, while the lettuce reminds you of the health-conscious stars of today.
  • Blue crab beignets: Old ideas made fancy. Sound familiar?
  • Ham and cheese croquettes: Every year there’s a movie about a hardscrabble blue-collar family rising above it all. Here’s a tribute to them. Also, it’s ham and cheese, and you literally can’t go wrong with it.  

And, for dessert, just add pre-made Hollywood inspired fondant toppers to homemade (or store bought) cupcakes for an easy way to make them shine brighter than the faux diamonds on all those dresses.

Popcorn: Since the Dawn of the Movie Era

It’s sort of weird that there’s one food explicitly connected with movies, right? When we’re in a movie theater, we feel we must get popcorn. Frankly, I love that. I love movie popcorn to a (literally) unhealthy degree. And so do most people, which is why you should have it at your party.

popcorn bar
Make your Oscar party pop… sorry | Image courtesy Etsy seller penandpaperflowers

Get a popper, get some butter and salt, and, if you’re me, that’s all you need for popcorn bliss.

However, other people seem to want more varieties, which is why popcorn bars have become so popular lately. You’ll need sweets, lots of different seasonings, and classic treat bags. People can have all the popcorn they want, and can really feel like they’re at the movies.

And then, when everyone is settled in their seats, snacks at hand, ballots counted, surprise one or two of your friends with a custom-made Oscar. This has to be planned in advance, of course, but it’s a great way to round out an evening.

The winner of the ballots gets the fruit basket, but you can also pick friends for idiosyncratic awards, like your friend who eats popcorn one kernel at a time, or the friend who shushes everyone at the end of each commercial break. My award would be “Most Likely To Pretend Not to Like Something He’ll Spend Four Hours Reading About Tomorrow.” Everyone can go home with a trophy. And everyone can be a winner, without having to appear on the cover of Us Weekly every time you want to buy some hot dogs.

You can have a great Oscar party at your house, with people whose company you enjoy, to celebrate one of the more harmlessly goofy things in American life: being genuinely happy or upset for people who will be jetting to Paris the next day. You’ll realize, when it’s over, that you may have been reluctant, but it was worth it. It’s an honor just to have friends to spend time with. And you can nominate yourself for that.

Tell us your best Oscar party stories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.

Simple and Sweet DIY Coworker Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for the Office

Simple and Sweet DIY Coworker Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for the Office

office valentine
Image courtesy Etsy seller KerrysBungalow

There are few questions more fraught in the workplace than, “So, do you have Valentine’s Day plans?” It can lead to some awkward moments. The answer could be, “No, for I have yet to find love,” or, “We’re going skydiving with heart-shaped parachutes,” and then everyone else feels like scrambling to improve their plans. And many people just say, “I don’t really do Valentine’s Day.”

Work relationships are an interesting middle ground in our lives. You spend a ton of time at work, and really get to know people, but being too gushy is sometimes frowned upon. It makes Valentine’s Day delicate.

That’s why you should just have fun with it—and where the idea of a gift exchange can come in. Having a no-pressure, slightly goofy gift exchange on Valentine’s Day means everyone gets something, everyone gives something. After all, there’s nothing worse than being the one kid who didn’t get a card in their little cardboard box. Help your coworkers avoid heartbreak with these Valentine’s Day gift ideas for the office.

The Sweet Tooth Swap

I know, I know: Valentine’s Day comes right after you’ve finally worked through all the candy and sweets at your house from the holidays, but, on the other hand: more candy.

tabletop candy decorations
Sweet desktop decorations turn the office into a candyland | Image courtesy Etsy seller SweetGiftsbyStar

Having a “Sweet Tooth Swap” can be a fun and low-cost office gift exchange. Everyone just brings their favorite candy, whether it’s a tube of Toblerone’s, a bag of assorted Hershey’s Nuggets, or those cool “passport chocolates.” It’s a nice idea because everyone will get some sweet treats, regardless of their relationship status.

That’s the thing with Valentine’s Day: it’s a centuries-old tradition, but many people think it’s a “made-up” and commercialized holiday and that the various pressures are absurd. But the pressures often still feel real. So a candy exchange is a “sweet” way to lighten the office mood, especially if the gifting includes festive decor and some party activities, like:

  • Decorate desks with candy centerpieces (especially if you can pay for it with company money).
  • Have a goofy toy bow-and-arrow, like Cupid’s, that the person picking a candy gift holds. Tell them not to shoot it at any coworkers—they aren’t actually cupid, after all.  
  • Play games. I know I said not to shoot the arrows at each other, but if you have room in the office, set up a paper heart on the wall and have a competition to see who can hit the center of it with the arrows. Make sure, though, that the arrows are foam.  
  • Have a “Worst Valentine’s Day Ever” story competition. Everyone tells a quick, funny story. We all have them. Mine, for instance, involves a very unfortunately spilled bowl of soup. That way, everyone can laugh at how silly the whole thing can be.

Office Inspired Gift Exchange Ideas

Maybe your office has decided against candy; after all, a lot of workplaces are very concerned with health and wellness these days. But a “granola exchange” rarely sets hearts fluttering. Remember, though, that Valentine’s Day doesn’t just mean hearts: it encompasses affection, kindness, and thoughtfulness for everyone in our life.

des korganizer
A rustic chic look for the office | Image courtesy Etsy seller StacysCountryDesigns

And, it can be really helpful to set up a gift exchange online to make sure that everyone gets something, and that people stay within their spending limits. No need to put more pressure on the occasion.

Here are some simple and fun office gift exchange ideas:

Decorative pen holders. Something desk-related is always appreciated, whether it’s a cool and crafty pen holder, a fun decoration for the cubicle, a stress-reliever, or anything else small and work-appropriate. It’s nice because the recipient will think about the giver multiple times during the day, which helps create possibly unexpected connections in the workplace.

Personalized mugs. Most people you work with drink either coffee or tea. Instead of having a random hodgepodge of mugs around the office, encourage cupid to bring personalized mugs with funny sayings that will be meaningful to the recipient. Maybe they have a catchphrase, or an inside joke, or a funny quote from a client, like “I didn’t know ‘this Thursday” meant this Thursday!” It shows you know something about them, and that you pay attention to them as a human being. That matters, and they’ll think about it with every sip.

downloadable coupons
Downloadable coupon printables from Elfster | Download here

Homemade baked goods. OK, this isn’t totally healthy, but who doesn’t like baked goods. Exchanging these leads to more exchanges, as people swap a few of their mini-cupcakes for cookies or homemade heart-shaped macaroons. And, it may even lead to an intra-office recipe swap!

The classic coupon: Here’s an easy way to make someone’s day a lot better. We know that couples often exchange these, but downloadable Valentine’s coupons can also be great at work. Giving someone a coupon that says, “I’ll take the lead on a client call of your choice,” or “I’ll stay late to teach you Excel,” or “Good for one lunch on me” can make a demonstrable difference in someone’s day. You can also do a White Elephant-type swap on these—someone who needs to learn Excel might really appreciate it.

Valentine’s Day in the workplace should be about bonding, and having fun, and poking a hole in the pressure-filled romance of the day. The point here is to laugh and have a good time. You can turn this sometimes-difficult holiday on its head, and make it great for everyone.

By setting the right mood, and making sure that everyone’s involved, you can craft a Valentine’s Day remembered not for awkwardness and oversharing, but for genuine laughter and camaraderie. And isn’t that what the office should really be about?  

Let us know your work Valentine’s stories on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And don’t forget to download our printable Valentine’s Day coupons!

National Send a Card to a Friend Day: Letter Writing Inspirations and Ideas

National Send a Card to a Friend Day: Letter Writing Inspirations and Ideas

“Oh, my stars! It’s a letter from dear Willeford! He’s writing from far off America!”

3d butterfly card
Say it in 3D | Image courtesy Etsy seller anasdesignshop

You’ve probably watched a scene just like this one on some BBC period drama, with sumptuous clothes and weirdly bad lighting and various viscounts—and a character exclaiming delightedly at receiving a letter.

It’s almost unimaginable that there was a time when you could go months without word from a loved one, instead of reading about the daily life of grade-school acquaintances on social media. But there’s also probably a twinge of regret; regret that you don’t get letters anymore. The mail is often nothing more than ads and bills—there’s no mystery.

We’ve gained so much from instant communication, but we’ve also lost something. That’s why we’re so excited that National Send a Card to a Friend Day is coming around this February 7th. When you send a card, a letter, or an e-greeting, you’re giving so much more than a piece of paper. You’re giving a gift of yourself. You’re giving the gift of words. You’re sending love in an envelope—even if it’s a digital one.

Greeting Cards Are an Unexpected Event

chalkboard style card
Cards that send a message | Image courtesy Amazon seller Note Card Cafe

If you’re like me, when you get a card in the mail, you look at the envelope a few times, almost confused. You see the return address with a familiar name, but it’s not your birthday. It’s not Christmas. It’s just…a day. And that’s when you start to get excited.

You’re excited because it’s unexpected. It could be an invitation to a party, or the announcement of a baby. You open it, and it’s a note. It’s a card, hand-written. It’s heartfelt. It matters because the meaning behind it is that you were thought of.

And it’s the same with an e-card. We get so much junk and nonsense in our inboxes and social media feeds all day that the unexpected ping of something sent just because you’re you makes an enormous difference. The surprise of an e-card cuts through the chaff of our never-emptying inbox, and sends the gift of brightness.

Now, with this holiday, it’s not about everyone getting a card on the 7th. That would be had to coordinate, given the times it takes mail to be delivered. Of course, you can do that with e-cards but, otherwise, we’re looking to send them on the 7th. So get some blank cards, stock up on envelopes, stretch out your hand, and put pen to paper.

Prompts and Inspirations to Send Your Love

Obviously, we can’t tell you exactly what to say, but we can give some ideas, some prompts, some bits of inspiration:

vintage letter art print
Reading a letter used to be an everyday scene | Image courtesy Etsy seller OakwoodView

Send best wishes. Remember that these cards don’t have to be written to your best friend in the whole world. They can be to a relative you don’t talk to enough, an acquaintance with whom your main interaction is the occasional Facebook “like,” or an old neighbor who you used to hang out with until you moved away. Just send a card saying you’re thinking about them, and hope they’re doing well. Tell them you miss them. And that’s enough.

Send something personal. All cards are inherently personal, but make sure that what you’re writing isn’t mass-produced, but directed to a specific person. Ask something about them, let them know that you’re writing with them in mind. We don’t expect this from an invitation or a thank you note from a wedding, but when sending a card out of the blue, take the time to make it a reflection of your relationship.

Send your personality. Remember that while you’re sending the card to a person, you’re sending it from yourself. So find a card that reflects who you are, and how you’re feeling. Are you sending warmth and love? Are you feeling goofy? Do you want to send cute animals or cute actors (goslings and Goslings)? The writing is what matters, of course, but you also want to make sure the card makes people think of you with a smile on their face when they see it.

llama greeting card
Hay, girl! There’s a card for any personality | Image courtesy Etsy seller GreymountPaperPress

Send gratitude. Sometimes, you just want to tell a person that you appreciate them. It might be for doing you a solid one time, or it might be because you’re happy they exist, just knowing that they’re out there with their own personalities, with their greatness and their flaws, with their huge heart and goofy laugh. You’re grateful that you know them. Your life is better for knowing them. Because life is measured by the people we let into our hearts, and who we are is shaped by those around us.

Send a photo. I know there are over 82,000 pictures of you online, most of which involve cake of some kind, for some reason. Those are cool, but there’s something great about holding a tangible photo. If you have a real, printed picture of you with a friend or family memeber, whether you printed it off your phone or dug it out of a shoebox, that matters. It moves from ephemeral to tangible. It’s a great thing to get in a card. It’s an amber-captured smile.

Send something funny. I once got a card from an old friend of mine telling me a goofy story that just happened to her. She said that only I would get why it was so funny, and it cracked me up. It reminded me of absurd things happening when we would hang out and how we’d laugh like idiots until everyone else backed off, confused. A card doesn’t have to be ooey-gooey to be meaningful. The funny story reminded me of our friendship, and was an incredible thing to get out of the blue. I felt that old connection every time I looked at it. And I laughed. That’s not a bad deal.

stationary set
A stationary set to inspire | Image courtesy Etsy seller DPanesarillustration

Send a memory. A card is something that you’ll dig up a few years later, buried in a drawer or a scrapbook, and you’ll remember when you got it, and how exciting it was. But the card itself can contain a memory. You can write someone and say, “I was just thinking of that time we drove all night to catch the concert,” or, “I was just remembering how you held me when I found out she was sick,” or anything else. It’s a bond, it’s a remembrance reaching out from the page. Each sentence, each letter, contains the sound of the band or the smell of the salty breeze or the arm wrapped around you in your sorrow—and a gratitude for their friendship.

That’s what’s amazing about sending a letter. You’re making the effort to reach out, to connect in a way outside of the speed and impermanence of our modern world. There is so much to love about the way we communicate in the modern, technological era, but there is also much to love in what we’ve lost.

But you can find it again. This February 7th, sit down and write a letter. You don’t need wax seals or trained birds or a fancy Victorian desk. You just need to think about a person, wonder what they would love to open, and get to writing. A letter is more than a piece of paper. It’s a gift that can only come from one person, and that might be the most meaningful gift of all.

Let us know your most unexpected card story on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.

A World of Possibilities: How Technology Has Changed the Psychology Behind Gift Giving

A World of Possibilities: How Technology Has Changed the Psychology Behind Gift Giving

A world map of possibilities
Online shopping has given us a new world of gifts, instead of the same Celtic Cross ornament I once bought my mom two years in a row. | Image courtesy Etsy seller SunnyRainFactory

The other day, sitting at my desk at work, I got a whiff of something in the air—maybe it was a dish someone heated in the microwave that had a distinct food court air, or a hint of the outdoor chill lingering in someone’s jacket, or it was just the early-dimming light of a late December afternoon—but I was transported back into a memory.

There I was, wandering around a childhood mall the first year I could drive, trying to find Christmas gifts for my family. This scene repeated itself probably 3 or 4 years in a row: banging around a run-down suburban mall, knowing I’d end up at the bookstore or the Irish tchotchke place, but hoping that I would inadvertently stumble across something with real meaning.

Anyone raised pre-internet likely has a similar gift-giving coming of age story from their teenage years, but recent technological advances have changed many aspects of our lives, including gifting. Possibilities have opened up, and we’ve adjusted our expectations of ourselves and others. As we adapt to this new reality, it’s important to look at the psychology behind how we give, and how it’s being impacted by the Tech Age.

A Change in Possibilities—and Expectations

For a long time, most of history really, two things have happened when someone gave you a Christmas list. It was either physically accessible or it wasn’t, with accessibility very slowly improving over time.

Let’s say you lived in a small town in 1885, for instance, and your daughter wanted a new doll, or a stick with a hoop, or something else old-timey for Christmas. You were left hoping the corner store had it, or you’d be getting her whatever it was they did have in stock for the holiday. It was disappointing, but the reality.

sears roebuck catalog
19th century gifting inspiration | Image courtesy Amazon seller Skyhorse Publishing

Now, say this happens a few years later in 1893. The new Sears-Roebuck catalog, which had just started printing in 1888, arrives at your door. This year it features more than just jewelry, everything from baby carriages and guns to clothes and a whole lot of stuff you never even knew you needed. There were also some toys, including a doll. And, just like that, you weren’t beholden to the local store—you now lived in the massively expanded world of the mail-order catalog. You and your family had higher expectations for gifts, although still tempered by a limited availability.

Fast forward to today and there are suddenly no limitations, except the laws of physics and the astonishing speed of international shipping. You want a doll? What doll in the world do you want? Where do you want it from? And when do you want it? Nearly anything can arrive at your door in a matter of weeks after a search that takes just a matter of minutes.

This is incredibly exciting for gift giving, which now isn’t met with the same sort of dread of letting someone down, or of not getting the right thing, or of guessing. Because not only can you find exactly what your recipient wants, but there doesn’t have to be any vagueness. You can even publicize your wish list online for all to see!

For the gift-giver, of course, this imputes a certain responsibility—you don’t have an excuse to just run to the mall and pick up whatever is available. You also shouldn’t improvise as much, because there is even less a reason to make the gift about yourself. You have a golden opportunity to get someone exactly what they want.

The Downside to Knowing Everything

handmade doll
The doll of any little girl’s dreams | Image courtesy Etsy seller piggyhatespanda

Now, to be sure, there are people who think this alters gift-giving etiquette a bit too much, that the gift-giver just becomes a vessel for wish-fulfillment or a living, breathing Amazon gift card (i.e. person enters what they want, and it appears without spending any money). Where, you might ask, is the surprise? The shock? That squeal of good fortune?

And I think there’s some validity to that argument. After all, there’s a certain anticipatory glow when someone is opening your gift, and you’re wondering if they’re going to like it or not. There’s also the joy that comes when you realize you’ve “nailed it,” and showed someone exactly how much you care about them—and know them. That’s always rewarding.

But then again, isn’t the point the happiness of the recipient? And they will be happy when they open something that sparked their interest enough to add it to a wish list. They won’t be disappointed. You don’t have to worry or panic anymore. You’ll be the person who got them something with meaning, and you did it by doing the most important thing you can during the gift-giving season: listening. That matters. That shows love.

The Ability to Buy for Anyone Around the World

And that love that you show can now be spread around the world. Our ability to communicate has changed dramatically over the last generation, and even more so this century alone since the introduction of smartphones and the rise of app-based ecosystems. I mean, you’re now able to hold real gatherings, helped by video conferencing, with friends and family a world away!

Elfster app
Appy Christmas! | Elfster app image from itunes.com

Technology, like gift giving and wish list apps, now allow us to create a circle of friends around the country, or even the world. You can easily organize gift exchanges, virtually fulfilling wish lists and opening presents despite the fact you can’t physically be in the same room, everyone sipping their preferred eggnog.

It’s hard to overstate what that means. As life drifts on, we also drift. Friends and family drift apart. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Technology, which in some ways has made us more atomized and pushed us deeper into our own intellectual bubbles, can also do the opposite. It can bring us together, and remind us of who we are, who we love.

We give because we love someone and want them to be happy. We’re now able to ensure that happiness, that their smile is just about them, and not our relief that the thing we found is in the ballpark of their desires. Instead, thanks to technology, it’s exactly what they want. And, importantly, they got it not by pushing a button, but because someone cared enough to gift it to them.

That’s what giving is all about. And now we can gift more freely, without panic, without fear, without the limitations of prairie-store toy aisles, without the store-peeking desperation of teenage procrastination, but with love, friendship, and kindness. There is a purity of our motivations now, made possible by technology, but an essential reality in our hearts.

Let us know how happy gift giving makes you by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides for anyone on your list.

‘Tis Better to Give: Reciprocal Altruism and the Psychology of Gift Giving

‘Tis Better to Give: Reciprocal Altruism and the Psychology of Gift Giving

heart in hands
Image courtesy flick’r user Sean McGrath

I used to be terrible at gift giving. I was always prolific in my gifts, sure, but I wasn’t very good at picking them out—I often bought gifts based on what I liked, and what I assumed the recipient should like. “Here!,” I was basically saying, “I loved this book, so you certainly should as well.” And that tends to make for a bad present—not only is it not what the person in question wants, but it puts pressure on them to act like they enjoy it. Your gift becomes a sort of litmus test, even if that’s not your intention.

Because that’s the thing: there’s a psychology to gift giving. There’s a lot of social interplays, expectations, and realities at work behind the scenes. But there’s also a joyful and deeply human reason why we love giving gifts, why giving people something makes us so happy, and why the cliché about how it is better to give than to receive is actually true. In order to really enjoy the entirety of gift giving, though, we have to understand the psychology behind it.

And, it all seems to start with this first lesson: know thyself.

The Concept of Reciprocal Altruism

I’m going to digress here in what seems like a weird tangent. Years ago, I was leaving a girlfriend’s house. It was a cold, midwest morning, so I brushed the snow off her car so she could easily get to work. As I was doing it, I wondered if I was brushing her car off because I was a good guy, or if it was just that I wanted to act like a decent sort of bloke.

custom pendant necklace
Know thyself was the first lesson of the oracles, and, ironically the best way to pick a gift | Image courtesy Etsy seller ExpressioneryPendant

But then I was struck: what’s really the difference? Maybe, just maybe, there isn’t one. I was being selfless (it really was freezing), but for selfish reasons. I wanted her to see me as a gentleman. And yet, regardless, her car was cleaned of the snow. There was a real lesson there—i.e., motivations are complicated.

Indeed, if you look at the theory of reciprocal altruism, popularized by the neuroscientist Stephen Pinker, our inherent generosity is somewhat complicated. The theory is basically that if, in our prehistoric history, you helped someone fight off a lion, at some point they would help you build a fire. It was these mutual chains of dependence, based not on innate selflessness, but on mutual need, that led to our being hardwired for generosity.

A lot of people don’t like this theory. They think it’s too deterministic, too materialistic, and really, just not very romantic. But, just like me heroically brushing some snow off a windshield, it doesn’t really matter what the ultimate motivation is. What matters is that the other person is happy. That’s the real heart of gift giving, and that’s why you have to know yourself.

You have to really think about your motivations. After all, you may ultimately be giving a gift because it makes you feel good to do so, but are you giving a gift to show off how great a gift giver you can be? Or are you doing it to genuinely make the other person feel happy? If it’s the latter, that warm glow you feel for bringing a smile to their face is totally earned.

Mutually-Assured Delight

That’s what I finally managed to do this year. I read, months ago, that the author of a cookbook my wife loved was coming out with a new book. Mimi Thorisson wrote A Kitchen in France, which we had used to make our rustic farmhouse feast. Anyway, Mimi had written a new book, called French Country Cooking. My wife, surprisingly, hadn’t mentioned it, so I assumed she hadn’t heard about it yet.

French Country Cooking | Image courtesy Amazon
French Country Cooking | Image courtesy Amazon

Naturally, I bought the book. Normally I may have bought her some novel I loved, or an album that would show just how deep and interesting and full of good taste I was—because I was making the gift about me. But this was different. This was entirely, 100% about what she wanted, and what would make her happy. And it worked: she let out an audible squeal of glee when she unwrapped it.

Hearing that squeal made me feel good—great even. It’s a feeling I recognized from flickering videos of our early Christmases, when the camera caught one of my parents smiling contentedly as their jittery Irish brood tore nuclear havoc through a flurry of beautiful tissue and wrapping paper. They were happy because we were happy, and their happiness was something genuine and pure. And that’s the right way to give a gift.

The thing is, I think people make two big mistakes when gifting:

  1. They make the gift entirely about themselves, only thinking about the reciprocal part of the altruism; or
  2. They deny themselves the pleasure of giving a gift, making it a miserable exercise in abnegation.

I should say there is no wrong way to give a gift, but both of these do seem wrong to me. When giving a gift, you should recognize and cater to the recipient’s happiness, but be glad that you’ll get enough from it as well.

3 Ways Psychology Affects Your Gifting

There are a few normal human psychological quirks that impact the gifts we give, and how we give them. Recognizing these traits can help you reduce the nervousness that comes with giving.

This is the thin gateway toward mutual happiness | Image courtesy Target
This is the thin gateway toward mutual happiness | Image courtesy Target

1. The fear of looking like there’s something you don’t know: It’s the same reason we sometimes don’t ask, “What do you want for Christmas?” We think it makes us seem like we don’t want to think about ideas on our own—or like we’re unsure of ourselves.

The solution: Ask! Asking someone what they want isn’t a sign that you don’t know them well enough, it’s a sign you love them enough to get them something they truly want. It’s a kindness, not a shortcut.

2. The fear of trying and failing: It’s way easier to imagine you’d be good at something, and not do it, than to do it and fail. So it is with gift giving. If we try to find the perfect gift, and it isn’t, in fact, perfect, we feel deflated, which is why we sometimes deliberately don’t put any thought into a present.

The solution: Try anyway. If you try to give a loved one something that matters, but come up short, that still means a lot more than giving a default, thoughtless gift. The effort actually does matter. Don’t let that “I don’t want to be wrong” voice overpower your “I want to do my best” voice.

3. The need to one-up yourself: Think of a basketball player who is really good at shooting three-pointers. They’ve gotten so good at it that the ability loses value for them, and they begin to think they also need to start trying to dunk more—a skill beyond their reach. We do that to ourselves by thinking that if we gave a great gift last year, we have to give a better one this year—and it has to be something completely different.

The solution: Don’t. Don’t do this to yourself. I’m not saying you should give the same thing every year. But don’t think, “Well, he really liked that subscription I got him to Foreign Policy, but now I have to change gears entirely!” If someone liked something, they liked it. It isn’t about the novelty, it’s about their tastes. Keep that in mind, and you’ll feel great about what you give.

It’s not selfish or inhuman to want to feel good about something you’ve done for someone else. It gets to the heart of gift giving, whether you see it as a tradition dating back to the earliest human stalking around the savannah, or your coworkers playing Secret Santa at the office Christmas party. You’re happy because you made someone else happy. You smile because you created a smile.

And you know what? That means the recipient of the gift gave you one as well. And then, your happiness becomes a secondary gift back to them. It’s mutual, it’s circular, it’s something both parties enjoy, and it’s what ultimately makes us human by reminding us that we’re all in this together—that love, mutual respect, and seeing another person as worthy of a gift, of a smile, of basic kindness, is the only way we can make it through the sometimes dark and lion-filled plains of life. And understanding that is maybe the greatest gift of all.

Let us know how happy gift giving makes you by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.

Christmas Wrapping Party Ideas to Get Organized While Getting in the Spirit

Christmas Wrapping Party Ideas to Get Organized While Getting in the Spirit

festive wrapping supplies
The key to organization is the right festive supplies.

Gifts are my favorite Christmas decoration. Each present is its own story—mysterious and offering the promise of joy—and the wrapping paper is the prologue. Watching as they are opened, and the heartfelt gifts inside discovered, is the beautiful conclusion. Each box or bag is filled with potential, symbols of upcoming happiness that embody the giddy anticipation of the holiday season. So, yeah, I love wrapped gifts. But actually wrapping them, that’s a whole other story.

Wrapping a Christmas’ worth of gifts can be time-consuming and stressful. Really, it used to be the worst part of the season for me. I enjoy wrapping each individual one, but all of them together? Too much. So, last year I decided that I’d really buckle down and find a way to make it fun. I’d be organized to save time, have a plan to reduce stress, and make it an all-out event so that rather than be opposed to the Christmas spirit, wrapping helped to create the spirit inside of me.

I quickly realized a blend of organization techniques and seasonal fun would be required to reduce my stress. I also tried to keep in mind that what I was doing would end in joy, and sincere appreciation. By organizing my wrapping workstation, and inviting in the festive feelings, wrapping was no longer a chore—for me, it’s become a warm and vital part of my Christmas traditions.

Start with Organization to Find the Fun

Creating a designated space was the very first thing I did last year. I went into my basement and set up a table specifically for wrapping—a folding table and chair are essential. If you have a craft table in a spare room, or a room specifically for crafts, you’re ahead of the game. But if not, don’t think that you can get away with sitting on the floor. You’ll be very uncomfortable and sore after a few hours.

glow-in-the-dark gift bags
Glow-in-the-dark bags help your kids find their gifts when they wake up before dawn | Image courtesy Amazon seller Christmas Delights

Next, make sure you have a comprehensive checklist. You aren’t going to want to go out and get more supplies halfway through your gifts. Here’s my basic checklist:

  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Wrapping paper
  • Gift tags
  • Markers
  • Ribbon
  • White tissue paper
  • Gift bags with matching tissue paper, for those hard-to-wrap items

For a long time, I didn’t really use gift boxes. After all, most of what I bought was in a box, and if it wasn’t, I’d just wrap a very oddly-shaped present. But I’ve definitely begun to recognize the power of the gift box. I make sure to keep any box I accrue throughout the year for use at Christmastime—shoeboxes work great for this, and they can continue to be reused for years.

A theme—one specific color or general pattern—can also help you stay on task, and cut down on your needed number of supplies. This year I’m doing brown paper packages tied up with string. It’s not bland, it’s like something out of a Dickens’ novel. Using cool twine adds a surprising, modern pop to this vintage look.

Sounds of the Season to Up the Spirit

Now that you’ve gotten organized to help make the wrapping go more quickly, you may start to realize that you don’t need it to go faster. Indeed, taking your time and really getting into the spirit of the task should become an essential part of the season. In fact, you can make a party out of it!

That’s right, this year I’ve decided to go all out—I’m inviting friends over for a wrap party. We’re going to have a few workstations, with all of the organizational stuff listed above, so that everything runs smoothly. And, I’ll be making a Christmas tunes playlist—my house, my carols. I always include everything from the classics to the quirky:

Christmas movies and music
The sounds of the season.
  • White Christmas” by Bing Crosby. I mean, of course. It’s the best Christmas song ever.
  • Come on! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!” by Sufjan Stevens. A sweet and classic-seeming quirkfest from the most Christmas-y alt-rocker.
  • Santa’s Got a Brand New Bag” by Hollyridge Strings. Often played, this mid-60s strings-version feels like you’re in Don Draper’s apartment.
  • Christmastime Blues” by John Lee Hooker. Celebrate Christmas—in a bayou blues shack.
  • Christmas on Riverside Drive” by August Darnell. Have yourself a very funky Christmas.
  • Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC. One of the first, great early rap Christmas songs.
  • Christmas Rappin” by Kurtis Blow. From 1979, this actually might be the first Christmas rap song.
  • It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Mr. Johnny Cash. My favorite Christmas song, sung with perfect awe by the Man in Black.
  • Christmas Island” by The Andrews Sisters. A cool, tropical song that makes you feel like you’re listening while thinking of your best girl waiting for you to get home from war.
  • Sleigh Ride” by the Ronettes. If you’re going to listen to classic songs, why not go with a “Wall-of-Sound” style girl band from the 60s?

There’s been some talk of showing our favorite Christmas movies in the background, whether Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life. Having a movie on is a great tip, especially if you’re working by yourself. You’ll be surprised at how little you notice the job.

A Perfectly Festive Holiday Drink

Eggnog. Latte. Need I say more? I’ve got my espresso maker tuned up and ready to go. It’s a really easy recipe as well—just milk, eggnog, and some nutmeg.

christmas gift box
A box that embodies the Christmas spirit | Image courtesy Etsy seller SweetSights

Add 1/3 of a cup of milk to 2/3 a cup of eggnog. Put the milk and eggnog blend in a pan and heat it to 150 degrees, then add a shot (1.5 oz) of espresso. Use the wand if you have an espresso maker to create a tasty foam, then sprinkle with nutmeg. It’s delicious, and may be the taste of the season.

Have you ever thought about how Christmas, coming right after the solstice, is one of the longest and darkest nights of the year? The weeks leading up to it get progressively gloomier as the sun sort of slips away into an unmotivated gray—it gets up late, and goes to bed early. It could be a sad time.

But somehow it isn’t. Somehow, it’s one of the most magical times of the year. It’s a season filled with love, and constant surprises. And that love, that spirit of joy, comes from within us because of the love we have for each other.

That’s why wrapping gifts should be a fun and joyful undertaking. It’s an expression of our hearts. Being organized, and making it into an event, lets the spirit of the season in. You’re closing up boxes that are filled with limitless joy, ready to be torn open in a blizzard of squeals and smiles and the truest expression of childlike glee.

Doing wrapping right, then, isn’t about closing. It’s about opening: opening the delirious anticipation of Christmas morning, and opening yourself to the joys of the season.

Now that we’ve wrapped up, you can get started! Let Elfster help you pick the perfect gift from any of our featured wish lists—and be sure to connect with us on Facebook, find us on Instagram at @Elfstergram, and on twitter @elfster, for more gift giving and party hosting tips and tricks.