But what if the reciprocation you seek is ... intangible? Remember, gifts are traditionally a way to make a statement as in, "Nothing says love like a diamond" or "a set of steak knives," or whatever.
Gifts wrapped around a message can be so heartwarming. And subtle. And hard to refuse.
So this year, send your loved and hated ones a very special message. Give gifts that keep on giving: passive-aggressive packages that will hint at what you really think and imbue future interactions with poignant meaning. Awkward, poignant meaning.
Got a roommate that makes too much noise? Trying to wrangle a proposal out of your deadbeat boyfriend? About ready to squeeze or extort a raise out of your chump boss? Scented candles and deodorant can go a long way toward making a point with your stinky co-worker, especially when it's wrapped up in metallic snowflake paper and tied with a jaunty bow.
Living situations can get sticky. Inevitably, at some point in your life you'll end up randomly shacked up with some slacker you met on Craigslist who neglects the crusty pile of dishes in the sink and always, always pees on the seat. You've tried little notes, tried gentle conversation, but nothing gets through to this guy.
Well, 'tis the season, so try a more direct and gracious approach. The Sani-Fem Freshette F.U.D. (that's feminine urinary director, if you want to get all gross about it) is perfect for those who sprinkle when they tinkle.
This little beauty of a hygiene gadget runs for $19.95 at REI (1376 E. Woodmen Road, 260-1455), and is designed to help woodsy ladies streamline their bidness when they're camping.
But it's also good for housemates who just don't understand that pee is not for sitting in.
Dropping hints can be a handy tactic when you've been trying to get the old ball and chain to stop screwing around and commit. (Come on, ladies, humor me and embrace the stereotype.)
You've tried leaving bridal magazines around the apartment, staring forlornly at your naked ring finger while sighing pathetically, and even screamed an ultimatum or two while he attempted to tune you out with ESPN.
In short: you want a diamond. I know you do. Trust me, you won't shut up about it, even when I plug my ears and hum that Destiny's Child song about buying my own shoes and throwing my hands up in the air.
Stop whining at me about how much you want a giant chunk of Sierra Leone on your left hand; tell your man. The key is to find dude-gifts with some subtle, girlie touches that scream, "Make me a kept woman before my baby-maker dries up and all I have left are my 17 kitties and my broken dreams!"
The Home Depot (four local locations) is a beacon of all things manly, and it offers an array of electric-saw blades made from diamonds. Perfect! Check out their selection of Bosch Laser Fusion Diamond Blades, available in various sizes, all made with premium-quality bling that ranges in price from $19.97 to a whopping $149.99. The gemstones make for a cleaner, more effective cut, and ooooh, they're shiny.
Thankssh a lot
I don't care who you are; you have that friend with that drinking problem. Mine is a sloppy mess who always embarrasses himself by drinking entirely too much bourbon and then slurring all night long about communists and buffalo-chicken calzones. Fortunately, he has no idea that I'm talking about him, because he never remembers his awkward, ranting blackouts.
This holiday season, help your own forgetful, party-loving friends to remember the good times with sketchy strangers they had all weekend long.
A digital voice recorder is a terrific present for that special someone who can't put down the sauce but wants to remember just how saucy they could be. The Sony ICD-P520, available at Best Buy (two local locations) for approximately $60, is hand-held and user-friendly, good for up to 130 babbling hours of recording fun.
Most important, it's durable, so it can stand being fumbled and dropped every minute and a half. At last, your alcoholic friends can get in on the morning-after joke.
Sweet and low-priced
After all that spending, who has money left over for co-workers? Especially since you work too hard and don't get paid enough.
That holiday bonus probably won't cover any more than the cost of parking downtown during peak shopping hours, but still. Gotta buy for the boss.
Show her just how much you care, and just how badly you need some cash, and pick up a packet of M&Ms. Fifty cents at any reasonable drugstore. Plus tax. The CEO gets a red one, accounts payable gets a blue one, and Harold over in sales gets a green one.
Divvy up accordingly, and presto! Everyone at work gets season's eatings from the most generous broke-ass in the office. It's the thought that counts. And maybe, as your boss is nibbling away at that miserly chocolate button, she'll start thinking about tossing you a raise.
In-laws are such a pain in the ass, especially around the holidays. They gripe, they whine, they kvetch, they mooch.
Ever wish you could send them packing to their doom? Here's your chance! Give them an adventure vacation for the medical examiner to write home about, like an all-expenses-paid mountain-biking trip down El Camino de la Muerte. That's "The Death Road" to you gringos. Located in Bolivia, this approximately 43-mile stretch of road between La Paz and Coroico is considered the most dangerous road in the world, twisting and turning through mist and clouds and dust, and maybe a llama or two.
People have died on this road. I'm just saying.
Book a one-day, all-inclusive bike package for $75 through Gravity Bolivia, a touring company that promotes "gravity assisted mountain biking." And don't forget to kiss your in-laws good-bye.
Sara Faith Alterman, who's getting a grammar book for Christmas, writes for the Boston Phoenix, where a version of this article originally appeared.