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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: December 2023

Holiday Gifts: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Cathy Stricklin Krendl

Holiday Gifts: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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I am a grandmother who must try to find holiday gifts that pre-teen and teenage grandchildren would find exciting (actually, merely acceptable), not to mention gifts for adult children, too.  That is why I hate this time of year.  When my children and grandchildren were young, a fun toy would work.  Now that they are older, they have their own very particular tastes. Help! How can I know what they all like when they live in three different states?  In this article, I will give you examples of my successes and failures in my quest for the perfect gift.

Grandson Who Is 10 Years Old  

This grandchild is always a challenge.  He likes books, and video games like Minecraft, but even though we live in the same town, I don’t know which of these he already has.  One year, I thought my gift was inspired.  I got him a laser game where he could shoot light images on the wall. He played with it once. 

My best gift was last Christmas when I gave him a trip to Alaska in which I participated.  I arranged for him to be active, doing different things every day. He loved salmon fishing, especially because he caught two salmon that we were able to ship to the lower 48. He also had such fun playing with dogs of all ages raised by the winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He didn’t much care for kayaking to the glacier, which, by the way, terrified me.  The guides warned us that if we fell into the lake, we would freeze within seconds! 

Granddaughter Who Is 12 Years Old

This granddaughter likes books about Greek mythology, girl heroes, and vampires.  She also is a devoted participant in Minecraft with her friends as well as a fanatic Swiftee.  On top of that, she is very original and wants to be a CEO when she grows up and plays only with boys.  I had almost given up on her until I realized she liked to sleep late.  I got her blackout curtains to match the blue paint in her room and convinced my tolerant son-in-law to install the rod for the curtains.  However, my daughter’s present won the day.  She took her to a nearby city to stay in her favorite hotel, go to tea, buy a new outfit, and eat what appeared to me to be the world’s largest steak at her favorite restaurant.

Granddaughter Who Is 14 Years Old

This granddaughter is my biggest challenge and so far, my biggest failure. Like most girls her age, she likes clothes, but only a certain kind of clothes.  She also likes dance, volleyball, basketball, and swimming.  A girl for all seasons. Unfortunately, none of those sports inspire gift ideas. I gave her a very expensive necklace for her birthday, but although she was very polite, it wasn’t even close to a hit.  I have given up for Christmas and offered her a choice of three things: (1) a trip to New York; (2) something for her room in her new home; and (3) the lamest gift of all, money.

Grandson Who Is 14 Years Old

This grandson is the easiest to make happy.  He and I talk every week about history, politics, news, and money.  He is a great fan of Warren Buffet, Uncle Scrooge, and money management.  He earns money every week by doing chores, including cleaning two bathrooms! Recently, he and I have had very intense (not angry, just very serious) conversations about ousting Speaker McCarthy, financing Israel and Ukraine, gerrymandering, and the configuration of business class on United and Qatar. He always helps me find the most efficient flights with the most comfortable accommodations. He has only one wish for his birthday and Christmas—an airline ticket to see me.  His parents, who are doing a great job of working with him om money management, insist that the ticket must be a present for a recognized holiday. In case you haven’t guessed by now, the trip I gave to my precious grandson is actually a Christmas present to me. That one definitely scored high on the excitement scale!  And, an interesting discovery—my participation seems to boost the excitement factor for both my grandchildren and I.


I have three daughters, all of whom have everything and, the few things they don’t have, they will receive from their husbands. My oldest daughter recently received a very significant promotion, and I wanted to give her a gift that reflected the importance of the promotion. I have learned to ask before I give to make sure my gift will be well received.  All my suggestions were tactfully declined. I was about to give up. Then, after nine months of failure, I found a beautiful watch in Switzerland.  It was elegant, practical, and most important, worthy.  Without asking her, I purchased the watch, and it was a big hit. FINALLY! Another success!

My middle daughter was also a challenge.  She has a very specific taste in clothes, much better than mine, and is totally spoiled by her wonderful husband.  I also needed to find something for her husband, for whom all of the above is true. I have given them only one gift that was a hit: a trip to New York City the week before Christmas in which I participated.  We saw the Rockettes (a request of my son-in-law which I thought I would hate but actually liked), “Chicago” (a request of my daughter), and a visit to the American Girl Doll store (a request of my then 10-year-old granddaughter). We saw the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and the weather accommodated us by snowing just enough to be beautiful without being freezing cold. We still talk about the glorious time we shared. With the emphasis on shared.

My youngest daughter and I decided to give up on presents and just enjoy a long visit after Christmas.  When I read columns about giving gifts to people who have everything, I am reminded that this is a wise daughter.

Sons in Law

This is the greatest challenge. One of my sons-in-law is easy because he always has projects. You want a media room. He’s on it. You want a bar and entertainment area.  You got it.  Gift certificates to Lowe’s or Home Depot work for him.

The other is more of a challenge. He is a retired airline pilot who always insists on comfort and safety.  I have failed with him many times, but last Christmas, I hit a home run by giving him a World War II fighter pilot jacket. This year, I am still thinking.

Mothers and Fathers

As a parent, I can give children an easy answer.  I have enough stuff.  No clothes. No jewelry. No anything for which I have to dust, display, or store. I want what is most precious to me and what is rare for you, especially when you are working and have children—your time.  Invite me to lunch, for drinks, or for dinner.  Take me on a short trip.  Call me. Give me just a little of your rare leisure time. I promise not to nag or advise. I will just listen as you tell me about your life.


Ok, grandchildren.  I know you have homework, friends, activities, and, I hope, chores. It is a busy time. Here’s my deal.  I know you hate calling. No problem.  Just text me. Tell me something short.  “I love you” will do.  Text me a picture of you. I think you’re perfect, you know, and I love to look at your picture. I also know you may like TikTok, Instagram, and who knows what else. Tell me what it is, and I will figure it out and follow you. I promise not to post one word, picture, or video. I will just be able to keep up with you.


When I was practicing law, we gave our clients a gift every Christmas, usually a nice bottle of wine. Unimaginative, unlikely to offend, and tangible were the requirements.  My most appreciated gift was a millionaire Santa figure we gave to a client who had just sold her company and collected Santa figures.

The gift I refused to give was one that I usually received from fellow lawyers.  It was a card listing all the charities to which they had donated that Christmas “on my behalf.” Give me a break. How is this supposed to be a present?

A Note on the Bad and Ugly

I compared my thoughts to some recent high profile gift lists.  One suggested drinking glasses in the shape of posteriors.  I kid you not. Others included a portable neck fan, an upgraded umbrella, a polished trivet (apparently a tabletop objet d’art on which you can set a hot pot), the Rolls-Royce of pencils, and, among other things, Maldon sea salt flakes. And the winner is a vase for sprouting avocado pits. My heartfelt plea: PLEASE do not give me any of these gifts.