A reincarnation of the spirit of giving

Presents come in more abstract forms
By: Lien Hoang, The Press Tribune
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As a child, Whitney Riley received toys and clothes for Christmas. Now, her parents give her only iTunes gift cards, and she gives out nothing but cash. It’s impersonal, she admits, but convenient. “A lot more things are electronic now, so it’s just the times,” Riley says while browsing the Galleria’s Apple Store. “You have to get over it.” Americans will spend $25 billion on gift cards this year, more than any other holiday item, reports the National Retail Federation. The cards have been available for years, but are only the most popular example of the increasing options shoppers have, made possible by evolving technology. It’s not that we’re bidding adieu to the Teddy bear wrapped in a shiny box under the tree. It’s just that Teddy is surrendering more and more space to symbols of less tangible presents: shopping (the gift card), concerts (the ticket stub), memberships (the gym receipt). Even Riley’s gift takes one step further away from the concrete. Unlike a Macy’s or McDonald’s gift card, which is exchanged in person, the iTunes card provides a code that Riley enters online when she’s ready to buy a song. As presents become ever more abstract, has the spirit of giving remained in tact? Kevin Shimada’s answer – assuming the idea is to think of what your loved one wants and buy it – is no. Gift cards cut out the effort of selection. He even regrets once trading with his dad a Wal-Mart card for greenbacks. “It’s getting to a point where it’s negative because you don’t communicate with your family about what you want,” Shimada says. Similarly, Ron Cruz says, “I think it’s more enjoyable to open something than get a gift card.” But Sarah Fullmer loves getting cards, which she says demonstrates the giver knows her taste in Nordstrom and Tiffany. “I don’t think it’s really changed,” she said of holiday present exchanges. “The excitement is still there, you’re still getting acknowledged by that person. That’s what gift-giving is.” When thinking outside the shiny box, Fullmer might be right about some presents, especially. She gave her father, for instance, Tran-Siberian Orchestra tickets. Ideas like that – or massages or trips to Disneyland – grant the receiver the gift of an experience, rather than an object. Companies, too, are reassessing their holiday habits in a move toward pragmatism. In lieu of colorful baskets wrapped in clear plastic, they are making investments or donations in the name of their clients, partners or employees. “I saw a shift like that occur,” says Jackie McLain, communications director for the Roseville Chamber of Commerce. A popular destination for those donations has been Placer SPCA, whose holiday honorarium program sends animal-decorated cards to those for whom a contribution has been made. CEO Leilani Vierra says as economic conditions declined in recent years, more benefactors have stepped up. “I think a lot of us spent time thinking about what we really needed and what we actually have,” she says. “People re-evaluated what’s important in their life.” Lien Hoang can be reached at