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Picking the perfect white elephant gift

Revisit the art of humorous gift giving

Perfect white elephant gift!
Perfect white elephant gift!

Dear Hipster:

As I’m sure you and everyone else remember, this time last year was a bummer for a lot of people. It was obviously a bummer in the big picture (you know, the whole “raging pandemic” thing we are all trying hard not to think too much about anymore), but there were also a lot of little things that fell by the wayside, and which we may not have even noticed at the time because they seemed small in comparison. One of the biggest downsides for me at this time in 2020 was missing out on holiday parties. It would appear that holiday parties are back with a vengeance, at least for this year, but my holiday skills have gotten super rusty. For example, I used to be so good at picking a gift for the white elephant at my work, but this year I am coming up with nothing. Even though I should feel inspired at this return to something like my old normal life, the inspiration I used to feel isn’t coming naturally to me like it once did. I feel like I have lost a certain hipster innocence and irreverence that empowered me to select appropriately ironic gifts. Is it me, or has the world just lost its magic a little bit? How do I get the fire back and get back up to snuff on my gift-giving?

— Rachael

I have seen some amazing white elephant gifts in my day. I once attended a party where someone gave away an 8-track player and a box of tapes from the ’70s that featured music you probably couldn’t find anywhere these days except the Terminal Passage YouTube channel. I have personally participated in a gift exchange where I ended up with a bottle of fake pee on something like the second round, and not for all my wiles could I convince anyone to steal it away from me so that I could get something — anything — else. Good times.

The art of humorous gift giving is among the highest forms of hipster irony. You have to strike the perfect balance of cheeky humor: not too absurd and random that it makes no sense, but still clever enough to amuse. You’re constrained by situational appropriateness in most cases, and almost always by budget.

In past years, I could have given you half-a-dozen solid suggestions for pop-culturally savvy gifts. But it seems much harder now, and I am not really sure why. I suspect it has something to do with how people have insulated themselves from each other, which cuts down on social interaction and makes humor harder, because humor is so often situational, and we are short on situations these days. Thus, you may be right — the world has lost a little of its magic, because we all stopped paying attention to the little conventions and traditions that keep life interesting. The past two years have indeed taken a heavy pop-cultural toll. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost.

Put yourself back in the frame of mind you had in, say, December 2019. Remember those days? Personally, I would have gone out and pounded the pavement, doing a little spontaneous detective work. Visiting odd shops and stuff to see what I could find. I think you just need to be spontaneous about it. Let the moment find you. If all else fails, one of those knit winter caps with deer in flagrante delicto on it never ceases to amuse.

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Perfect white elephant gift!
Perfect white elephant gift!

Dear Hipster:

As I’m sure you and everyone else remember, this time last year was a bummer for a lot of people. It was obviously a bummer in the big picture (you know, the whole “raging pandemic” thing we are all trying hard not to think too much about anymore), but there were also a lot of little things that fell by the wayside, and which we may not have even noticed at the time because they seemed small in comparison. One of the biggest downsides for me at this time in 2020 was missing out on holiday parties. It would appear that holiday parties are back with a vengeance, at least for this year, but my holiday skills have gotten super rusty. For example, I used to be so good at picking a gift for the white elephant at my work, but this year I am coming up with nothing. Even though I should feel inspired at this return to something like my old normal life, the inspiration I used to feel isn’t coming naturally to me like it once did. I feel like I have lost a certain hipster innocence and irreverence that empowered me to select appropriately ironic gifts. Is it me, or has the world just lost its magic a little bit? How do I get the fire back and get back up to snuff on my gift-giving?

— Rachael

I have seen some amazing white elephant gifts in my day. I once attended a party where someone gave away an 8-track player and a box of tapes from the ’70s that featured music you probably couldn’t find anywhere these days except the Terminal Passage YouTube channel. I have personally participated in a gift exchange where I ended up with a bottle of fake pee on something like the second round, and not for all my wiles could I convince anyone to steal it away from me so that I could get something — anything — else. Good times.

The art of humorous gift giving is among the highest forms of hipster irony. You have to strike the perfect balance of cheeky humor: not too absurd and random that it makes no sense, but still clever enough to amuse. You’re constrained by situational appropriateness in most cases, and almost always by budget.

In past years, I could have given you half-a-dozen solid suggestions for pop-culturally savvy gifts. But it seems much harder now, and I am not really sure why. I suspect it has something to do with how people have insulated themselves from each other, which cuts down on social interaction and makes humor harder, because humor is so often situational, and we are short on situations these days. Thus, you may be right — the world has lost a little of its magic, because we all stopped paying attention to the little conventions and traditions that keep life interesting. The past two years have indeed taken a heavy pop-cultural toll. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost.

Put yourself back in the frame of mind you had in, say, December 2019. Remember those days? Personally, I would have gone out and pounded the pavement, doing a little spontaneous detective work. Visiting odd shops and stuff to see what I could find. I think you just need to be spontaneous about it. Let the moment find you. If all else fails, one of those knit winter caps with deer in flagrante delicto on it never ceases to amuse.

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