Why Having A Christmas Wish List Is A Gift In Itself

The thought still counts, we promise.

Christmas letter and Christmas gifts

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We all know it but no one ever says it: Holiday shopping can be downright stressful. If you’re not careful, gift-giving can suck the fun out of the holidays. The pressure to give a present they’ll like is fierce, not to mention the exorbitant time and effort (and money!) devoted to curating the perfect gifts for everyone on your list. If only there was something that could guide you along the process… 

“I have maybe 25 holiday gifts that I need to buy, but when those people have gift lists, I already give a sigh of relief,” says Nancy Lee, president of MyRegistry, a digital gift registry service. “It's just such a relief for so many people to know what they need to buy for the holidays. It’s giving the gift of a list.”

Do Everyone A Favor 

As kids, we wrote letters to Santa to help him know what to get us for Christmas. Why shouldn’t we give our loved ones the same courtesy as adults? Having a gift list at the ready is truly a win-win all around. A wishlist all but guarantees that the recipient will be satisfied with what lies under the tree come Christmas Day and makes the shopper’s task immeasurably easier by pointing them in the right direction. With the presents out of the way, all parties can focus on holiday traditions and appreciating time with family. 

“When you have to buy gifts for a lot of people, you get overwhelmed, and then your holiday season becomes dominated just by shopping for presents,” says Hannah Onorato, co-founder of Giftful, an online wishlist service. “You miss out on spending time with family cooking and sitting around the fire in the living room, all because you're so worried about what to buy.”

Make a wishlist for the gift-giver. You’re giving the present of time better spent during the holiday season—and giving yourself a better chance at unwrapping something you’ll love. They’re not always the only ones involved in the gifting exchange, though. That’s why this is also our call for parents to hop on the wishlist bandwagon on their kids’ behalf. 

“Some of our biggest cheerleaders are parents of young kids or even teenagers,” says Cono Onorato, Giftful co-founder and Hannah’s husband. “We have a one-year-old daughter, and we're in a scenario where we don't know if we can handle any more stuffed animals, so if we didn't tell our family anything, we'd potentially get a bunch of stuffed animals. Instead, we are a little bit more proactive to the grandparents or to whatever asks what she would like.”

With gifters, giftees, and even in some cases, the middle-men, satisfied, there’s an unexpected but important fourth party that stands to benefit from the simple act of communicating a wishlist too: the economy. The impact of returned holiday gifts can be brutal and in the billions. A gifting strategy that’s more likely to deliver a present that will be cherished will stop that transaction cycle in its tracks.

A Polite Nudge In The Right Direction

One of the joys of a wishlist is that it’s not binding. If you’re given a list but just so happen to come across something that would be perfect for the recipient in mind, go for it! Rather, both Oronatos and Lee, as well as Cynthia Grosso, a national etiquette expert with the Charleston School of Protocol, agree that a wishlist is better described as gifting guidelines. They stand to give you an idea of the kind of things someone might want, likely including sizing and color preferences. If you choose to go directly off the list, all the more power to you.

Even with the relaxed nature of wishlists, you shouldn’t just go throwing them around willy-nilly. Sending out a gift list unprompted, for example, could be a pearl-clutching faux pas. Rather, Grosso recommends only handing over a copy if asked what you (or for parents, your kids) want for the holidays. Then, wish away!

“I think a gift list is helpful, but only if I’ve asked,” says Grosso. “You would never give a gift list to somebody who didn’t ask.”

Another thing to keep in mind when designing your wishlist, no matter how loosely binding, is to be respectful of price points and intentions. Grosso reminds us that both budgets and relationships are subjective. Your neighbor probably won’t be spending as money on you as your mom. What counts as pricy will be different for every person too. To compensate, consider creating different lists for different relationships and budgets, or one big list that includes a range of prices and personality. 

An Audit Of The Thoughts That Count

Some may argue that a wishlist interrupts the root intention of giving a gift, said best by that age-old adage that it’s ‘the thought that counts.’ Well, if you ask Cono, that’s only really something anyone says to express thanks for a gift that they don’t really like. 

We’re of the mindset that the most thoughtful thing you can do for a person in a gifting scenario is to get them something they like. When they unwrap something satisfying, they are spared the awkward interaction of pretending to like it then either going through the hassle of returning it and buying their own gift, or figuring out where to hide it away in some junk drawer or another. 

“There's nothing more sentimental and joyful than seeing somebody enjoy a gift that you've given,” says Lee. “Thanks to a wishlist, you're giving them something that's gonna make them happy. And there's nothing better than that.” 

Thought? Check. A good gift? Also check. That’s the holiday magic of a wishlist.

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