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OpinionColumnistsRachel Weingarten

All wrapped up in Christmas gifts

If you feel a need to give, give

If you feel a need to give, give food to the hungry, clothes and toys to those in need, or donations to victims of storms, violence or conflict. Photo Credit: iStock

Every Christmas retailers wait with bated breath to see how sales officially panned out for the holidays and ultimately for the year.

In 2013, an early Hanukkah/Thanksgiving combo threatened to usher in a sluggish season. Add to that a still-recovering economy and the erratic weather, and it seemed like people were disinclined to really splurge this year.

Or were they?

My mailbox has been brimming over with glossy holiday catalogs hawking oddball items with startling price tags. And since I also write holiday gift guides, I'm also inundated with over-the-top gift ideas. Apparently, a certain segment of the gift-buying public lusts after gem-encrusted headphones ($1,000) and tricked-out scooters ($15,000).

Yet I was initially most perplexed when presented with the idea of the Trump SoHo New York's gift concierge service, which offers the ability to brainstorm with a personal gift shopper from the comfort of a cushy hotel bed. After all, most people I interview are on strict budgets -- trying to make gifts not only Instagram-worthy but also both meaningful and memorable. Many of them also talk about working so hard they miss out on the important things in life.

The concierge has "ins" with the most exclusive stores in town and almost magically makes even the hardest-to-find gifts appear all wrapped and waiting in your room by day's end. So perhaps spending a night in a lavish suite and indulging in spa services while a gift concierge runs holiday errands is less about luxury than briefly stopping to smell the roses.

And while some of us still search for the perfect -- if sometimes pricey -- gifts, others hope to find ways to both give and give back. Evelyn Tipacti, a community relations specialist, wants to teach her young daughter the true meaning of Christmas "instead of focusing on crazy sales and endless stream of gifts." In place of gifts this year, she's donating to charities matching her friends' interests and ideologies. "You give, but you also receive."

In that vein, Doug Fleener, president of retail consultancy Dynamic Experiences Group of Lexington, Mass., said that too many of us forget to be nice to salespeople. "Treat store employees the way you want you or your family members to be treated," he said. And while you're at it, buy local when possible. Scott Roberts, owner of the Gamer's Gambit in Saddle Brook, N.J., asks people to support local businesses because no matter what's on your list "you can find almost anything you want in a local store."

Except of course, for a gift concierge.

Rachel Weingarten is the author of the forthcoming book "Ancient Prayer: Channeling Your Faith 365 Days of the Year."


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