Aubrey About Town | Holiday Gift Giving

My Top 5 Holiday Gifts to Give

I love the holidays! The holiday spirit gives me those warm and fuzzy feelings, and I cannot help but be in a more jovial and giving mood. Decorating the house with the stockings hung with care and planning those yuletide soirees may leave little time to shop the perfect gifts, so I put in place a little elvish magic to help get those packages under the tree! 

A bit of organization is all I need to get it all accomplished effortlessly. Everything goes on a spreadsheet—names, addresses, gift  names, SKU numbers, sizes, and prices—so I may easily keep track of who’s receiving what. It becomes a shopping list to print for reference while I shop, but when it comes to holiday gift giving, a bit of help from friends is all I need to get the gifts on the sleigh! For over a decade, the management team at Neiman Marcus San Francisco has personally shopped all my gifts, wrapped them with personal notes from Ed and me, and shipped them out, freeing up my time for hosting holiday festivities.

Over the years, my top gifts to give for the holidays have evolved into some tried and true favorites that I’m excited to share with you.

For Him | NM Quilted Full-Zip Sweater Jacket

Every year Neiman Marcus offers the lightweight, cashmere blend (Merino wool, cashmere, polyester) sweater jacket in some incarnation, and for years it has been a mainstay in our gift repertoire for the guys, including my Ed and former San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., who’s been spotted around town sporting his in navy. Ed can often be seen (looking most dashing) wearing one to run errands around town or dressing one up under a sharp sportscoat for casual functions and our weekly date night out. I make sure that a sweater jacket is under the tree for him every other Christmas. For availability see Kyung Sarto (NM, lower level).

For Her | The NM Cashmere Collection

My newest favorite gift to give is the gift of comfort. Who doesn’t love the feel of soft cashmere on a cold winter’s day? Whether she’s a trendsetter, fashionista, country girl, lounge lizard, or socialite sophisticate, the NM Cashmere Collection has the gals on my gift list covered. This collection doesn’t stop with sweaters; the ribbed lounge pants, coats, and cardigans are the epitome of cozy chic! For availability, please contact your personal shopper or Debbie Morales (NM, 4thfloor).

Kids | “Books to Bed” Printed Pajamas & Book Set

The little ones absolutely love these adorable, matching sets of books and printed, 100% cotton pajamas sets! They are the cutest way to elevate story time and allow their imaginations to soar. These darling and whimsical pajamas are printed with illustrations from many new and old kid favorite books, from sharing the Parisian boarding school adventures of Madeline and Eloise’s madcap antics as the youngest resident of New York’s posh Plaza Hotel to an endearing lesson in believing in oneself with The Little Engine That Could and holiday classics like The Night Before Christmas and The Story of Santa’s Beard, and many more! And how darling do my friends’ children look in theirs? I just had to send them home with their very own.

Home | Bernardoud Ecume White Porcelain

I love a gift that becomes tradition. This beautiful and contemporary pattern works with many styles, and you can add pieces bit by bit over the years. Founded in 1863 in Limoges, France, Bernardoud is a family-owned company specializing in creating the world’s most luxurious porcelain, working to the highest standards and collaborating with internationally famous, contemporary artists. With its modern, rounded divot pattern, the Ecume White is a nod to modern elegance and a favorite of chefs worldwide to showcase their culinary masterpieces. Everything from dinner plates to cereal bowls, espresso cups and saucers, caviar presentoir, service platters and gravy boats, and everything in between, Ecume White dinnerware is a marvelous way to create a gift giving tradition, building a thoughtful collection for someone you love and a collection to which they can add. The Ecume pattern is also available in pearl white, platinum, gold, and more.

For the Host | Yoku Moku Cigare Au Chocolate Rolled Cookies

These thin, Japanese, rolled, cigar-shaped cookies are delicate, crisp, and oh-so-buttery. Individually wrapped and in a beautiful, collectible tin, they transport well to holiday parties and are ready to put out for guests to enjoy. They’re a perfect, not too-sweet accompaniment to spiced cider, hot cocoa, hot toddy eggnog, mulled wine, and most holiday libations, being sure to add merriment to the party. And they are delicious alongside your matcha latte, cappuccino, or espresso for a decadent Christmas morning eye-opener. The chocolate-dipped Cigare Au Chocolate is my favorite, and the plain Cigare pairs best with most, but Yoku Moku’s Cinq Delices cookie assortment in the holiday tin is divine for the more sophisticated palate.

Etiquette in Gift Giving & Receiving

Be thoughtful in the gift you give. Though a cliché, it’s not always necessarily “the thought that counts” if one doesn’t really put any thought into it. A gift doesn’t need to cost much, and a gift made with love is always appreciated. Who doesn’t like a big tin of assorted, homemade Italian Christmas cookies or a beautifully knitted scarf? But if you know the person to whom you’re giving a gift is diabetic, gluten intolerant, or trying to watch their weight, then a tin of cookies may come off as insensitive. Know whom you’re giving to and be a little mindful in the gift you give. After all, consideration is one of the best gifts one can receive.

Accompany the gift with a greeting card. Not only does the card tell the recipient whom the gift is from, it also conveys your feelings and why you think the person(s) that you’re giving it to is so special that you thought of them this holiday season. A gift card insert is okay, but it doesn’t give adequate space to really express yourself. Take a moment and spend a little time in writing your note and be sure to include your return address on the back of the envelope. If you’re giving to a business associate, include your business card so the recipient knows where to send a thank-you note.

The wrapping elevates your gift. I love to wrap gifts. When I was 17, I had a summer job at the now defunct BoxWorks, a custom gift-wrapping store on Chestnut Street (and sometimes the Laurel Village location) in San Francisco. We specialized in high-end gift wrapping and shipping. I had wrapped everything from a pair of cowboy boots for singer Bonnie Raitt and a Cartierdiamond necklace and earrings suite, to a package with plane tickets and passes to Graceland for Beach Blanket Babylon’s late Steve Silver from his wife Jo Shuman Silver. I wrapped the box to look like Elvis Presley’s iconic white jumpsuit and cape, just to give you an idea of the level of customization we offered. I always had customers call to rave about how special it made the recipient feel and how often the aesthetic is nearly as important as the gift itself. You’ve spent the time finding the perfect gift, so why not present it beautifully?

Are gift cards a suitable gift or are they lazy? That all depends. If you’re giving a gift card from a business that you know the recipient loves, then do so! A friend once gave me a gift card to Neiman Marcus that they attached to a cute red NM popover pan and a box of the NM popover mix. I must admit that was very clever and on-the-nose. But you may want to rethink that rack of gift cards at your local pharmacy.

Don’t bring cut flower bouquets to a dinner party. It’s an interruption and can be a hassle for your host or hostess. Your host will have to stop everything and find a vase and a place for them. Unless you know what your host’s holiday decorations are, chances may be that they won’t match the aesthetic of the host or hostess’ décor. Try a potted living Christmas amaryllis, paperwhite narcissus, or Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera).

Every first week of December, my grandmother, Ruth Ann Brewster, brought out her blooming red Christmas cactus from hibernation in the garage to display hanging in her kitchen. So, they have a special place in my heart. Mine is in pink and stays on my terrace. These potted plants go with most holiday décor and won’t put your host out. Poinsettias are a lovely gift as well, but if your host has pets, then you may wish to leave the poinsettia out altogether as they are mildly toxic to cats and dogs. The creamy white sap in poinsettias contains the chemicals diterpenoid euphorbol esters and saponin-like detergents. If ingested, it can lead to drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea, and skin irritation.

Don’t expect a gift in return. Gift giving is a gesture of friendship, thoughtfulness, and love, but never a competition. Live with grace is the best advice I can share.

Be gracious when receiving a gift. Your face says it all! Yeah, I get it, that scented candle smells like burning rubbish or you’d sooner be found wearing a burlap sack before ever being caught dead in that god-awful blouse. Not everyone has the same taste as you do, or any taste for that matter. Hopefully, they’ll come across this article for some much-needed tips. But in the meantime, just kindly accept it, show your appreciation, and quietly save it to donate to someone who would like it. But always be honest and transparent and let the person whom you give it to know that someone gave it to you and you aren’t using it, but you thought they’d appreciate it.

Send a handwritten thank-you note. A text message or social media post may be seen as a lackluster effort that doesn’t make for a proper show of gratitude. Make a real effort that fits the thoughtfulness of the gesture. A simple, handwritten note is always the way to go and always appreciated. Just a quick paragraph mentioning how thoughtful they and the gift are and how much you appreciate their kindness goes a long way. For a timely thank-you note, the general rule of thumb is to send it within four weeks of receiving the gift. (In the case of wedding gifts, the bride has up to a year to send thank-you notes.)

“Consideration is one of the best gifts one can receive.”

Though these tips in gifting etiquette are commonplace to the American sentiment, gift giving around the world varies. For instance, it’s quite normal to open a gift immediately in front of guests in the U.S. and is expected in Italy, but in China opening a gift in front of others could be construed as one valuing the gift more than the guests around you. The same etiquette would apply in India and South America. 

In India, you are to use both hands when presenting a gift to someone. The same goes in Japan, and in Japan, the care in a gift’s packaging is almost as important as the gift itself. One would modestly downplay the gift while giving it, by saying something like “It’s nothing much” or “It’s not that nice” (it could be a Hermès Kelly bag!). 

Italians take pride in wrapping gifts in elaborate packaging, but it is taboo to wrap the gift in black paper with a gold bow, which to Italians would symbolize death and mourning. In Brazil, it is polite to send flowers to your host before coming to their home, and again afterwards.

Whatever the case may be with all these traditions in gift giving and receiving, the most important of all is love and gratitude. Merry Christmas and happy holidays!