A woman holding a gift
With the holiday season approaching, there are plenty of gift guides to help, but are they always the best option? (Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash)

Home for the Haul-idays: Are Gift Guides Too Enticing?

The search for the perfect present is both easy and complicated with various present-buying lists to mark the season.

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A woman holding a gift
With the holiday season approaching, there are plenty of gift guides to help, but are they always the best option? (Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash)
The search for the perfect present is both easy and complicated with various present-buying lists to mark the season.

With the year coming to a close, the rapidly approaching holiday season is following suit. Although there will definitely be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and caroling out in the snow,” the question of what kinds of gifts to get for others looms overhead. Even for those who don’t celebrate the Christmas holiday — or prefer a more secular approach to it — there’s no doubt that the holidays have become synonymous with gift giving and receiving. As a result, the intriguing gift guides that swarm the internet are chock-full of new products to fit a range of tastes, while also helping to trim down the hunt for the perfect present.

Holiday gift guides are curated lists of the best or most favored items by a retailer or media outlet, all for a certain target audience. Take the Best Buy Gift Guide for example: This list contains the “hottest” or “most featured” items that they believe would make good gifts for anyone this holiday season. The company organizes all the best products into one page for an easy, pain-free holiday gifting experience.

Gift guides can be seen around the web for every kind of online shopper. The obvious go-to site for online shopping year-round, Amazon, doesn’t fall short when it comes to the holidays. Amazon’s “Holiday Gift Guides” sort out present categories by who the recipient is, their interests and even price ranges for gifts. From “Oprah’s Favorite Things” to “Clever’s 2021 Gift Guide,” these lists can weave their way into beloved publications for casual readers. Online publications are especially important to the success of the gift guide because they draw in readers that are specifically looking for the content. Vogue sports an impressive compilation of titles that seemingly cover all tastes: “100 Gifts Under $100 for Everyone on Your List” and “What 14 Vogue Editors Are Giving (and Hoping to Receive) This Holiday Season” are just samples of these titles. And, shockingly, “Show Them How Much You Care With These Thoughtful Gifts” is a Vogue list that pops up on the front of their gift guide as well. The irony of this list, however, is that the so-called “thoughtful gift” that will be given to a loved one, will come from a publicized Vogue article.

With so many outlets to choose from, is there such a thing as having too many options from these gift guides? Though there are pure intentions behind these lists that recommend blankets, candles and appliances — to name a few — can we receive too many recommendations? Constantly looking at all these options may cause hesitation and greed over what and how much to get to show our loved ones we care. Even though they are just suggestions, that toss between too much or not enough is at the heart of the gift guide confusion that pops up each year.

For starters, the main appeal of the holiday gift guide is how easy it is to scroll through gifts and have them delivered right to your doorstep. By relieving stress in the form of quick shopping, the gift guide accounts for checking off one box on the never-ending list of holiday stressors. With so many obligations piling up at the end of the year — whether it be finishing projects, school exams or just closing off work with a bang — there’s always going to be a need to take away some of that pressure; the hustle-and-bustle culture has made everyone so busy to the point that even a simple gift guide can make a load of difference.

Despite the glitz of the holiday gift guide, there comes a moment where some of these lists make you stop and question how reasonable or outrageous these recommendations are. One example that is new to some, but a favorite to many, is the YouTube “Christmas Wishlist” video category. Unlike traditional gift guides that are web pages littered with information, these YouTube videos serve as your “go-to” resource for all things gift-giving and gift-receiving. When searching the phrase “Christmas List Ideas 2021” on YouTube, the list of videos that discuss over 100 items to give is incredible. For those unfamiliar, this “style” of video is not new: You can find years’ worth of videos that cover holiday wish lists, whose differences are based on whatever is “trending” at the time. The sheer variety of videos that can cover a triple-digit limit also vary by gender and category, so there’s bound to be something embedded in those sets for everyone on your list.

The common threads that run through each video gift guide are how they cover humongous amounts of stuff, while also staying “on trend” to their audience’s desires. In the case of these videos, many of them are filmed by teenagers, for teenagers. As Adelala stated at the beginning of her huge “130+ Christmas Gift Ideas” video, “I know that parents start to ask for Christmas Wish Lists way early on, so feel free to send this to your parents.” While it is important for these creators to understand their audience — and how or why they stumble upon their YouTube pages in the first place — it’s a good reminder of how young the guide’s ideal viewer is.

In Adelala’s case, curating a list that appeals to teenage girls reflects on the kind of audience members she has as well. Instead of, say, a full-time working adult scanning these videos for themselves, there’s an unspoken generalization that these are fun, relaxed videos for teens across the web. However, from the number and type of objects mentioned in this gift guide, it begs the question of how necessary it is to make such an exhaustive list. From luxury jewelry to designer gym wear, should teens even be suggesting these kinds of gifts to each other?

A brief disclaimer in Gavin Holcombe’s “100+ Christmas Gift Ideas for TEEN BOYS 2021” stated, “I’m not asking for all of these things. I’m just giving you guys ideas.” With further emphasis in the comments on the fact that “I’m not forcing you to ask for these things,” Holcombe is just one creator who brings that question of excess into a larger community consciousness. Even if these lists are helpful gift guides to the ones watching them, what can we conclude about these lists from the kinds of items that are always mentioned? For example, should young teens tell other teens to ask for expensive Nike shoes or laptops in the same breath that they prompt pillows and aromatherapy products as “ideal” gifts? The range of items is positively received, but the underlying tone of the lists comes across as overzealous for just a recommendation list.

Since many of these YouTube creators mention specific brand name items — especially those that are popular on social media apps like TikTok — their suggestions allude to a sense of “trendiness” attached to physical objects. Unfortunately, this leads to the notion that people must have a certain version of an item to be considered “timely” to trends. The acknowledgment of how these gift guides could potentially turn into toxic forms of greed or wanting is a clear reminder that we need to be careful with how others may perceive these suggestions, especially those that are unfamiliar with this “Christmas Wish List” video format. However, it’s important to remember that these videos are meant to be pure entertainment. Because they are commonly made with kids and teens in mind, these “100 plus item” wish lists are not supposed to be taken so seriously. These YouTube gift guides have garnered hundreds of viewers because they are fun to watch; at the same time, we can also recognize that there are some qualities to these lists that could become problematic if they are not received with lightheartedness in mind.

Additionally, gift guides remind us to be mindful of the true meanings behind the things we give. A recent video posted by Natalie Lawyer titled “100+ Christmas Wishlist Ideas 2021!!” led with a quick reminder, “Obviously, that’s not what it’s about,” to reference the season. She acknowledges that there is much more substance to the holiday season than material gifts, while still offering a list of recommendations for those who are interested. Because the holidays are commonly referred to as the “season of giving,” it is a great reminder of how we can reach out to the hearts and minds that contribute to our own lives. The “season of giving” calls for everyone to give back to those who have uplifted them throughout the year, yet the commercialization surrounding the act of “giving” has shifted the notion of what a “good gift” looks like. Emotional gifts of love and kindness become pushed to the back of the queue, in favor of waving around material presents to “express” one’s appreciation.

While gift guides can be one way of expressing such feelings, it does not have to be the end-all solution. As Her Campus reflected on this now common phrase, “Sometimes, the only thing people need is to be shown support through genuine care and compassion.” The compassion that we grant to our peers each day can be just as memorable as receiving the latest tech device or “trending” gift. Maybe the gift guides can raise problems for the way we interpret “giving gifts,” or maybe we’re giving too much thought to a process that’s supposed to help conquer our holiday hauls. Whether your seasonal merriment is dripping in presents or not, a gentle reminder to focus on the present might be the right gift after all.

Writer Profile

Joy Young

Chapman University
English Literature

Constantly searching for new inspiration, Joy strives to stay curious and expressive. Fueled by coffee and creation, she’s passionate about finding ways to write it down and share it around.

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