Alice-Azania Jarvis: 'I may not have the perfect gift – but I won't have the wrong one'

In The Red

Two weeks before Christmas, and it's time to start shopping. At least it's time I started – I have friends who started over a month ago, the organised bores, hitting the high street before the festive lights were even lit. And yet, for some reason, I can't quite get myself out of the door and into the shops.

It's not the crowds that I'm dreading – although I expect they're going to be pretty ghastly. Or the prices, off-putting as they may be. No, it's more the task of matching people to presents that gets me.

Just as papers start to produce the inevitable gift guides telling us what to buy this Christmas, it's at least as important to consider what not to buy. Because there's nothing more wasteful than an unwanted gift – a lesson I learned several years ago, after panic-buying my father an "ironic" calendar of Kylie Minogue posing in her smalls.

It could have been worse – I realised pretty quickly that it was a no-hoper and returned it before the 25th. Unfortunately, I chose to replace it with a Norah Jones CD – perhaps even less appropriate, and entirely without irony. It's yet to be taken out of its wrapping; in fact, the most worthwhile thing that could be done with it would be to donate it to Oxfam. A noble gesture – but not exactly what you want from a Christmas gift you've given.

Similarly unwanted were my home-made offerings the year before: hand-crafted candles, packets of freshly baked ginger-nuts and beaded jewellery. Not only were they all decidedly mediocre, but they ended up costing almost as much as their shop-bought equivalent.

So I'm taking no risks this year. I'll be avoiding the obvious pitfalls – the control-top pants, the racy calendars and Woolworths gift vouchers – and settling instead for safer options.

I've made a list of what not to get each person; a kind of back-up procedure to stave off worst-case scenarios. There'll be no bath salts for my mother, as she won't use them; no chocolate for my cousin, because he's lactose-intolerant; and no socks for anyone – I'm just not that desperate.

In fact, this Christmas I'll be shopping by process of elimination. I may not have the perfect gift idea for everyone but, if all goes according to plan, at least I won't have the wrong one.

So relatives: expect plenty of books. Friends: well, in the current climate you'll be lucky to get anything, but if you do, it'll be chocolate-coated. Boyfriend: edibles, as always.

And colleagues: ha, just kidding. As if I would buy presents for my colleagues.

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