What to do about the perennial Christmas gift problem? Sorry, no answers provided here—unless you're in the market for a cupcake car

Oh, dear. December begins next week, the shops are laden in their Christmas finery and the new-look Whitcoull's Santa is peering over activities at the intersection of Queen and Victoria St West.

Time to panic about presents.

This is the one part of Christmas that really bothers me. That and the perennial struggle to find a carpark. I love the big meal, the abundance of chocolate almonds, the hymns, the tree and pretty lights. I loathe the drive to acquire a bunch of stuff simply because that is what is expected. There is no purchase less satisfying than the "that'll do" Christmas gift for a workmate or family member whose tastes you're not sure of.

In the US, the ever-helpful luxury department store Neiman Marcus has released its annual Christmas wishlist, a selection of totally impractical items for the person who has an inflated sense of their own importance. For US$25,000 you too can look like a total a-hole driving around your neighbourhood in a cupcake car.

Or for US$200,000 you can satisfy your intellectual pretensions by attending a dinner at the Algonquin Hotel (home of the late great Round Table with Dorothy Parker et al) with such brainy heavyweights as, um, actor John Lithgow (the older gentleman from 3rd Rock from the Sun), writer/director Nora Ephron (her latest book was I Feel Bad About My Neck) and Ali Wentworth, that annoying blonde lady you see sometimes on Oprah's "Live from Chicago" segment. (BTW, not going to miss Oprah when she folds up her suitcase after 25 years. Not even a little bit.) Ali is only there, of course, because her husband is political pundit George Stephanopoulos, who I would pay money to dine with. Likewise Malcolm Gladwell and the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik.

In New Zealand we get the annual "wacky gift" lists in the newspapers. I compiled one for the Herald a few years ago. That day spent sweating in a crappy silver Hyundai Accent as I drove across Auckland looking for Christmas quirk—the remains of some photographer's meat pie funking up the back seat—was one of the worst of my professional life.

TV One's Breakfast got in on the seasonal act this week with "hot toy" suggestions. Weirdest was the set of Elmo Tickle Hands, red furry gloves that talk in Elmo's excitable voice. Paul Henry got maximum snigger value out of the line, "Let's tickle later". The other biggie was the Zhu Zhu Pet, a mechanical hamster that is apparently a massive hit in the US and Europe but won't be available in NZ till next year, making it the most elusive and disappointing Christmas gift suggestion of 2009.

Gird yourself, too, for the Christmas trend stories: for example, apparently, people aged 50-plus are more likely to regift items.

I have a friend who never gets into a state over Christmas because she has a present drawer which she continually restocks. Come December 1 she has bought everyone's present, sent the ones that need to travel overseas or down country, and all she has to worry about is how to stop her kids from finding and opening their gifts early. This is actually quite a problem because they are diabolically clever and have no qualms over ruining their mother's Christmas morning fun. Each year I think I will follow her lead and get my Christmas shopping out of the way early and each year I just can't be arsed.

I have found a way to beat the Christmas '09 crowds, though. I am making pressies this year. So the problem will be less a matter of me misjudging what the people on my gift list might want, but being a lesser craftswoman than I'd like to be. Holiday Greetings, everyone!

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