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Be Merry: gift giving guide

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'Tis the season for cramming and shopping! Do not make Christmas presents another stressor, take a study break and get creative. The best Christmas gifts are ones that allow you to appreciate the loved ones in your life and there's no greater gift than time. Finding presents that allow you to spend time together will create long-lasting memories and strengthen relationships.

While gift certificates are a good way to ensure your friends can buy something they actually like, it also often comes across as thoughtless. This doesn't have to be the case, however. Buy a family member or friend a gift certificate for a coffee shop or restaurant but say they are only allowed to spend it when you are together. It's a nice way to keep in touch and give the gift of friendship.

Calgary often gets too cold in the winter to go out, so stay in to play some board games. Apples to Apples, Scene It?!, Banana Grams and Wavelength are guaranteed good times.

If you want to buy something unique and personalized, try local artisans, designers and musicians. In a world where most products are mass-produced, it's nice to receive something truly one-of-a-kind. The best hotspot for local artists in Calgary is Market Collective. On Dec. 11, 12, 18 and 19, the Market will be held in the old Ant Hill building in Kensington.

Students have been busy reading textbooks for classes so get them something fun to read for a change. Wacky books like OMG! How to Survive 101 of Life's More F'ed Situations, The Little Red Book of Very Dirty Words and How to Stay Humble When You're Smarter Than Everybody Else are just a few great ideas.

If you are going to go the jewelry route, first make sure your friend actually wears jewelry. Then pay attention to what he or she already wears and pick out similar items.

Gift baskets do require a bit more thought, but this is your chance to be creative. Find a theme (Christmas movies, sex toys, chocolate, coffee, etc.) and fill a basket with related items.

If you work in a smaller company and it is the norm to buy your employer a gift, then do so. Use good judgement here on how personal you can or cannot get. A bottle of alcohol is usually a safe bet, but don't be cheap. Try a bottle of Wolf Blass, Disaronno or Baileys, not a 12-pack of Black Ice.

Your parents will love you no matter what you do or do not give them, so do not stress. They know you are broke so this is where the thought is actually the only thing that matters.

This is also the season of Christmas parties, so keep in mind gift-giving etiquette. Never show up to a party empty handed, always bring the host a gift. Alcohol is the best bet, but you could also bring gourmet cheese or anything mentioned above depending on your relationship with the host.

If you want to avoid the malls, try shopping online. Thinkgeek.com is perfect for the geeks in your life, while etsy.com is a great online venue for handcrafted gifts from around the world. Also be sure to bookmark amazon.ca.

Ultimately, gifts are simply material expressions of a message just as easily written or spoken: "I appreciate who you are and am thankful for your friendship."

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