Finding the perfect gift is supposed to be a matter of instinct—something we achieve by tapping into our intuitions about the people we love and magically sensing what they want. To present such a gift is to bask in the warm glow of the bonds we share with those closest to us, and to briefly lend physical form to our mutual understanding.
That’s the Hallmark version, anyway. The reality, as millions of us are remembering this holiday season, is that giving gifts is hard work, and the yearly process of finding one for everybody who expects one from us can feel like a series of taxing emotional tests. How well do we really know the people in our lives? How perceptive and creative are we, and how generous? How harshly will we be judged if we get it wrong?