Two years ago, when Ann Noder was expecting her first child, she opened the best Christmas gift ever.
"I received a wonderful basket from a friend filled with things to comfort and care for a mom-to-be," the Chandler resident said. There was a robe for her hospital stay, lotions for sore feet, chocolates for taxed spirits and a lullaby CD.
"It was so thoughtful because it came at a time when I needed extra TLC," Noder said. "My friend obviously went to great trouble to include things that were timely and appropriate."
Nancy Wolter of Gilbert, too, has several favorite gifts from Christmases past.
"My mother was so amazing at giving us just the most perfect books," Wolter said. Among those were "Little Women," "Ann of Green Gables" and a leatherbound, illustrated collection of fairy tales by Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm.
She also keeps a picture that her then 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, drew her. Sarah is now 21.
"Of course I still have it," Wolter said. "It has all these things swirling around me ’cause she knows I’m a complete monkey mind."
As the holiday shopping season begins, it’s important to remember that the most memorable gifts aren’t always the ones with bigbudget marketing campaigns behind them. Nor are they purchased at the corner drugstore during a last-minute stop. The best gifts come from the heart. They demonstrate thought. They are meticulously chosen — the real shopping is done before the buyer leaves home. They’re personal.
"The most thoughtful gift I get (each Christmas) comes from my niece," said Tonie Salzano of Scottsdale. "She gives calendars with pictures of our grandniece throughout the year. I look forward to October to see her dressed up for Halloween."
Twentieth-century philosopher and social scientist Alfred Schutz observed that human beings have three needs: The need to give and receive affection, the need to include others and be included and the need to control and be controlled.
During the holidays, with many people financially strapped and personal debt at an all time high, perhaps it’s a good time to revisit those first two needs.
"If comforts and toys really made us happy like the commercials show, then why are so many people unhappy?" asked Kimberly Kingsley, author of "Opening to Life: Reconnecting with Your Internal Source of Energy, Wisdom & Joy."
Kingsley believes it’s possible to redirect the focus to the spirit of Christmas without feeling deprived. "The key at this point is to engage in conscious consumption, buying things mindfully, for the right reasons," the Scottsdale woman said.
She suggests talking to loved ones in advance so they know gifts will be smaller, different or not at all. "There are also many ways to limit gift giving by drawing names or choosing to limit dollar amounts on gifts," Kingsley said.
Or, don’t buy at all. Instead, involve the family in traditions and rituals. The Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, for example, will hold an an interfaith, multicultural storytelling event 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 17. The event celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan and Kwanzaa by candlelight. At home, Kingsley suggested baking pies together for the family dinner. Or have the children prepare a Christmas concert.
"It’s funny, as a child I don’t remember any specific gifts, although I know there were plenty," Kingsley said. "But I do remember my siblings, cousins and myself singing carols on Christmas Eve for the rest of the family."
The love-dollar association — the idea that "the more expensive the gift, the deeper the love" — is a Western phenomenon that came out of the 1920s, said Kurt Lindemann, a consumer and advertising expert at Arizona State University. It was then that social scientist John B. Watson was hired to refine market research techniques and help advertisers develop pitches. Watson recommended advertisers tap into fundamental human drives such as love, fear and rage.
In his 1957 book "The Hidden Persauders," pop sociologist Vance Packard identified eight emotional/psychological appeals that advertisers used — and still use today — to manipulate consumer spending. Among those appeals: The reassurance of worth, emotional security, ego gratification and power. "We think the price and the size of the present is a measure of love and self-worth," Lindemann said. "We think the more we love someone, the more we have to buy for them."
Which isn’t true, as Joan Batchelor of Mesa will attest. "My best Christmas gift ever was a quilt my grandmother, Adelaide Krebs, made me," Batchelor said. Krebs was 90 years old when she made the quilt, with arthritic hands and fading eyesight.
"It means so much to me because I know it was made with love. I have it in my cedar chest to give my daughter someday," Batchelor said.