So Christmas is coming fast. And you haven’t shopped. And your loved ones will recognize, from painful experience, anything from the somewhat limited gift selections available at your corner gas station. What to do, what to do?
You can try pulling off the old “Christmas has become too commercialized so I’m donating to charity in my friends’ names at the very last minute instead” routine, but it doesn’t work for everyone, especially when the charity listed is mostly famous for its happy hour and all-you-can-eat wings.
Instead, try performing some useful, thoughtful kindnesses for your friends and family that they’ve put off, never knew about, or would never consider. Show that you’re really thinking about your friends’ well-being by making their lives easier and less stressful in some small way. Some examples:
Do their laundry. Take away your friends’ tired feeling of dread of looming household chores by sneaking over to their house to wash, dry, and fold all of their clothes. Take them out to a laundry service if you need to. Wouldn’t that be great to come home to? Especially if your friends have never had anything dry-cleaned before, and you just know that some of those delicate items you found stashed in secret places in their closets will need careful attention. Fold their clothes, add a touch of lilac, and get them back by Christmas morning for a delightful and unexpected surprise.
Why stop with laundry? Vacuum, straighten, do the dishes, groom the dog. No point changing the bed linens since those are still at the Laundromat, but you can scrub and sweep and dust. Imagine the look on your friends’ faces when they come home to find their lives made easier and all of their cherished belongings just a tiny bit out of place!
Don’t neglect the outdoors. Mow the lawn, trim the hedges, weed the flower bed. Again, if you’re pressed for time you can hire a lawn care service to do it. But don’t let them do it during the day, your friends might find out. You’ll have to pay a little extra, but get the lawn service to come by at night and work silently in the yard. Be sure to instruct them to avoid eye contact or visible lights and to run away immediately if spotted. Don’t want to spoil the surprise!
Have your friends’ photos enlarged and framed. This is a very personal, very practical gift that will bring back some heart-stirring memories. Don’t take entire photo albums, that’s too obvious. Just remove any distinctive photos of family members that will look good in a frame, especially nice, clear photos of their children. Also good: those “special” photos you found hidden in the underwear drawer will make a great photo montage. You can always sneak the originals back later, now that you have the spare set of keys they kept in a kitchen drawer.
Help them out with their children. Holiday planning is bad enough but now the kids are out of school and they want to go places all the time. Moms and dads have no time to think, much less get anything done! Take that problem away by dropping by when your friends are away, possibly filling out reports somewhere, and giving their kids rides to anywhere they’d like to go; movies, parties, unannounced sleepovers at friends’ houses. The kids will love knowing they’re doing something great for their parents, who have been looking a little upset recently. Although that just may be from wearing the same clothes several days in a row.
Get their car fixed. Or maybe not fixed, that’s a little extravagant for a present, but you can get the oil changed. Just borrow the car – or use the spare key you have – and run it over to Jiffy Lube. A fairly inexpensive and thoughtful gift that will cheer your friends up, and it’s not like they’ll need to go anywhere since they seem to spend all their time in the house, looking out through the curtains and hugging each other.
Have food sent to your friends’ house. Prepaid, of course, from one of the several excellent full-meal services in the area. Don’t send pizza, send something extravagant you know they haven’t tried before. No one needs extra pressure at Christmas, and receiving surprise late-night deliveries of food from unfamiliar delivery people can really help soothe the spirit. Besides, it’s not like they can go get takeout, what with their car gone. Be sure to send extra for the news crews.
Everyone sends cards, usually generic ones bought at the same stores. Be original and call your friends’ house to sing Christmas carols to them. Disguise your voice, you don’t want them guessing who you are yet! Call at all times – morning, noon, 4 a.m. – to keep them guessing. But remember, it’s rude to keep people on the phone for too long, so don’t sing for more than a minute and 45 seconds. Your reward will be the tears of love and helpless affection you hear on the other end.
And then, on Christmas morning, when you show up with their freshly folded laundry in the back of their smoothly running car, with their children singing Christmas songs in the front seat, you’ll be able to see the expressions on your friends’ faces when they finally realize all you’ve done for them. They’ll be so worked up, I bet they’ll hardly be able to speak.
You might want to have your own car ready nearby, possibly already running, so you can get out before their gratitude gets too emotional.