When thinking about hobbies and pass times of mine over the past decade or so, one that has taken a lot of my time and attention since even during my first undergrad degree has been gift exchanges of various types. A personal favourite is the Secret Santa gift exchange though there are other types of gift swaps including white elephant gift exchanges etc. And while sometimes gift exchanges can be unsatisfying (for various reasons) there are many reasons why I enjoy the Secret Santa gift exchange: 1. Because you're not shopping for the same person year after year it's often refreshing to figure out just what to find/buy/make for a person 2. You often have enough information to make a personalized decision as to what to get someone and can tailor the gift appropriately rather than getting a generic item that just about anyone could use/own (or conversely not like/regift/donate if it somehow isn't suitable) 3. You're more likely to get something appropriate (if you get something at all) too but that's a minor aspect of gift exchanges, really — though I really do love the surprise of finding out what might appear, I find that gift exchanges are a lot more about the gift giving rather than the gift getting for me — it's just great getting that warm and fuzzy feeling from finding someone else the perfect gift.
Over the years I've participated in a number of different types of Secret Santa exchanges, from in person exchanges with friends and exchanges within a student group (such as CKI) with strict or not so strict financial limits, to larger exchanges across the country with Goldfishlegs.ca (a contesting community), or worldwide with BoardGameGeek or RedditGifts. Each of these exchanges have been met with varying degrees of success and this has a lot to do with the community that has sprouted up about the exchanges. Currently I mainly participate in the BoardGameGeek and RedditGifts ones (yes, I participate in RedditGifts yearround, but the biggest emphasis is on their awesome Secret Santa which is by far the largest and often times the most fun — but then again I also rather love their Trick or Treat and Arbitrary Day exchanges plus a number of their themed exchanges too). I find that it's important to have some commonalities between one's self and the other participants in an exchange for it to be enjoyable (I don't exactly fit the average demographic from GoldFishLegs.ca though I do still love that contesting community. I didn't find their secret santa as enjoyable as a result, though that impression might change if my personal life situation changes). That said too much familiarity or similarity is not always ideal either — it's kind of nice to find the unexpected (and in the case of international exchanges, things you cannot find locally) in a gift.
But what makes a good gift? I find it really varies on the person and this is why this is often a difficult question. Sometimes it's a case of finding something someone has longed for, while at other times it's simply finding something that they didn't even know existed or that they didn't know that they wanted. Sometimes the search is easy and quick whereas at other times it's complex and filled with potholes. Finding gifts that fit into one's budget etc. is another constraint too… but I really do enjoy the process in general.
And so since today marks the first day of signups for the RedditGifts Secret Santa, I encourage you all to take part if so inclined… or if not, to be a bit more aware of the joys and tribulations of such gift exchanges.