All I Want From Santa (See List)
WHEN it comes to holiday gifting, everyone says it’s the thought that counts. But when Jeminah Buot and her family kept getting the same gifts over and over again — like four stainless steel water bottles one year — they decided maybe “the thought” wasn’t enough.
So last year, Ms. Buot and her family went to MyGiftList.com and created a wish list of gifts they wanted for Christmas. “It made it less stressful,” said Ms. Buot, 32, an accountant from Petaluma, Calif. “I did one for my husband and myself, and then for our one daughter.”
In addition to a bike for her daughter and several gift cards for the family, she put down an expensive camera for herself. “That was good because I got to put the exact one I wanted,” she said. “And I actually got it.”
Until recently, gift registries were the strict purview of marrying couples and mothers-to-be: people entering new phases of life with new needs, like bath towels and baby strollers. But the registries have started creeping into the annual gift-exchanging ritual known as the holidays. And it’s not just children; adults are composing their own Santa’s lists as a sort of pre-emptive strike on the ugly sweater.
Most of the online registries are free, including the Buots’ choice, MyGiftList.com, which allows users to compile lists from any online store. Christmas-specific registries abound, too, with names like Santa’s Big List, Santa’s Hideout and Checked Twice. Perhaps not surprisingly, retailers and department stores are getting in on the action. Stores like Crate & Barrel, a favorite for wedding and housewarming registries, have general “celebration” registries that people are using for holiday lists; Toys “R” Us offers children a virtual postcard to the North Pole, while Nordstrom advertises its registry as a way to help loved ones shop for the holidays with “minimal effort” and “maximum joy.”
Nancy Lee, the founder of MyRegistry.com, a site that lets people create wish lists for any occasion, said that the number of holiday lists on her site had more than doubled since last year, numbering in the tens of thousands. The site was originally founded as a baby and bridal registry, but “over the years we’ve found that every November there’s just been this increasing trend, year by year, of people opening up holiday gift registries,” she said.
“Registering for the holidays has been something that people have done, really, since the beginning of time,” she added. “That’s really what a Santa’s wish list is.”
At a time when Black Friday shoppers have been trampled and pepper-sprayed, gift registries offer an appealing convenience. But the registries don’t sit well with everyone. For some, it’s yet another sign of Christmas having been hijacked by retailers and turned into a commercial holiday.
Gabriella Ribeiro Truman, 36, who runs a marketing firm in Wayne, N.J., said she was disgusted when she received three gift lists this holiday season, calling them “selfish and superficial.” One woman, an acquaintance from work, registered for a Jonathan Adler coaster set, a panino maker and a manicure-pedicure gift certificate.
“These people feel entitled,” she said.
For Bryce Gruber, editor of The Luxury Spot, a lifestyle blog, the line was crossed when she received a mass e-mail from a casual friend, asking for folks to chip in on a vacation to Europe, which was billed as a honeymoon with her dog. It included an option, she said, to buy two glasses of Champagne a day, at 18 euros (about $24) a glass.
“I was obviously really annoyed,” said Ms. Gruber, who lives in New York. “I mean, we’re not really close friends, so I thought the fact that she assumed she was getting a gift to begin with was not appropriate.”
Indeed, holiday registries can test the limits of etiquette. Dana Holmes, the editor in chief of Gifts.com, a Web site devoted to gift recommendations, said that “wish lists should be saved for the kids and for the teenagers.”
“Once you’re an adult,” Ms. Holmes added, “you should be willing to see what other people want to give you and see how they perceive you.”
Lee Igel, an associate professor at New York University, who teaches courses in consumer behavior, said that families using registries also ran the risk of making gift-giving feel transactional. “It’s really starting to pull away from the intent of gift-giving, which is that somebody goes out and they think about who you are and what you might like,” he said.
Still, Ms. Holmes isn’t opposed to them entirely. When used among people who agree to share them with one another, registries can be a useful starting point for ideas, she said. “The real key is to never share your wish list unless someone asks for it,” she said.
Ms. Lee from MyRegistry agrees, but only to a point. “Ultimately, the wish lists are a guideline,” she said. “And if somebody is averse to buying something off of a wish list then, by all means, you can deviate. But when you deviate, you need to know that your gift may be returned.”
For Ken and Jen Viola, both 28, tact was paramount. Newlyweds living on the Upper East Side, the couple had planned to hold several housewarming parties and created a gift list on MyRegistry. It has about 75 items, most under $25, including a candleholder shaped like a Chinese takeout carton and an outdoor grill that doubles as a planter.
But with Christmas approaching, as well as both their birthdays, they decided to let the registry cover all their celebrations.
“We’re just using the registry for ideas,” Ms. Viola said. “We have the expectation that we’re not going to get everything — or that we’re not going to get everything right away.”