As I reflect on the holiday season that just passed, I can’t help but notice the popularity of two types of gifts. Both have positive and negative side effects, but when you’re dealing with family and friends at Christmas, what doesn’t?

The Gift Card

The History: Giving someone store credit is not a new development. It used to be, however, a lot more rare. In fact, years ago, a cashier had to get out a pen and write out a gift “certificate”. Yes, a certificate. An actual sheet of paper with an official seal on it, like you made the store’s “Dean’s List”. Nowadays it’s a lot easier — you can just go to a drugstore and find an entire rack of plastic cards for every vendor not named Draft Kings. Get you some of that, North Korea.

The Positive: Gift cards allow you to get a gift for someone without actually getting a gift! If the illusion were any more amazing, David Blaine would be in charge of the Secret Santa office party.

The Negative: Like many of you, I received quite a few gift cards this holiday season. And like many of you, I don’t know where most of them are right now. Gift cards are great gifts but easy to lose. They should come in a special envelope that handcuffs to your wrist like a briefcase of nuclear secrets.

The Charitable Gift

The History: No one knows where this tradition started, but historians agree it was after the first Christmas. Otherwise something about the story would have been a bit off — “The wisemen gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and 50 dollars to the Lung Association.”

The Positive: Charitable gifts are what Christmas is all about. And they’re becoming more popular. Maybe that’s because to some generous givers out there, it’s easier than telling someone, “You can’t be trusted to make the world a better place, so I did it for you.”

The Negative: At a party, your gift may have to follow it. Let’s face it — once a baby cow is donated to a third world village in your boss’s name, the Homer Simpson bobblehead you got him will seem in bad taste. As he opens it, you’ll practically visualize yourself telling a family in Bangladesh that you were going to sponsor them for pennies a month but there was a blowout sale at Spencer Gifts you couldn’t pass up. Awkward.

Regardless of how you spent your time and money this holiday season, I hope it was a great one. All the best for this year being better than the last. Get you some of that, North Korea!

Categories: Columns