Should Holiday Wish Lists Exist? A Spirited Debate

holiday wishlist

Picture this: a humble pitch meeting; one woman brings up the idea for a light-hearted story — an ode to the holiday wish list! How quaint! Another woman immediately jumps in to curse the existence of wish lists and all they represent. Today, those two women (a managing editor and a deputy editor, respectively) meet in the internet arena to answer one age-old question: Are wish lists dumb? 

Nora Taylor, Managing Editor, Pro

To make and adhere to a wish list is to participate in responsible and conscious consumption. If one is to gift or to get, isn’t it better, in the long run, to ensure that the gift is going to be used and appreciated? That it isn’t just a gift for a gift’s sake, money spent simply to show that one has money to spend?

Wish lists are environmentally friendly, help one exist responsibly under a capitalist system designed to crush us day in and day out, and are a great way to preserve what little good will exists after four days spent in one’s childhood home.

Perhaps it is the time in my life or just my own peculiarities and particularities, but I LOVE crafting a holiday wish list. Who knows better what I want and need than me? Just getting cash feels decidedly un-festive, so why not ask for that cookbook that feels a little too decadent to buy yourself? Or a housecoat? Or linen pillowcases? Something that is a treat but that you know you will use and cherish and love. Wish lists save you from having to figure out where to drop off that return package, and they keep you out of the long return lines at Target. They save your friends and family the agonizing torture of scrolling through Etsy to finally land on buying you yet another mug with *INSERT PITHY SAYING HERE* on it in a cloud of defeat. At the very least, you are able to indicate the size or general vibe or color story of what you’re interested in. And in this busy and hurried age, isn’t it nice to know exactly what you need to buy and where?

To wit: My brother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I said “a pasta maker!” Not only did he get it, he had it shipped to my home to avoid my having to run through the airport, four pounds heavier from the cheeseballs my mom insists on making every year, and have TSA pull me aside to ask why I had a fettuccine attachment rolled up in my socks. Everyone wins!!!!!!

I will admit that wish lists can set you up for disappointment in the form of someone going rogue. Do they think their taste is better than your own? Do they not trust you to know yourself? Did they just buy those sweaters in bulk and are handing them out one by one, year by year, to their least favorite cousins? But such is life. I’m also not arguing that one should only buy one’s loved one something from their wish list, I personally love to gift a wish list + surprise combo. Buying something for someone off of their wish list says, “I hear you. I see you. I respect you. Now enjoy this SodaStream.”

Haley Nahman, Deputy Editor, Anti

This holiday season, my mother suggested our extended family do a Secret Santa gift exchange. I was thrilled by the idea. This would mean that instead of hemming and hawing over what to give 15 people and spending a paycheck to do so, I could simply do this for one person, spend no more than $50, and delight in hiding and then revealing my identity.

Then came Elfster.

Elfster is an online service that designates Secret Santas for a given group. My mom chose it for the convenience, and because “Look, we can all create wish lists!” Her first email to the group — bless her for organizing — urged us all to log in right away to learn who we’d been assigned and to fill out our wish lists.

Soon it became clear the wish lists were of paramount importance. “Has everyone filled out their wish lists?” one text said a few days later. “Everyone, please fill out your wish lists!” read another the next. “Hate to harp, but please finish your wish list today so that your gifter can take advantage of Black Friday deals!” said one on Thanksgiving.

As the weeks wore on, it became clear that certain members of the family were wish list-averse, and that they were, in short, ruining Christmas. I counted myself among them, and only caved once I realized I was favoring my principles over my mother, whom I love dearly and who made Christmas literally magical for me for decades. I reluctantly added an item from my favorite online shop, Coming Soon.

When I open this item in a couple weeks, I will have completed the loop of targeted errand-running that wish list holiday shopping entails. Here is something I want, a wish list announces, now someone give me the money to buy it because it’s December. I keep chuckling imagining how our big Secret Santa reveal will unfold, as we one by one cop to clicking “Buy” on each other’s wish list item — the energy in the room akin to that of elementary kids saying “here” during classroom attendance.

As a child, I resented wish lists because I wanted to be SURPRISED. As an adult, I’d genuinely prefer to receive a warm hug than have someone run an errand for me. It’s not about needing to be known, it’s about my belief that giving someone a good gift requires some thinking, and anything less is just box-checking. Joyless errand running. A waste of everyone’s precious money for the sake of saying they did it. I’d rather we just go to dinner.

Your turn: Which side do you fall on? Pro- or anti-wish list? And why? (Here for all your gift-related anecdotes, too!)

Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

Nora Taylor

Nora Taylor

Nora Taylor is the Editor of Clever. She can frequently be found knocking things over in the greater New York City area.

More from Archive