It’s three o'clock on the afternoon of 24 December and you have not bought a single gift. Panic sets in. You are not the only one in this situation. The shops are filled with other desperate last-minute shoppers, at the point of doing bodily harm to each other. So what do you do?
Here are a few tips (apart from buying a heap of those little gift bags, in order to save you all that wrapping time) for all those who have half an hour to get it all together, or face the wrath of their families.
One-size-fits-all. Accept that you do not have the time to get individual gifts for everyone. Choose a single shop, such as a bookshop, a soap shop or a department store and do all your Christmas shopping in one place. You will be able to find something vaguely suitable for everyone. You just don't have the time to go on an individual expedition for each person, so even if the presents are a bit generic, it's better than when you arrive empty-handed.
Money, money, money. Right, not very personal, but always welcome and you can solve all your gift problems at the local ATM. The secret is to go to a card shop and buy a few really nice cards, so that the gifts do not look so impersonal. Take half an hour and write a really nice message in each card. It will be appreciated. The only problem is that this is definitely going to cost you quite a bit, as there's no hiding what you paid for the present.
Wire goods. These you can buy at the roadside, and there is usually enough of a selection to keep everyone happy – from fruit bowls to toy cars to ornaments to containers. These people even sometimes sell the most beautiful paper lampshades. And, if you do all your Christmas shopping in one go at the roadside, just think how happy you'll make the vendor. So you'll be doing your bit for the Christmas spirit and all that.
Lotto tickets. You could be giving a lot more than the face value of the Lotto ticket. This could be an exciting present for someone who never gets around to buying Lotto tickets, but who always dreams of winning the jackpot. And who knows, if it happens, you might even get something out of it.
Fancy food. Go to a deli and get an array of really nice bottled foodstuffs – olives, jams, pickled onions, fancy Balsamic vinegar and olive oil. You can decide later who gets what, but these are presents that are always appreciated. And they also won't break the bank.
Gift vouchers. These are not wildly personal, and they will cost you, but everyone likes receiving these. It is always a good idea to give a gift voucher for a shopping centre rather than for a particular shop, as this leaves the choice wide open for the person who receives it. Let's face it, if Uncle Danny has never read a book in his life, he's not going to start, because you gave him a bookshop gift voucher.
Flowers and wine. OK, these gifts are for real emergencies – flowers for all the women and wine for all the men. Everyone will be happy to receive them, even though they do give the message loud and clear that you spent all of ten minutes to do your shopping. People who spent weeks trawling the malls looking for presents for you, might be a bit thin-lipped when receiving this.
Chocolates. Mmmm. Not a real winner, but certainly better than nothing. But only just. Boxes of chocolates are the last resort of the gift-desperado, because on Christmas the kids are already on a sugar-high, and the rest of the people on some sort of diet – either self-imposed or as a result of existing medical conditions. In short, anyone who guzzles the whole box, shouldn't be doing so.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated December 2010)