I've been meaning for some time now to write a non-whiny essay on the difficulties of gift-giving. Dave Barry actually wrote a pretty good column on male ineptness in the area of gifts: http://www.centredaily.com/mld/miamiherald/living/columnists/dave_barry/10337737.htm . But he didn't cover all of the bases. Maybe I'll write the essay after experiencing the joys and sorrows of it all tomorrow.
In the mean time, I'll just point out two related points that are central to the problem of giving gifts. First--and this is quite unintuitive--the typical person is cannot predict with much accuracy what will make him/her happy. See http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/magazine/07HAPPINESS.html for the psychological research (you'll need to create a free account at the NYT if you don't have one).
Now, if we are not very good at predicting what would make ourselves happy, how in the world can we know what gift would make another person happy? That point is confirmed by research in economics. http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/12/23/1071941724550.html?from=storyrhs&oneclick=true .
Okay, enough bah-humbugging for now. Gotta clean the house and then work on getting into the Christmas spirit.