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Rules to give by

Giving you three unbreakable gift-getting guidelines.

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Oh please, no, sweet jesus: not the man box.

You know, the man box: those jewellery boxes that aren't for jewellery (because only men who are homos wear jewellery, everyone knows that) but sit atop men's dressers to hold pocket change and a watch.

The man box has got to rank—along with teddy bears, Christmas-themed framed family photos and singing rubber lobsters—as one of the shittiest gifts on the planet.

I am not an ingrate. I'm just telling it like it is.

There is one rule for gift-giving. You know it. I know it. Your dreadfully willful Auntie Margie who buys you quilted Nova Scotia tartan pot-holders every Yule knows it. It has come down from on high, so get ready: Unless you know exactly what a person wants—that is, unless you've been told directly or have it on unimpeachable account—gifts should be edible, drinkable or breakable.

The edible/drinkable categories are a godsend in the fight against

horrid post-Christmas waste, because there's nothing to toss in the

garbage, re-gift or donate. Eat the gift or give it to visitors, and it vanishes. Compost it if you must. Even a plant you detest (Christmas cactus? Shudder...) you can kill. And the

breakable category at least allows receivers the freedom to smash the thing and claim innocence, like the mother did with that leg lamp in A Christmas Story. There is an oft-told family yarn around here, in which my mother-in-law smashes a priceless (har, har) tentacle-bedecked ornamental bowl wedding gift by accidentally-on-purpose kicking it off the coffee table. See how useful the breakable category can be?

I'm not saying the rule is perfect. After all, one would hardly welcome beluga sturgeon caviar imported from the Black Sea in environmental exultation. Mixed nuts, while edible, are not for allergy sufferers; Hickory Farms Beef Stick and Cheese gift baskets are not a vegan's delight (nor mine, thanks for asking).

Consider the edible/drinkable/breakable rule, then, the best we've got.

And for those of you struggling with the dregs of your Christmas shopping, regard it as your Star of Bethlehem; your guiding light in a long dark season of post-holiday schmuckdom.

It's so easy a rule to follow. Yet so few do. Examples of some gifts that have landed with a deadening thump in my lap? Puffy silk girly hangers, a toilet seat cover with a matching C-shaped pee-catching rug, a plastic pink appliance (I don't even know if there's a name for it) into which you stick your hand to dry a manicure, a set of Royal Canadian Mint commemorative coins, an

18-inch porcelain doll (breakable, technically, yes...but sadly, not in its entirety).

Those, I argue—and that porcelain doll, I want to make clear, I received as an adult—slot neatly into the all-time-no-nos-of-gift-giving list.

The way I see it, every gift is a gamble. And the edible/drinkable/breakable rule is insurance on that unfortunate truth. And it's the precise thing that doubles the value of your gift because it removes the burden-factor—on you, because everyone loves, from the edible category, beautifully boxed desserts (have you seen those Gourmandises Avenue Patisserie Fine Christmas chocolate boxes at the Halifax Farmers' Market?), and on the receiver, because as soon as he or she wills it, the gift is gone, either down the throat or into the green bin.

(Might I add, in the run-up to Christmas, the Halifax Farmers' Market—the ultimate edible/drinkable gift resource—is open evenings this week and next.)

The edible/drinkable/breakable rule makes Christmaseasier, too—why agonize over what to get your life-weary, interest-less father?

Get him alcohol. He'll appreciate getting loaded on a bottle of Glenlivet more than he'll delight in stroking his 15th pair of woolen golf club warmers on the course this spring.

Look, this all comes down to intentions.

Good intentions come bred in the bone of gift-giving. But the only authentic version of good intentions is when you're giving burdenlessly. That is, shipping over either something that the person has told you they would love, or something (edible, drinkable or breakable) they might love and which, if they don't, can be dispatched with, post-haste.

I know there are those out there scoffing—scowling, even—at my sturdy dissertation on the art of gift-giving. Fine. Have a very happy Christmas. And may Santa fill your stocking with a man box.

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