My friends,

This week is Christmas, a time for us to celebrate the birth of Jesus by giving and receiving gifts. And if you’re anything like me, you haven’t started shopping yet. Of course, if you’re anything like me, then you should congratulate yourself for undeniable sexiness. I’m just saying; it comes with the territory.

Gift giving is really difficult. Each year, I try to buy unique gifts for friends and family, but the success to failure ratio has not been very high. Apparently no one appreciated that I signed their names up for the adoption of dolphins, those selfish dolphin haters. What better a Christmas gift than to know that you helped a dolphin or a child in need? Apparently a Playstation 3, according to these ingrates.

 But with the economy being tough, we must all strive to give meaningful gifts on a budget, which is why I am proud to present the annual Jagged Noodles list of creative and inexpensive gift ideas. I hope these ideas will inspire you and make your holiday just a little less stressful:

Baked goods baskets: Whatever happened to those days when we could just bake cookies and breads, put them into baskets, and exchange them with our neighbors over a game of Bridge or Hearts? I say we bring back those days. However, it’s too much work, so just mix the dry ingredients together, print out the recipe, put into a box, wrap with a bow, and give that as a gift. Also that way, if the cookies turn out bad, you won’t be to blame.

Lucky bamboo: Plants generally make awful gifts, because they are expensive and require care and maintenance. Stand-alone lucky bamboos, however, are cheap and require no care at all. Add one to a glass, fill with pebbles from your yard, and tie with a ribbon. And if you’re Asian and you give them to your non-Asian friends, they’ll be flattered that you’re sharing your culture with them.

Stuff for the little ones: People will think you’re so thoughtful if you give them a gift that is meant for their pet or children. Since animals and small children are not picky, you have lots of flexibility. A sock filled with tuna is a cheap and effective gift for a cat. An old tennis ball you found on the street, wrapped with a bow, is good for a dog or a toddler.

Mementos: The trouble with most gifts is that they’re meaningless. We never give anything that is actually significant to us. Wouldn’t people be touched if they received our first baby tooth or our kid’s macaroni picture? It’s meaningful, and it shouldn’t cost you a dime.

In-kind labor: Everyone possesses unique and useful skills, except maybe children. Gutter-cleaning, gardening, tax filing, pole dancing, those all make great gifts. Think of what you are good at, and offer an hour of that as a gift. Unless, of course, your going rate is more than twice what you would spend on a normal gift. In that case, give blank journals.

Long, heart-felt letters: It is much easier to go and buy a gift than to sit down and write a moving letter. Sure, it can be hard to write to some people, such as your mailman, but once you sit down at a desk, the words will come flowing.

Experiences: Many of the best gifts are not tangible. Experiences often make for a wonderful gift. For example, if you work in a cubicle doing data entry, why, a certificate for a day of doing just that makes a great gift for a high-school or college student, to see what real life is all about. To make it an even more special and life-like gift, have them work on a Saturday, and have your boss email and tell them to redo most of it.

Murals: Everyone loves a mural. Find a way to get into a friend or loved one’s home while they’re away shopping, and paint a winter-scene mural on their wall. This is a little pricier, but if you get paint on Craigslist, it’s much cheaper.

I hope that you’ve been inspired. This holiday season, I wish you and your loved ones a time of joy and relaxation. May the warmth of the holidays surround you, and the spirit of family and togetherness fill you with hope and happiness. See you next year. I have to go write a heart-felt letter to my boss.

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