The exchange of official gifts on a State visit, usually on the first day, serves as a gesture of goodwill between the visiting and the host nation (source). Sounds a lot like the impetus behind the hostess gift and definitely jives with the spirit of the winter holidays.
The Gift: Suffrage Documents
Valerie Jarrett, one of the president's closest friends and advisers, received a symbolic gift from Mr. Obama: two framed documents reflecting half a century of progress on women's rights. One is a petition for suffrage signed in 1866; the other is a resolution by Congress adopting the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
As Jarrett notes, it took "over 50 years ... from the time of the original petition to the time of the resolution. I think the president's message with me is that ... sometimes change takes time, and that many of the people who signed the original petition may not have made it across the finish line, but that you just have to keep at it." Jarrett says, "I look at it every morning when I come in, and I remind myself about why we're here"(source).
The Lesson: Give something that resonates with the personal connection the recipient has with a cause or a goal. It is a wonderful way to show her she is important to you and that you support her in her interests.
The Gifts: Benches, Jerseys, and Cake
For her Diamond Jubilee, celebrated in 2012, Queen Elizabeth II received gifts running the entire spectrum, from the economical to the utilitarian to the imaginative. From the Royal Engineers Association, she received two garden benches -- not exactly lavish, but appreciated. Other gifts were plain baffling. The High Commissioner for the Republic of Zambia gave her a "sports shirt," and Glasgow City College gave her a cake.
"What makes a good gift is something practical,” said Dickie Arbiter, the queen's former press secretary. "She's not a frivolous person. She's very much the sort of person who is practical and down to earth. She doesn't like to receive gifts for the sake of receiving gifts. She wants something useful."
The Lesson: If a present is so bizarre it requires explanation, you’ve missed the mark. Whether you’re referencing a running joke or giving a kitchen gadget, it should be something the recipient can relate to right away. Otherwise, the gifting just comes off as an empty gesture.
The Gift: Cloisonné
In May 1972, President Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, met in Moscow in an effort to improve relations between their respective nations by signing the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreement. At the summit, Brezhnev presented his guest with a Cloisonné liquer set. Cloisonné, a difficult technique of soldering and enamel painting -- and a specialty of Russian craftsman -- is a favorite gift of Russian leaders.
The Lesson: A gift into which you pour your time and talents is always a good choice. I’m talking about something a few steps above homemade. Whether it be food, art, or poetry, a one-of-a-kind present from the heart and in which you take pride conveys a commitment to your relationship.
These are lessons to hold on to all year long, but since we are on the cusp of a gift-giving frenzy, here is the simple version. We’ll call it Plum Deluxe’s three Ps of presents: Personal, Practical, and with Pride.
Photo Credits: Red Stamp, art.com, Jonathan Brady/Associated Press, Gaius Cornelius, and National Archives and Records Administration.