When I was in elementary school, I desperately wanted an Easy-Bake Oven. I even wrote a short story, based on a dream I had, in which my family and I were trapped during a tornado and I saved us from starving by making cakes in my Oven. But year after year, Christmas, Hanukkah and my birthday would pass in one festive swoop, and I would emerge, once again, Oven-less. Eventually, I came to accept that my dream was not meant to be.
But one day, when I was 17, I came home to a box on our kitchen counter with a big bow on top. My mom and sister had remembered my years-old wish: I finally had my Oven. I’ve received timelier, more useful and more extravagant gifts in my lifetime but none of them topped this one.
Giving a great present is an act of empathy and the best gifts — many of which the reporter Kate Murphy gathered in a not-so-scientific field survey for this story — show that the giver has paid attention. (As for the worst gifts, well, just wait until you get to the diamond earrings.)