BEFORE the pandemic, buying gifts is part of our Christmas season routine. In fact, much of our time and money is spent on this activity. The shopping malls are crowded with shoppers looking for gifts for Christmas parties, raffle items, "inaanak" and relatives. But the pandemic changed all that.

In 2020, there were no Christmas parties, home visits and gift-giving. Because of the Covid-19 virus lockdowns, mass gatherings were prohibited. It was a break from the gift-buying frenzy. It was a sad holiday though for shops and retailers and for many ordinary employees who were retrenched.

Now, this 2021, the Covid-19 cases are down to a few hundred and health protocols are more relaxed. Mass gathering and face-to-face parties are allowed, subject of course to certain limitations and strict compliance to basic health protocols like wearing of face mask and social distancing.

With that, it’s back to gift buying again. Last Sunday, December 12, I was at SM Clark to buy some important items and to pay bills. I was surprised by the large number of customers lining up for free gift wrapping. The mall is overflowing with shoppers. For the first time since the pandemic, the third-level pay parking of SM Clark was opened to accommodate the huge number of vehicles.

Personally, I believe it’s time to set aside the usual choices of gifts and be more personal and relevant with our Christmas presents this year. To start with, many families have been affected financially, mentally and emotionally by the pandemic. So a gift that will answer these basic needs will probably be more appreciated.

I am thinking of practical items like groceries, especially Noche Buena items, clothes and gift certificates. Many people have lost their jobs and businesses. They are just starting to work again, but are saddled in debt. Home-cooked meals on Christmas day itself would be great. These personalized items also say you care and you remember them.

Another gift attuned with the times are pandemic essentials like face masks, alcohol dispensers and hand sanitizers. Frontliners and workers will appreciate these, as some companies do not provide these items to employees so have to buy their own.

Items for home office will be loved by those who work or study from home. Giving a hobby-related gift is also a good idea. Many of those who were locked at home resorted to hobbies to keep their sanity and make use of their idle time. For plantitas and plantitos, plants, especially the rare ones, will be the perfect gift.

During this pandemic, I also noticed that a lot went into biking, some out of necessity since there was no public transportation available. Now, many bikers do it to stay fit and healthy. So bike accessories and clothing, or even a bike itself, will certainly be cherished.