I ran across an interesting article on MSN about gift cards and how they aren't 'really' gifts. To a point, I agree with this article. The search for a gift really can be a gift in and of itself. A gift card is an admittance that you don't know what the person would want well enough to get it yourself. But I don't think giving or getting a gift card is all that terrible in every case.
Some actual gifts aren't any better, in my opinion, than a gift card. When I get a gift like a random Bath and Body Works lotion or a candle or something else generically usable by a teenage girl, it is sometimes even worse than a gift card. Unless it's a specific scent that someone picked out for me or a certain kind of lotion they know I like... it's as generic as a gift card can be, without at least giving me any choice. Last year for Christmas, I received a candle from some family... but I don't ever light candles. I'm not allowed to at school, and at home, it's too dangerous with fire-curious cats. Another time, someone got me a generic bottle of lotion, but picked a very strong flowery scent... and I couldn't stand the scent. It was nice of them to think of me, but I haven't used either one.
I also think the gift card matters. If I was one of those people that lived with iPod headphones in my ears constantly, and someone bought me an iTunes gift card because they knew my music was very important to me and that it was a gift I would both use and appreciate... it would be different than someone who has no idea what my interests are buying me a giftcard to a superstore like Wal-Mart. Especially in cases with relatives or someone much older than me... in some cases, they just aren't great at knowing what I'll like, even when they try. Sometimes, I think this is as much a product of the age gap as it is their relationship to me, and I don't think that it's necessarily a bad gift if they give me a gift card instead.
That said... with people very close to me, I'd hope they'd get me a gift that wasn't a gift card. Even if it's something little that costs less than a gift card they might buy, it really does mean a lot when someone manages to find a really great gift that you don't have to pretend to absolutely love because it's just perfect for you.
I know that some people don't share my opinions on gifting, but for me... it really is the thought that counts. It makes a difference if Grandma is knitting me a blanket because she knows how to knit and she needs a gift for me, or if she knits me a green and gold blanket because she knows I love the Packers and that I could probably use an extra blanket either at school or at home. The thought really does matter, and while gift cards aren't evil... they should be a last resort and bought less for people you know better.
It's hard to believe it's almost Thanksgiving... I'm already starting to think of gifts for people, and it's not easy, in a lot of cases. But it is fun- even when it's frustrating. :)