I love shopping for other people. I enjoy shopping for my kids, my husband, friends and family. Christmas-giving is something very fun for me (except the wrapping). This year we have been in negotiations with Rob's side of the family to decide how we would approach gift-giving now that we are all single-income families. I know some families who exchange put a monetary limit on their gift-giving, some require the item to be handmade, and some choose to not exchange at all. My sister and I decided a number of years ago to only exchange gifts with each other during birthdays.
Rob and I try to keep our Christmas as simple as possible. I do most of the shopping, but we usually brainstorm beforehand, especially for the kids and usually for his dad and mine. We only buy gifts with cash. Sometimes that means that I buy a few things here and there, and that is what we have found to work for us. We do not own a credit card. We have always kept our kids expectations low in that they probably receive about five gifts from us and they are quite happy with that. I always buy them a full outfit to wear for Christmas day, a few small gifts, and their "big" gift. This year the big gift for Josh is a hunting rifle and I bought the girls some "school" supplies for when they teach their stuffed animals. We also donate to charities for our great-grandmothers, typically to a local charity or through Samaritan's Purse (they will send a card informing them of the gift).
I also try to make some homemade treats for several neighbors and friends. Another thing I have done since my kids have been in school is to prepare some food for their teachers. In the past I have done either a lunch for them to eat at school (usually a salad, a piece of quiche and some fresh fruit) or a breakfast that they can share with their family (blueberry coffee cake, fresh fruit, and a whole quiche). They have always responded with enthusiasm, but it will be interesting to add all of Josh's teachers to the mix (four main subjects).
I have been trying to creatively give this year. We decided to exchange names with Rob's side of the family and I am planning to give a four-part gift: a gift of service, a "re-gift", and a traditional gift, and a handmade gift. The gift of service means that I will give my time to someone....maybe to babysit, to help with small projects around their house (ie cleaning their refrigerator, helping to organize a garage, re-arrange and "house clean" a room, etc.) as a few examples. The "re-gifted" present is self-explanatory - I found something in my attic that I think will be perfect for my recipient. As for the handmade gift, epicurious.com has a great slideshow of gift ideas that can either be purchased or made.
I do a lot of shopping on Amazon. I will add things to my wish list all through the year, plus others can view the list simply by adding your email address.
When I shop on Amazon, reviews play a large part in my selections. I love finding "treasures" that other people have tried and love. An idea I had for gift-giving would be to give your recipient a basket of "your favorite things"- include items you use every day (mine would include magic erasers, dove deodorant, oil of olay face cream with spf 15, bigelow products from B&B works, etc.)
Here's an idea for the cook on your list: Give a gift of spices. Include all of your favorite spices and maybe a few recipes for use them for. Another suggestion is a copy of your favorite cookbook. Notice how my Betty Crocker is quite well-worn? She brought me through many a long day when I was newly married, lived five hours from home and my mom wasn't able to answer the phone!
Maybe you could start giving someone a collection of something. My friend, Whitney, has been giving me this collection. I have found it to be a very meaningful. You could even explain on the gift tag that this gift will be added to each year.
I put in a special request for whoever draws my name this year. I would like some new Christmas decorations. I am still using this table runner my mom made and used in her home since at least 1983. What I am asking for, however, is a "gift certificate" that my purchaser will shop for new decorations for me AFTER Christmas (when everything is 75-90% off).
One of the best gifts I have received is an address book from my mother-in-law. She bought the book and then filled it in my all of the addresses of far-away relatives! You could buy a basket and fill it with an adress book, envelopes, stamps, thank-you notes, a few occasional cards and envelopes, etc.
Maybe you have finished your shopping, or your list has already been decided. If not, I hope some of these ideas might inspire you!