Yes, it's that time of year again.
Looking for a gift? As a good rule of thumb, nothing that's large, or noisy, needs batteries- or, God forbid, all three.
Unless you're trolling. In which case, go nuts. The expression of joy on your niece/nephew's face when they open up the Paw Patrol Exploding Death Fortress will be almost as priceless as the one on your sibling's/in-law's as they try to think where they're going to store the damn thing.
Jokes aside though, you might only see your niece/nephew a couple of times a year. A half-decent Christmas present goes a long way towards securing positive avuncular relations for the year to come.
And let's face it, when you're old and smell faintly of wee, you don't want to be remembered as "The Uncle who gave me the same colouring book for twenty-one years."
Stuff they are into is always a safe bet. Around October/November, ask them directly what stuff they like at the moment. This might seem fairly opaque, but for kids 'I told Uncle Jack I like Pokémon AND HE GOT ME POKÉMON STUFF!' is the height of thoughtfulness. Now, here's the thing- they spoke, and you listened. Kid's rarely get listened to about anything. Trust me, this is a good thing.
But prepare yourself, chances are what they are into will be boring/overpriced/generally shite. Due to the merciless march of time, basically, everything the kids are into today is not nearly as good as the stuff you were into at their age. Grit your teeth and bear it. Opening up about what you like, only to have it laughed at isn't good for anyone.
As an uncle, you're in the enviable position of being slightly mysterious. From a child's perspective, you turn up for stuff, vaguely hint at an exciting life of thrilling adventure, then go. A bit like Aslan the Lion. This gives you a wonderful chance to get your niece/nephew something dangerous that their parents don't really approve of. Obviously not a live alligator, but things like a Maglite, Swiss army knife or a chemistry set are all great gifts. Basically, anything James May would like.
Yes, they might accidentally cut themselves, or create a small explosion. But from their point of view, being given something grown-up and potentially risky is a massive sign of trust and a great memory to cherish.
It's a cliché, but one of the best things you can give is your time. I mean, you need to give them a present as well- don't be tight. What I mean is, get a gift that the two of you can enjoy together. A remote-control car, Lego of all flavours, or a 'proper' train set are all good choices. Something you can play with together on Christmas day. Just as a slight warning, don't pick anything so complicated you don't think you could operate it after a couple of pints. It is Christmas after all…
Don't get too hung up if they want a "girl thing" or "boy thing" of the opposite gender. It really doesn't matter. Children play with toys however the hell they want, regardless of what the manufacturers might say on the matter. There's something quite lovely about Barbie, a WWE action figure, and an Ikea Panda all sitting around sharing a felt cake before being shoved into a pushchair and taken to the beach.
Teenagers are a tricky bunch. It's easier to list what not to get them than what it is they actually like.
Forget what they were into last year. Last year's thing is now boring, uncool and certainly not 'drip'. So if you want to be the GOAT Uncle (Greatest Of All Time), some reconnaissance is in order.
Trying to get a conversation from a teenager is basically like blood from a stone, but if you persist through the first few grunts you might find out what you need.
Any clothes you buy will be naff. To them, you're old- practically dead in fact. But if you can find out their favourite brand, that's not a bad idea. Band tees are always a winner, or if you really want the Favourite Uncle title- concert tickets.
It's pointless trying to keep up with modern technology, so don't even try.
Once you've got the thing, you'll need to wrap it. This is sadly not optional. However, in the noble spirit of half-arsing it, I would gently remind you that an old Amazon box with string is both a rustic and eco-friendly way to wrap a gift. Or just copy Smithy from Gavin & Stacy and use tin foil. Who am I to judge?