When we got the last-minute invite to a Christmas party at someone’s house, I didn’t realize I had a problem until I was waiting for the elevator to take us up.

“Oh, no! I don’t have a gift,” I said to my husband.

“What?” he replied.

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“I don’t have a gift,” I repeated. “I don’t have a hostess gift. We’ve never been to this woman’s apartment before and my mother always said you should never go to someone’s house for the first time without a gift. I need to go out and get a gift.”

He shook his head. “There’s no time. There will be a ton of people there. I’m sure she won’t notice.”

I frowned. This just would not do. I was brought up to be a polite member of society. I respected my elders, moved over in movie theaters, and didn’t say anything when someone had spinach in their teeth. But now I was showing up at a party without a gift. Miss Manners would be appalled.

I looked around at the exquisitely decorated lobby resplendent with a gold Christmas tree, twinkling lights, and bow-wrapped poinsettia plants dotting the floor, tables and ledges, and I had an idea. As the elevator chimed and the doors opened, I grabbed one of the poinsettia plants on the table beside me.

“Gift problem solved,” I said to my husband and our friends as the elevator doors closed. My husband looked horrified. Our friends laughed.

And the hostess loved her gift.

At the end of the party, though, I asked her for the plant back so I could return it to the lobby. I wasn’t sure how good the building’s security was and I didn’t want to spend Christmas in jail for Grand Poinsettia Larceny.

Fast forward one year.

“We got invited to the big holiday party again this year,” my husband told me.

“I guess she liked the stolen poinsettia,” I said.

“Yeah, well, this year you have time to go out and buy a gift,” he said.

“What should I get?”

“I don’t know, honey,” he said. “You decide. Just make sure you pay for it this time.”

Although I had met the hostess last year, I had only spent about 10 minutes talking to her and I didn’t really know her all that well. Also, the apartment had been so packed with people that I hadn’t really had a chance to get a sense of her decorating style or taste. I wondered, what does every single person need in their home?

So, I bought her a plunger.

“You bought her a plunger?!?! exclaimed my husband.

“It’s not just a plunger. It’s a Christmas plunger,” I said.

“What makes it a Christmas plunger?” he asked.

“I wrapped it in Christmas paper.”

“You can’t give her a plunger!” he said adamantly.

“Why not?” I replied. “I actually think it’s a very thoughtful gift.”

“Really? How so?”

“If she has as many people at the party this year as she did last time, she’ll definitely need it.”

Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyinSuburbia.