Don’t look at me like that. I know it’s too late. Do you think I wanted to be finding a proctor for my stats final and then taking it while trying to figure out how to turn off push notifications AND silence my phone without silencing-silencing it because some random fact I tweeted about elephants went supernova mega viral? I will tell you what, dear reader, I did not want to be doing that, and having a viral tweet is a decidedly unpleasant experience when you are a deeply introverted introvert who has a lot of anxiety specifically centered around other human beings paying too much attention to you (ie: almost any attention, specifically for something you don’t feel you did anything to merit getting attention for) – though I’ve had a pretty pleasant go of it, as far as internet attention goes. Nor did I want Photoshop to decide to crash three times, meaning this is my second go-round on this post because after the first luckily I got smart, defeated my hubris, and started saving versions as I went.
On the other hand, getting gifts on Christmas morning is not something I know about, having never done it myself, but I do know from birthdays that the anticipation of a gift is much, much more fun than actually getting a gift. Once you get a gift it’s just – it’s there. And you have a whole 364 days until you’re going to get another gift, and oh dang it, you just thought of this one thing you really, really need. This is why I suggest doing what my mom does when it’s present time and something hasn’t arrived yet, which is the following:
- Print out a picture of the thing she bought
- Put it inside a box with a lot of tissue paper (so you can’t tell it’s just a printed out picture)
- Act like she has just done something terrible by not having your present right there that second when in fact she has given you two gifts: the present, and the gift of anticipating the mail
And boy, do I love waiting for the mail. I would bet other people would love it more if they were also waiting for presents, and not just a forest’s worth of charity solicitations, usually and ironically from environmental protection groups. I love waiting for the mail even when I know that all I’m getting is charity solicitations, because – and I hate to reveal my true identity – but while it is true that I have red hair and glasses, this is what I really look like, without Instagram filters:
I’m sorry. But I feel the holiday season is a time for honesty. So here are some honestly great gifts you can either go out and pick up last minute or tell people to wait for in the dead time betwixt ye olde Yule and New Year’s when they need something to look forward to besides the eventual murder they are plotting on the family members they have spent entirely too much time with. (If you’re missing them, here’s part one on food gifts and part two on book gifts.)
1. This beautiful creature is the object that started this entire gift guide project. One day, as I was out and about and remotely charging in my iPhone – which has a battery that of course dies pretty much every hour on the hour because it’s an iPhone and it doesn’t matter how much I do or do not use it – I was like “wow, who wouldn’t love having one of these external batteries. This is my third one. I love this thing.” And I do. I’ve flirted with other external batteries when I’ve lost my first two before, but nothing holds a candle to my true love, the Jackery Bar, which boy does that sound like a euphemism but isn’t a euphemism. This thing holds a million re-charges of a phone (roughly, it varies on the temperature and what kind of mood my phone is in and if the sun is in Jupiter that day). It’s small. It comes in a pretty gold (not pictured because it’s currently out of stock). It’s my best pal.
Of course, to plug your phone into an external battery, you need a charging cord. And I, like every human on the planet, can only find charging cords that last somewhere between the length of time I wear a pair of underwear (two days) and the length of time I wear a bra (can only be measured in geologic eras), but much closer to the underwear end of the spectrum. I can give a very detailed list of all the reasons various types of cords that say they’re unbreakable are, in fact, super breakable, and the dozens of types of charging cords I’ve tried, but it’s easier to just say that if you want to get someone a charging cord for their phone that both won’t destroy their phone battery and will last maybe an entire two to four months, I suggest going to the Verizon store and getting their brand of charger. And, bonus, give the the receipt and if it breaks at all within the year, they’ll replace it free of charge. Which is pretty sweet and you should do because like all charging cords, that’s definitely gonna happen.
2. One of the few ways in which my dad is infinitely more finnicky and difficult than my mom is his thing with scents. Everything is too strong a scent for him, and I mean everything. Remember, if you’re my age, when everyone in middle and high school was getting those Bath and Body Works moisturizers that did heck all? Too strong. Nail polish (not nail polish remover, the polish)? Too strong. Bubble baths labeled “unscented”? Or the one I have that’s just orange? Sometimes too strong! This is annoying, because I like scented soap, and so finding a scented soap I like that actually has a scent but won’t make both of them (ie: my dad, but he’ll make my mom complain for him first before he lets the floodgates open) grump that I’m “too perfume-y” and use “too many lotions and potions” is a real struggle in our relationship. May your relationships with your parents all be blessed with equally stupid but obnoxious struggles.
A boon to our relationship that helps us focus on the actual problems instead of the soap-related ones is Pré de Provence’s line of soaps, which are strong enough I can smell them when I use them, but not strong enough that I come out of the shower and one of my parents goes “what did you do in there?” like they’re pretty sure the answer is “had an accident like I’m a dog who isn’t house-trained”. They are currently out of stock of my favorite (by which I mean the only one I’ve tried so far and then loved so much that even though I liked the way the others smelled I never bothered trying to improve on perfection), the Apple Pear, but all of them look lovely and delicious and make an excellent gift for that probably-female relative or in-law (sorry to be gendered about it) who you want to get them a thing that doesn’t seem super impersonal but in reality you don’t know them or their personal level of comfort with different types of scents all that well. Boy are these soaps nice.
3. As I am writing this, it is disgusting in New England. It is so disgusting that even though I will often go walking in blizzards or pouring rain no problem, and I wanted very badly to walk off the excessive amounts of dessert I’ve been eating, I’m staying put. The sky is expelling ice. Not snow, ice. That’s untoward. I’m also wearing the very best thing and softest thing I have purchased this year, these pile-lined sweatpants from Uniqlo (that also come in men’s, though unfortunately not plus sizes, or even in colors that aren’t grayscale, both of which are stupid and if I were in charge, they would). I love these things, which are the kind of joggers/mildly tailored sweatpants you could conceivably wear to run errands and you’d certainly look like you were wearing sweatpants, but in a sort of fancy “yeah, I definitely went to the gym and wasn’t just going out to get more potato chips because I ate all of them in one sitting” way. Their “pile lining” is really just basically the stuff they use to make faux fur blankets or Muppets but shaved down, which is genius because they are a) much warmer than regular sweatpants and b) you can wash them a lot and they don’t pill and wear out into thin nothingness, which all my other sweatpants did and was why I was in the market.
If your recipient isn’t a lounge around the house person (sounds fake, but okay) and is in the market for long underwear, boy do I feel their struggle. It’s almost impossible to find long underwear that you can put under pants or tights that isn’t itchy, too thin to be anything but pointless or sometimes both itchy AND too thin to be anything but pointless. I had ordered about half a dozen different brands that usually never failed me and all had failed me when I finally asked my friends Anna Shea and Laura for recommendations, since they’re from the Midwest and frequently complain that living in Brooklyn is “too warm” because the temperatures most of the winter are not below zero. They turned me on to Uniqlo’s Ultra Warm Leggings (the women’s version of this is called “faux shearling”, last year both were called “pile lined”, and in reality they’re all the same thing). It’s a similar idea to the sweatpants – soft cotton outer layer, but the inner layer is this time a sort of pulled loop nubby thing, a lot like, if you are a woman who’s reading this, one of those “fleece lined” leggings, only these are a fraction of the price. These also are much better than the old long underwear my parents used to ski in in the 70’s that I stole from them (and surprisingly holds up pretty well!) because in the ensuing forty years we have learned to make fabrics breathe, so this both keeps you warm when you’re walking around or taking the bus outside, but doesn’t make you immediately burst into flames as soon as you get inside wherever you were headed. I would explain to you all why warm and cozy pants are a good gift but I think we all get it. At least I hope we all get it, otherwise I’ve got a lot more work to do than I realized.
4. It is a truth universally acknowledged that in order to survive leaving home, all surly teenagers need two things: to know how to at the very least boil water, and also some sort of multi-tool, which will get them out of every scrape you never want to hear about. When I had my bat mitzvah, I was going through my rejecting anything overtly feminine because I thought it somehow made me more feminist phase (which unfortunately encompassed most of my childhood), and so I didn’t want any jewelry. None. What I did want was a Swiss Army Knife, and that gift is by far the best and most lasting thing I got besides, like, an eternal appreciation of my culture and also the memory of some nice person at the reception who made us all virgin strawberry daiquiris, which were awesome. The main thing I wanted my Swiss Army Knife for was to have scissors (which is why I have pictured is this model out of the literal hundreds they have) and having tiny scissors with you is a thing you’d never think is useful but has enabled me to open many a bit of difficult packaging on the go, cut offending threads before job interviews, clip hangnails without making myself bleed, and in theory probably also escape a hostage situation if it came down to it.
If a Swiss Army Knife is beyond your price point or you want something that’s more of a multi-tool that can help your surly college-bound teen through many an Ikea assembly, look no further than a Leatherman, the preferred tool and social currency of kids who do stage crew everywhere.
5. Asking me what to get someone as a gift for years yielded one answer and one answer only: fun novelty socks. This is because fun novelty socks are my favorite present to receive, and also because I don’t understand why anyone would ever wear boring socks when they don’t have to. I mean, I’m aware some people do wear boring socks, but some people are wrong about a lot of things in their lives.
There are novelty socks for any niche interest out there if you are willing to type “[interest] socks” into Google, and also companies that let you design socks including designing socks with your pet’s face on them if socks with sloths holding donuts (that’s a real thing, as are these beautiful things my sister got me) aren’t niche enough.
My two favorite sock companies are Blue Q (you remember these guys!), who specialize in the kitschy or sassy socks – they’re the ones who made the “DOGS!!! DOGS!!!!” socks pictured, which is basically just my thought process from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep (interspersed with this cat version). They have a definite aesthetic, though, and if it doesn’t fit yours or you want something that’s not that or a little less adult, of all the many, many companies out there my favorite is Socksmith, who have hundreds of good quality designs in all sizes (kid sizes too!), including what I pictured which is their “Dat’s Coo’ Man” socks featuring a beatnik pigeon, which begs the question: if there is anyone in your life who wouldn’t appreciate punny beatnik pigeon socks, why are they still in your life? You don’t need that kind of negativity.
6. In the winter, a lot of people wear chapstick. They apply it religiously, and they sometimes carry around literally dozens of tubes of it. There is one reason for this: it’s bad chapstick. Like Burt’s Bee’s (for whom my disdain has been documented), most chapsticks are just a layer of grease that don’t really do anything. They sit there. They don’t absorb. Nothing gets soothed. They might kind of protect you against further wind-induced chapping, but that’s about it. They’re about as useless as most moisturizers. You’d be better off buying a tub of whale lard and bathing in it.
I thought Blistex medicated lip ointment was this universally-known thing that all mothers carried in their Mary Poppins tote bags, and we all only strayed from it because we wanted sexier, fancier lip balms before realizing that our moms knew best all along. This is apparently untrue, and, as my people would say, “a real shonde”. If someone has chapped lips or is a chapstick fiend, stop enabling them to buy the other crap. Use this. You can feel it working as soon as you put it on. I have chapped literally everything else, but I never have chapped lips ever because of Blistex. Stuff every stocking with it. Every single one.
(Note: I have also had a lot of success with the trial I got in an Ipsy bag of Skyn’s Berry Lip Fix when it comes to the only things that Blistex doesn’t solve, namely, flaking and cracking. I was all set to recommend it, then I saw that a) it was sold out currently, and b) when I went to give links to other sites that sell it, it had pretty negative reviews from other people who were not me, which gave me serious pause. This may not be a universally good product, it may just be good on my very delicate, weird skin, so know that if you do buy it, your mileage may vary.)
7. “Headphones” are something that on the outset seem like a good gift suggestion for very similar reasons to why external batteries and charging cords are a good gift suggestion since they’re always getting broken or lost, except they are not actually a good gift suggestion. They are instead much more like suggesting slippers: a thing that you think your personal preferences are universal on but your preferences are definitely not universal on. I, for example, love earbuds. A lot of people hate earbuds either because the sensation is weird or their ears just aren’t shaped to hold them very well. I have no particular feelings about sound quality so long as I can hear and frankly rarely hear the difference. A lot of people are religious fanatics about sound quality.
A fun little gift for people who are similarly fine with earbuds and not picky about sound quality is DCI Gift’s novelty line, which come in a million different varieties and I can personally attest are both cute and durable, because my sister got the rubber duckie ones for me about seven years ago and they only just frayed into nothingness this year. Don’t like the ones they have on the site? No problem. There are still a bunch up from previous, uh, seasons, I guess, both here and here. I’m personally treating myself to the squirrel set after Christmas because I’m catsitting so I’ll have a little spending cash and what else could possibly be a better use than that.
8. “What good is a small metal box?” you might ask. “Who would want that?” To which I say I’m sorry, who doesn’t want this Gentelman’s Hardware toolbox? Literally every kid will love it because literally every kid loves having treasure boxes they can stick their very important whatevers – rocks, erasers, used tissues (who knows what kids are keeping these days) – in and feel very important about doing so. They make great supply holders for crayons and colored pencils. They make great supply holders for actual super manly tools or fishing lures or whatever dude stuff dudes who have stuff have. You can pack lunches or snacks in them to go. You can stick electronics in them or toiletries when you go on a trip. You can fold up important papers you would need to potentially survive a fire in them. You can use them as that box of stuff you have in your car in the glove compartment. Everyone needs a nice metal box, they just don’t know they need a nice metal box until you give it to them. I suggest giving it to them.
9. Because I am single and so no one goes in my bed but me, I do not keep it particularly neat and clean, and also I use it as my home office, and also I allow my gerbils to run around chewing holes in my pillowcases, because they seem to think pillowcases exist purely as gerbil-sized edible funhouses.
Obviously, I don’t often splurge on bedding that isn’t from Target or Ikea, but when I do, I like to go to The Company Store. and if you’re going to get someone a gift of a very nice throw blanket (which is an awesome, awesome gift idea) , they are who I suggest going to. This holiday season they have this down alternative throw, which I think is just gorgeous and nice because it’s both hypoallergenic and more substantive than your normal throw blanket, but you also really can’t go wrong with their very affordable Classic Cotton Weave Throw. I actually do keep this on my bed (blankets being one of the few things my gerbils seem to have no interest in chewing holes in), and it’s the perfect blanket to either throw over a sheet for transitional seasons, or to add on top of a duvet for when it’s freezing in the winter. It’s not super mega soft, but it is soft enough, and sturdy, and impossible to snag, and the platonic ideal of the weight you want a throw blanket to be. Also did I mention it comes in literally every color of the rainbow? Literally.
10. I’m very tired. I have run out of witty things to say. You probably need to go shopping, like, as of a week ago. So here’s something that is nice: sturdy stuff to carry your other stuff. If the kind of sturdy receptacle you’re looking for is a backpack, mine which I love and is super affordable is from a very nice company called Vaschy. I like it and them lot! If you’re more in the market for luggage, I’ve been drooling for years over Herschel’s everything. They are also very nice! I also like them a lot! Yay, good practical gifts.
Not Pictured: Donation to a Favorite Charity/Nonprofit
Okay, one last witty thing to say. You see, I have to tell you a secret, which is this: there are still going to be some people who will not like a single thing I have listed on this gift guide. Not in this part, and not in any of the last two parts. And this is not through any fault of mine, this is just because some people genuinely do not want you to get them gifts.
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
My parents for years and years have been desperately lobbying for my sister and I (my brother being someone who never gets anyone a gift because that probably involves too much decision-making and also remembering that gifts are, in fact, a thing people buy) to stop giving them gifts at Hanukkah. “Hanukkah is just for giving very small gifts to children, you’re trying to make it into Jewish Christmas!” they say. “What’s next, you’re going to ask for a Hanukkah bush? Where did we go wrong?”
The last part is only implied. They get very dramatic and Jewish about the whole thing, but not that dramatic and Jewish.
What my parents don’t get, no matter how many times my sister and I have tried to explain it to them, is that we just want an excuse – literally, we’ll take any excuse at this point – to let them allow us to treat them to something. “Oh, but what about birthdays?” They always ask when we try to say this. “What about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?” And then they always conveniently forget that when their birthdays or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day comes around they’ll say they don’t want anything. If they’re really cornered, sometimes they’ll get all philosophical and socialist about how our society causes us to think that we need to give each other things when we should value people blah blah blah okay whatever. So we try to go small and more of a gesture, but they still complain. “Oh, you didn’t have to get me flowers, no no no,” my mother will say, or they will shrug off any requests to do said experiences, like cook for them because they’re trying to lose weight or want to be the ones hosting you or want to go out to eat, and then when you do go out to do anything – eat, go to a museum, whatever – they’ll insist on paying for you because they get a discount or know very well they have more money than you and “all I really wanted was your company, honey”.
FINE. THAT’S NICE AND YOU’RE AMAZING PARENTS WITH GREAT VALUES AND WE LOVE YOU. NOW SHUT UP AND LET ME BUY YOU A NEW CHEESE GRATER OR WHATEVER THAT YOU’VE BEEN SAYING YOU WANT BUT HAVEN’T BOUGHT FOR YOURSELF FOR THE LAST THREE MONTHS/YEARS/DECADES.
(“It’s very strange how you have such a complex about always needing to take care of other people and not yourself,” my parents often say, without any apparent realization of the vast hypocrisy and irony of this statement.)
I technically didn’t get my parents anything this year, and I say “technically” because I brought them home a beautiful hand-carved cutting board from my trip to Philadelphia in the fall, gave it to them then because a) I didn’t want it getting damaged or not being used in my room and b) that way they couldn’t complain about me making Hanukkah like Christmas, and told them this was their yearly non-denominational present, which they did accept with slightly more grace while still imploring me not to spend my money on them. So you win, Mom and Dad! Next year you get nothing!
Well, not nothing-nothing, because I never accept defeat. But if you know people who are equally this horrible/wonderful, listen to them. Don’t get them anything. Do instead what I’ve just decided I’m doing from now on and donate to a charity or nonprofit of their choice – public radio, the local food bank or women’s shelter, a wildlife refuge, helping orphans get toothbrushes, whatever is near and dear to their heart. You win because you got them something and they can’t possibly complain about it without being huge jerks. They win because they don’t have a thing. The nonprofit wins because they now have money to do the good work they’re doing. Most importantly, no one is complaining. And no complaining is really all any of us, no matter who we are and what holidays we do or do not celebrate, want.