If you want the short version:
Don’t buy people stuff for the sake of it, give to charity in their name instead. If you really want to buy them something get them an experience (a show, a meal etc.). If you really want to buy them a *thing*, support an independent creator or local shop (I suggest books and board games).
Need the long version? Ok…
Does the recipient need more stuff?
They probably don’t. Not only do they already have a bunch of stuff but they’re about to get a load more because it’s Xmas/Candlenights/whatever.
It may be the case that there is something that the recipient does need, if that’s the case you don’t need a gift guide: just get them the thing.
Assuming you’re here because you don’t know what thing to get a person my first suggestion is to get them no things. Either:
- Give a thing in their name to someone who really, genuinely does need a thing, or
- Get them something they can *do*
Charity gifts may seem like a cop-out (“Oh, you got a goat for… someone else. Yay?”) but unless you are this person’s only gift-giver they’re going to get tangible gifts. Probably a whole bunch. Including a load of stuff they don’t really want and won’t ever use.
You can guarantee your gift is wanted, and used, and you will literally make the world a better place.
It can be an incredibly personal gift. Sadly, it’s pretty likely that something unfortunate will have touched your friend’s life at some point, make your gift a response to that. A bottle of perfume might be nice, but contributing to the fight against the disease that took a loved one, or funding research that might let their nephew see again is a hell of a lot better.
It may seem like an unexciting choice for Smalls. I am almost certain that the fraction of a goat I buy in their name will, at first, be the least exciting present my nephews get. But not every kid lives in a house like they do and goes to a school like they do and it’s important for them to learn that. Plus unless I’m getting them the biggest Ninjago set I can find, any gift I get them isn’t going to be the most exciting. And I should give them more credit, they’re smart kids this will make them think (once they’re bored of remote control Lightning McQueen).
So which charities should you give to? Tbh, I’m not an expert, this year I’ll be donating to:
- Heifer International – Ending Poverty and Hunger sounds pretty good to me. I’m aware of these guys thanks to Pat Rothfuss and his Worldbuilders (who you should also check out because by donating you can win a bunch of cool stuff)
- Local Children’s Hospitals – Child’s Play has a map that links directly to Amazon Registries for the hospitals, being a kid stuck in hospital over Xmas sounds pretty sucky to me
But there are loads of charities out there. Find one that means something to you or to your recipient, try checking charity rankings (like Givewell) to ensure they’re a decent charity, then go for it.
Get them something they can do. Something they can experience or consume.
If you Google this sort of thing you’ll get the companies that offer F1 days and helicopter flights but I don’t mean those (full disclosure: I flew a helicopter once and it was awesome).
For me these fall into Tickets, Bookings, and Plans.
To a show, a ballet, a gig, comedy, whatever. It can be something you really like, something they really like, something neither of you have ever heard of…
I bought my parents tickets to an Opera for Xmas a few years ago and I know they’ll remember that forever, but I doubt they could tell you what I bought them last Xmas (I certainly can’t).
It can be something for them to enjoy with a partner (throw in a babysitting offer too for brownie points) or it can be for you and them to do together. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
My best friend bought us tickets to see an adaptation of the play within a play from a Midsummer Night’s Dream that was entirely in Russian (neither of us speak Russian) and featured a performing dog. Tickets were £5. We had a blast. Try something you would never normally do.
I couldn’t think of a better word for this (I toyed with voucher but that has implications of the HMV vouchers that were a staple of my childhood). I’m talking about a voucher for a local restaurant or spa, that sort of thing. Preferably something that you’ve done and loved and want them to do too.
Again, it doesn’t have to be expensive, it could be for tea and cake at your favourite bakery (even if they don’t do vouchers just go and ask them – I bet they’ll sort you out), a cocktail at a bar you really like. Something that you did, loved, and wished that person could’ve done too.
My favourite one of all. You can combine this with the above, or, you can do the £0 version. That may seem cheap but I genuinely believe it’s the thought that counts and planning a day out for someone requires a hell of a lot more than buying them a DVD that’s on offer in Sainsbury’s.
Pick somewhere and plan a day out.
Maybe you find a quirky National Trust property (oh hai Snowshill Manor) then look for nearby pubs or cafes, find a walk to or from it. Or you pick a city and work out a route that takes you to every sculpture and blue plaque with a cocktail between each one.
Draw a map of it with little illustrations of you and your buddy doing the things, or make a little book.
I do this for my other half every year and without fail we have the best times.
But I really want to get them a thing!
Ok. In which case I have a few guidelines:
- Support creators
- Support local, independent shops
- Buy fewer things following the above criteria rather than lots of cheaper things from Amazon, Tesco etc.
Right, but what actual stuff?
Books and board games.
Board Games are great. Seriously. There are so many great games out there right now and you probably live near a Friendly Local Game Store (meeting criterion #2 above) plus you can get a single game as a gift for a whole group of people (well hello criterion #3).
Shut Up and Sit Down have a fab gift guide that I recommend you check out for range of great suggestions for all budgets and audiences. My top suggestions would be:
- Mysterium (it’s Cluedo but one of you is the ghost of the victim trying to help the others solve your murder)
- Codenames (the best word/guessing game)
- D&D Starter Set (this is the most fun you can have with your brain, and I can confirm it contains both Dungeons and a Dragon)
As for books… I just love books.
Kottke has a round up of the ‘Top Books of 2017’ lists, though my top tip is to check out top lists from past years too, those books are still just as good. Buy them from your local independent bookshop.
Books I’ve enjoyed this year:
- Bill Bryson’s At Home
- The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
- Robert Webb’s How Not To Be A Boy
- Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
- David Grann’s The Lost City of Z
- Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography
- Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez
Talking of Kottke, he always pulls together a great Holiday Gift Guide Guide. 2017’s isn’t up yet but you can see 2016’s here and, as above, many of these things would still be cool gifts.
On the ‘supporting a creator’ front, if you follow illustrators or authors on Twitter or Instagram they probably sell stuff, prints, books, postcards, pins. If you dig their stuff then support them, your friend gets a gift that not many other people have, you get to look cool, and the creator gets paid. It’s good all round.
Is that it?
Not quite, there’s a secret final option: make something.
You can do anything from a jar of chutney for them to enjoy with Xmas dinner to a full on hamper of chocolates made by your own fair hand.
My go-to options are:
- Truffles. Everyone likes chocolate and making them couldn’t be easier. Dark chocolate + equal weight of just boiled cream. Add optional flavourings (honey, vanilla, rum etc.). Let cool. Make into balls and roll in cocoa or crushed toasted nuts.
- Chutney. Onions, apples, vinegar, sugar, spice. There are no end of chutney recipes, but importantly: it’s cheap, you can make it in bulk, it’s delicious. Keep hold of used jars to save having to buy any.
- Flavoured Gin. Sloes or Damsons, pricked, plus double their weight in the cheapest gin you can buy, and half their weight in sugar. Leave for at least one month but preferably three. It’s delicious. Bottle it in jars to save having to buy bottles.
Clearly I err towards edibles but you could make a mixtape, throw a pot, knit a scarf, whatever.
Ultimately do whatever you want. I’m not your Mum. But seriously think about whether you’re buying someone a thing just so you have given them a thing, and whether you could not buy them a thing and in doing so make their Xmas better.