Itttt’s baaack… After not happening for the past three years, the Kottke Holiday Gift Guide has returned. I’ve scoured the internet and dozens of other gift guides for the best (and sometimes weirdest) stuff out there — it’s a curated meta-guide for your holiday giving. This list is US-centric, link-heavy, and you might see some tried-and-true items that have been featured in previous years. Ok, let’s get to it.
First thing’s first: charitable giving should be top-of-mind every holiday season if you can afford it. Giving locally is key. I support our area food shelf year-round, with an extra gift for Thanksgiving and the December holiday; giving money instead of food is best. The kids and I also support Toys for Tots by heading to the local toy store to get some things — they like it because they get to pick out toys and games (they’re thoughtful about deciding which ones would be best).
For national/international giving, do your research. GiveWell has a list of their top charities and Vox has more tips here. Read up on big charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army…they are often not great places to give to. GiveDirectly sends money to people living in extreme poverty around the world. You could contribute to Casey McIntyre’s Memorial & Debt Jubilee — each $1 donated cancels $100 in medical debt for someone in need. I ran across Transanta recently: “Deliver gifts to trans youth in need, safely and anonymously.” I personally give to several organizations, including the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Won’t Someone Think of the Children
Some kids and some ages are really easy to shop for. But for those that aren’t, here are some good gifts for the young and young at heart.
Give the gift of sitting at a table for a few hours, listening to quiet music, and sipping on a mug of tea: the JIGGY Puzzle Club. Remember the Babysitter’s Club books from the 80s & 90s? They’re back in the form of graphic novels…my daughter really liked these when she was younger.
I’ve heard some mixed things about the Tidbyt, but I still kinda want one. I definitely want one of these cute Tiny Arcade Pac-Man Arcade Games. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that you could buy climbing holds and just make your own climbing/bouldering wall at home with some plywood.
When our kids were really young, we gave them crayons and they snapped them into a million pieces — these Crayola Palm-Grip Crayons seem like a much better idea. Pencils with Marimekko patterns? Yes, please.
And here’s a great gift for kids that doesn’t require shopping: holiday coupons (like “stay up 20 minutes past bedtime” and “one minute of saying bad words”).
Stuff I Swear By
This is the section where you’re going to see a lot of repeats from past years because this is stuff that I regularly use and love. You’re probably getting tired of me talking about the 2nd-gen Apple AirPods Pro but I use mine every day and they are great. Almost every book I read, I read on the Kindle Paperwhite — it’s light, waterproof, and very travel-friendly.
When cooking, I wear the Headley & Bennett crossback apron and use this 8” chef’s knife from MAC. (I used to use a cheaper knife that got the job done, but the MAC knife is so much better that I’m thinking of getting one of these as well.) The best meal kits I’ve found are the hand-pulled noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods — the price is resonable, thwacking your own noodles is fun, and it tastes exactly like when you get it at the restaurant. And I love my rice cooker — “advanced Neuro Fuzzy logic technology” FTW!
Apple AirTags are super useful for traveling and keeping track of my keys and bags. When I need some art for my walls, I go to 20x200, run by my pal Jen Bekman. For a pleasant atmosphere while working, I often burn a Keap Wood Cabin candle.
Now We’re Cooking
Here are a few things to help your loved ones outfit their kitchens this holiday season. I got a wok recently and it’s been fun cooking with it — this Joyce Chen carbon steel wok is a great one. (And it pairs well with Kenji López-Alt’s The Wok cookbook). I love this gorgeous Japanese whale butter dish, but this butter crock looks neat as well. I love my Ernest Wright kitchen scissors — and this pair looks equally amazing.
The Ooni Volt electric pizza oven (Amazon) doesn’t give you the smoky flavor of their wood & pellet ovens, but it is unbelievably easy to use and cranks out delicious pies. For smaller savory round foodstuffs, try this Dash Mini Waffle Maker. This tortilla press from Masienda is awfully tempting…it’s hard to find good tortillas here in VT.
Various Kottke T-shirts
Ready to Wear
It gets cold here in Vermont and instead of wearing slippers in the house all day, I wear a thick pair of wool socks because they are unbelievably warm and comfortable. I got mine from a local place, but you can find alternate options on Etsy. Speaking of VT, I thought Darn Tough socks were a local secret, but I found them on multiple gift guides — they’re great for any outdoor activities.
The Kottke Cinematic Universe
Every year, I feature goods and services by people I know, folks who read the site, and from kindred online spirits. My friend Aaron runs an ice cream shop in Somerville called Gracie’s and pays extra attention to the merch. Wondermade sells marshmallows in all sorts of different flavors. Robin Sloan and his partner make extra virgin olive oil in California. My pals at Hella Cocktail Co. have grown quite a bit in the past few years: in addition to bitters, they now sell mixers and bitters & soda in a can.
I’ve been buying art from 20x200 for almost as long as it’s been around. Edith Zimmerman has an Etsy shop with greeting cards featuring her drawings. My friend Jodi Ettenberg sells food maps from various countries in her Legal Nomads shop. My pal Yen sells prints of her art on 20x200. Christoph Niemann is selling a calendar of images called On the Road II. (to be continued below…)
Some Truly Absurd Gifts
You know what time it is: it’s 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant time! One of these years, someone is going to buy one of these off the list and it’s going to make me so happy (for some reason). Maybe you can buy this 80-qt mixing bowl to hold some of it. I bought some Goodr sunglasses for an upcoming trip and noticed they were selling a pair of their sunnies for $10,000 (they came with a custom bike + assorted goodies) but sadly they are out of stock. And perhaps weirdest of all is this $4200 umbilical charing cable for the iPhone. What in the actual f?
Richard Scarry Temporary Tattoos!
I had to break this out into its own thing because when I saw these, I audibly yelped: Richard Scarry temporary tattoos from Tattly. GOLDBUG TATTOOS?! From one of my all-time favorite children’s books? Are you kidding me? Sign me all the way up.
A Guide to Gift Guides
Ok, I’ve mentioned the various gift guides I’ve consulted along the way, but I wanted to list them all because they’re worth checking out — no duds here. The favorite is always The Kid Should See This Gift Guide; hands down the best place to find gifts for curious kids. Another excellent guide for kids is the INSPIRE Engineering Gift Guide from Purdue University. The Verge does a great job with their tech-oriented gift guides. The Wirecutter has tons of lists and I place a lot of trust in their recommendations. The Strategist is great too with a lot of lists and a Gift Scout tool.
I always read the gift lists from my pals quite closely: Cup of Jo (+ her new newsletter gift guide), Robin Sloan’s yearly guide, and Youngna Park’s excellent picks for kids, children’s books, and grown-ups.
And finally, here are some guides that don’t quite fit into any of the above categories: Bookriot’s Best Gifts for Readers, Spoon & Tamago’s gift guide of neat things from Japan, Pow Wow’s Native American Holiday Gift Guide, a Google Doc of independent map sellers (one of each from all of these cartographers please), and Evan Applegate’s guide to map-related gifts.
It wouldn’t be kottke.org without a bunch of stuff that’s difficult to categorize. Get your favorite nature lover a 1-year National Parks Pass.. Whoa, check out this intricate maze drawn as a side project over a period of 7 years — now available as a full-scale art print. This gorgeous blanket was designed by Addie Roanhorse, a member of the Osage Nation who worked on Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon.
Nikolas Bentel makes cool things like the pasta box handbag and computer folder wallets. Moo’s Hardcover Notebook is perfect for lefties because it lies flat. Someone you know will love this McDonald’s Happy Meal Box Figural Crossbody Bag. Ponder imperfection and think about the acceptance of defects while you sip your tea with this Kintsugi Cup and Saucer.
This Japanese nail clipper is supposed to be great. This book is right up my alley: The 100 Greatest Retro Videogames: The Inside Stories Behind the Best Games Ever Made. I’d never seen this before: tiny sheets of paper soap for washing your hands while you’re traveling or camping or whatever.
Full STEAM Ahead
Some gifts with a strong science, math, and engineering basis, including How to Explain Coding to a Grown-Up by Ruth Spiro & Teresa Martinez, National Geographic Magnetic Marble Run, Turning Machine strategy game, and ButterflyEdufields 40-in-1 STEM Robotics Projects for Kids 8-12 Years.
For the Bookish
I haven’t had time to compile my EOY books list yet (and may not get around to it), but books are always the most popular items under our tree. Rapid-fire-style, here are a few titles that caught my gifter’s eye over the past year:
- The Iliad translated by Emily Wilson (Bookshop)
- Real Self-Care by Pooja Lakshmin (Bookshop)
- The Fraud by Zadie Smith (Bookshop)
- Engineering in Plain Sight by Grady Hillhouse (Bookshop)
- The Talk by Darrin Bell (Bookshop)
- Democracy Awakening by Heather Cox Richardson (Bookshop)
- Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond (Bookshop)
- Apollo Remastered: The Ultimate Photographic Record by Andy Saunders (Bookshop)
- The Wager by David Grann (Bookshop)
- North Woods by Daniel Mason (Bookshop)
- Doppelganger by Naomi Klein (Bookshop)
- The Rediscovery of America by Ned Blackhawk (Bookshop)
- Monica by Daniel Clowes (Bookshop)
- Blood in the Machine by Brian Merchant (Bookshop)
- The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (Bookshop)
Too Polite to Eat the Last Piece of Cake
Food is always a great gift. I’m gonna lead with the Xi’an Famous Foods hand-pulled noodle meal kits, which I’ve also mentioned in the Stuff I Swear By section. Legendary NYC shop Murray’s Cheese has a Mac and Cheese Club (monthly delivery of different kinds of mac & cheese). These milk chocolate sardines are fun stocking stuffers. Momofuku’s Chili Crunch will liven up any meal (try it on avocado toast). Finally, I’ve never had this trio of smoked tinned fish, but it sure sounds amazing.
The Kottke Cinematic Universe, Phase Two
More goods and services from pals in my little corner of the internet. Moss & Fog and Spoon & Tamago both have shops filled with well-designed products. Andre Torrez makes bags (products here go quickly and may not be in stock). Fitz sells custom-fitted eyeglasses and was inspired in part by a post on kottke.org. Craig Mod’s new book just came out: Things Become Other Things.
During his cancer treatment, Hank Green designed some socks; they’re now for sale, with profits going to help people get access to cancer treatment. OG web designer Dan Cederholm sells fonts and shirts, prints, and other type-related products at Simplebits. Field Notes makes some of the best notebooks around. Ami Baio makes “sweet, kind games to connect people” at Pink Tiger Games. Storyworth helps you compile a book of stories told by a loved one.
Things I Would Like
In the course of compiling these guides, I always run across some stuff I’d like to have, even though I have relatively simple everyday needs. This year, I’ve got my eye on Super Mario Bros. Wonder (while also hoping for a new console from Nintendo soonish) and the Analogue Pocket (alas, sold out). A few years back, I replaced my 27-inch iMac with an M1 MacBook Air & a 24” LG monitor. I love the Air but miss the bigger monitor, so I wouldn’t complain if I found Apple’s Studio Display (or, better yet, the truly bonkers 32” Pro Display XDR) under the tree. But I’d settle for the cheaper LG 27MD5KL-B 27 Inch UltraFine 5K.
Leggo My Legos
Lego sets are always a huge holiday hit. I’ve had my eye on Hokusai’s The Great Wave set (Amazon) for awhile but I hadn’t seen this NASA Mars Rover Perseverance set (Amazon) with the Ingenuity helicopter — wow. If your household already has too many Legos, check out The Lego Engineer by expert builder Jeff Friesen — he guides you through 30 builds of engineering marvels like bullet trains and skyscrapers.
Thermometers Are So Hot Right Now
Give the Gift of Gift Cards
Let’s destigmatize the gift card: there is no shame in not knowing what to get someone for a gift, even if you know them really well. This is actually the gift of getting someone exactly what they want, even if it’s something practical & lame like razor blade refills, HDMI adapters, or laundry detergent. There’s the obvious Amazon gift card but you can also get cards for Apple (use it for Fitness+ or Apple TV+?), Audible, Fortnite, Snapchat, Airbnb, Disney+, Spotify, Netflix, and Roblox.
Days Gone By
Ok, that’s quite enough to get you started. I’ve got more recommendations that I’ll add in the next few days. If you’re interested, you can also check out my past gift guides from 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.
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