IT’S THE DAY BEFORE Christmas Eve, or the first full day of Hanukkah, with Kwanzaa waiting in the wings. And—true story here—you just now discovered that your sister’s step-daughter’s son’s new mother-in-law will be joining the family around the Christmas tree. Really!? You know nothing about her but her first name.
Or, alternatively, an on-again-off-again relative has suddenly decided to join the festivities.
In either case, one rule applies: Every pair of hands should have at least one gift, no matter how small, to open.
What follows, then, is the challenge: what kind of gift, in what amount of time, with how much information available?
Before we mention specifics, here are some general thoughts. Please feel free to pile on with your own ideas—they could help someone else (or, dare we suggest it, us?).
- Tiffany’s, especially if you need to impress someone. It’s not the super-high-end store it used to be, but everyone still lights up at the sight of one of those blue boxes. Be aware, through, that the mother ship on Fifth Avenue and some of the branches we checked will be closing early on Christmas Eve.
- Big supermarkets. Chains such as Kings, Whole Foods and Harris Teeter offer far more than food. And many of the candies, fancy hostess napkins, potted plants and other gift ideas are charmingly packaged and eminently presentable.
- Williams Sonoma has made a splash for years with “giftable” candies and foodstuffs (in handsome tins and boxes), plus all those gorgeous utensils you would love to indulge in, if only as a gift. (And who can resist that peppermint bark?) Under the Williams Sonoma umbrella, West Elm and Pottery Barn, modern and more traditional, respectively, offer plenty of items in home decor and accessories.
- Like Williams Sonoma, Target, the stylish big-box store, and Trader Joe’s also have plenty of spiffily packaged foods and candies and the like. And don’t worry that the price is lower for the gifts from those at these two places: Each of these specialty chains has its own cachet and fervid following.
- Liquor stores of a certain size will have a selection of gift sets that will allow you to present a bottle of booze trimmed out with glassware or bar tools or some other gift item. Some on your gift list really want a bottle of that expensive single malt, but others will be happy to fill out their bar with things they might not think to buy.
- Drugstores. CVS, Walgreens, in New York Duane Reade—all, like supermarkets, have a wide range of things, especially healthy and beauty gift packages. Great for those you don’t know well.
- The uber-focused Container Store is set on organizing and decluttering our lives with everything from makeup organizers to items for clever closet storage.
- Even stationery stores can be counted on for things like gift-wrapped notecards and, sometimes, fancy soaps. They won’t necessarily stay open late, though.
- Hardware stores! Who can resist them? In the DC area, Strosniders stores are the one-stop shopping spots. On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, it’s Rainbow Hardware. Locally owned Ace and True Value hardware stores are tucked into many neighborhoods all around the country. Housewares, garden stuff, carving sets, candles, wineglasses, tree ornaments—surely if you (or your giftee) need it, they have it.
ABOVE: People you may never see the rest of the year seem to drop in for drinks and munchies this time of year. Reason enough to gift this set of four 3-inch stoneware dishes with cute winter birds clad in multi-colored hats and scarves to be a much-appreciated gift. They’re $4 each at DC’s beloved Periwinkle (3815 Livingston Street NW, 202-364-3076), which is open 10am-6pm Monday, December 23, and Tuesday, December 24.
ABOVE LEFT: The two-year-old, Robert M. Stern-designed Museum of the American Revolution (101 South Third Street, Philadelphia, 215-253-673) is a must-see. And the gift shop has a motherlode of gift items, such as this 8-inch-tall felt ornament of George Washington ($19.99). Choose an appreciative recipient. The museum is open on Monday, December 23, 10am-5pm and on Christmas Eve from 10am to 3 pm.
ABOVE RIGHT: Downtown Philadelphia’s Omoi Zakka (the name means thoughtful, useful sundry goods) has two locations (41 S. Third St. and 1608 Pine St.) in downtown Philadelphia. Whoever receives one (or three) of these ballpoint “I Am A Great Writer” pens ($12 each) will be flattered and inspired. Both stores are open December 23 11am-7pm and Christmas Eve 10am-4pm.
ABOVE: Ah, the little blue box. It can contain diamonds, and it can contain less-pricey things such as, left, this charming silver Return to Tiffany bead bracelet with heart charm enameled in, of course, Tiffany blue. It’s $165. On the right, Tiffany’s Everyday Objects include this pair of coffee-shop “paper cups” in bone china. The gift-boxed pair is $110. Remember, Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue is open only till 5pm on Christmas Eve; check other stores before heading out.
ABOVE LEFT: Oversize and very impressive-looking, Crayola’s Kids@Work building blocks can be found—surely a few are left—at CVS stores, among other places. It’s hard to land on a price because there seems to be a almost infinite range of sizes—80 blocks, 70 blocks, 40 blocks. Whatever you find will look cheerful and bright.
ABOVE RIGHT: Right up there in the scrumptious category with Williams Sonoma’s Peppermint Bark is its Classic Hot Chocolate ($19.95 for a 12-ounce tin), made from Guittard bittersweet chocolate. Perfect for consuming in cold weather to come. Check the company website for hours of the stores closest to you.
ABOVE: The names of famous novels of the 19th and 20th centuries, along with cookbooks and books like Silent Spring and 1984 cover the the white surface of Ideal Bookshelf’s literary mugs. Gift it to your friend who’s an avid reader or coffee/tea drinker. Each is $14 and available at Politics & Prose in DC (open from 9am to 10pm on Monday, December 23, and 9am to 6pm on Christmas Eve) and Kards Unlimited in Pittsburgh (open from 9:30am to 9pm on December 23, check hours for Christmas Eve.)
ABOVE: These glass and decoupage Dapper Animal Coasters (four for $19.20) will lighten up the cocktail conversation. They’ll also protect surfaces from spills. If you can bear to give them away, the designated giftee will be delighted. Call your local West Elm for availability.
LEFT: Sephora is a cool place for beauty stuff no matter the personality of your recipient. Those who appreciate the tongue-in-well-rouged-cheek may giggle at this gift set of Fresh Couture fragrance from sly fellow Moschino. Two mini eau de toilettes and little spray bottles make a great package, $16 at Sephora stores. (You have to call your local store to learn the holiday hours.)
CENTER: Three mini masks from Fresh stack up to make a wonderful gift. For $25 at Bluemercury shops, you get a Sugar Face Polish, Rose Face Mask and Umbrian Clay Mask. Every Bluemercury store seems to keep its own hours, so call first.
RIGHT: Everyone should wear sunscreen, right? I’ve also heard from a very particular guy that this Shiseido Clear Stick ($28, Sephora) keeps his sensitive skin well protected. Call your local store for hours for December 24.
—Nancy McKeon and Janet Kelly
P.S. I just ran across a hilarious gift that went viral. It’s the Fisher-Price Snack Set for Two, basically a charcuterie board with “cheese,” “salami” to slice, “crackers,” pull-apart “grapes” and faux marble board and plates and a “knife.” The two napkins are apparently made of cloth: One declares “You’re Grape,” the other “Let it Brie.” One online commenter wanted to know “What kind of fancy ass child” has this kind of taste—apparently it’s those “little foodies” on the box, the little boy wearing a bowtie and a little girl gussied up with a beret. The list price is about $20, but for a while it was less on Amazon and more on eBay. I’m not getting it for little kids but for in-laws’ in-laws: I’ll mix in real cheese, salami and maybe a bottle of Bordeaux with the funny faux stuff. Should provide at least a few giggles.