We all have people on our list who we know only tangentially, perhaps only the tidbits we've picked up at other holiday gatherings.
It's easy to fall into the trap of buying something for the hard-to-buy-for in a limited thematic range. For example, I once made the mistake of telling some family members I kind of liked clowns. I received nothing but clown-related gifts of varying levels of terrifying for nearly a decade. Same for the person who likes fishing, golf, bulldogs, shoes or unicorns. Chances are good they are already flush on memorabilia. Instead of falling into that easy trap, here are some gifts sure to tickle just about anyone who receives them.
Colorfall game: $44.99, from Marbles, the Brain Store.
If you've always longed to set up elaborate and gorgeous domino displays to knock down, this is the toy for you. The game comes with set-up cards for several designs, but this is a toy that demands sandbox play. If you've got a tween/teen/cool adult to buy for, this will keep them entertained for hours.
Splickity Lit, the game of Spoonerisms: $24.99 from Marbles, the Brain Store.
If you love spoonerisms like I love spoonerisms, we should be friends always and you should buy this game. For less than $25, it's bound to be several evenings of fun for you and your nerdiest friends.
I like a fancy pencil for two reasons. 1. Writing is more fun with something fun to look at, and 2. you can always tell which pencils are yours. If you know a writer, a list maker, or a friend who likes to twist up a bun with pencils to hold it on your list, these cute pencils are a perfect Secret Santa gift.
Surrealist Merit Badge: $10, from Disorderly Goods on Supermarket.
This is actually part of a set, which you should see, but this one is my favorite. A surrealistic gift is can't-lose. If the giftee loves it, fantastic! If they hate it, you can pass it off as intentional. It's surrealism! Can you name the artist and the painting this badge is based on?
Spoiler! [spoiler] It’s The Son of Man, by Magritte, 1964.[/spoiler]
First lines of literature mug: $12.95, from Unemployed Philosophers Guild.
Call me Ishmael, because Marley was dead.
Impress your most well-read friend or shame your least-read friend into picking up a book with this happy mug about books. I always think my coffee tastes better in a cool mug, why deny your gift recipient the pleasure of a great receptacle?
Michelle Obama Dress Up Doll: $14.95, from Unemployed Philosopher's Guild.
It seems more and more unlikely that FLOTUS Michelle Obama and I are are going to be besties.
I totally understand. She's busy, she's got irons in the fire.
If you've drawn a feisty liberal in the gift exchange, make their day with the fashion forward imaginary friend we all want.
Mercury Glass Votive Holders $5, from West Elm
I can spend hours looking at the pretty on the West Elm website. While I can't really swing many of their big ticket items, I can justify spending money on some of their adorable and affordable accessories, like these mercury glass votive holders. Mercury glass was my grandmother's favorite, the handful of pieces I have are magical. For five bucks per votive holder, a bundle of three or four of these pre-loaded with white votive candles would make a great hostess gift.
Boiled Wool Throw: $39.99, from World Market
This blanket has an old-timey feel, especially with the crocheted lace trim. Aqua is having a moment, and throws and pillows are a great way to experiment with new colors. Blankets are always nice gifts, I usually ask for one every couple of years. Every time I use a gift blanket, I think nice things about the people who gave them to me.
Wool is hardy, warm, and gets more comfy the older it is, so this blanket should age well. Wool needs a little more TLC than your average wash and wear fabric, so it's not an ideal gift for someone who'll have a giant pain in the ass getting it cleaned.
Polka Dot Stacking Mugs: $14.99, from World Market
How cute are these? Cute and inexpensive! Polka dots aren't everyone's cup of tea (ha!), these also come in bright solids. For less than $20, this is fun option for the nice lady who hosts your book club, the teachers' lounge at your kid's school, or your aunt who still thinks Anne Geddes photos are more adorable than creepy.
I'm personally a big fan of the mismatched coffee cup collection, but I'd feel pretty classy if I served up coffee or tea to friends and family in these.
Dutch Oven: $48.99, from World Market
An enamel-wrapped, cast iron casserole dish is a great tool in the kitchen. It can do anything, and it can do it on the stovetop, in the oven, in the microwave, on the table and in the fridge. All while looking terribly cute.
Normally, this kind of dish will cost a serious pile of folding money. Some French brands I shan't mention here can run upwards of $350, and even less expensive brands charge a lot for a nice dish. If you've got the cash to spend and a recipient who really loves to cook, by all means spring for the really good stuff. It'll last forever, it looks amazing up close, and it may even turn into an heirloom. If you've got a giftee who isn't as crazy for cooking and/or a wallet that isn't prepared to spend that kind of money, however, this is a perfectly good enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven. Versatile enough for kitchen newbies and old hands, inexpensive enough not to blow your holiday budget.
Neuschwanstein Castle! Nanoblock: $19.95, from Patina
Who doesn't like to build things?
Nanoblocks are very, very small interlocking blocks, this castle kit is perfect for the aunt who loves jigsaw puzzles, a step-dad who likes architecture, or a niece or nephew old enough to not swallow the pieces.
Reproductive Organ Plushies: $15 each, Uncommon Goods
For the Republican blow-hard family member who thinks Team Rape got a bum deal in this past election, a collection of reproductive organs he can worry about instead of yours.
Bonus points if you present the gift by using the plushies to act out a Greek tragedy.
Reclaimed T-shirt scarf: $24, from Uncommon Goods
A scarf that's as easy on the wallet as it is on the eyes is a rare gift, indeed. Scarves are great catchall gifts. Anyone who lives any where it gets even a little cold can use a scarf. Pick something interesting enough to start a conversation, without being overly loud, and it's a perfect gift for pretty much anyone you don't know much about.