A pandemic holiday gift guide for bad Santas
Stephanie Hayes | Having trouble shopping? So is everyone. I asked readers for help.
We are all Bad Santa.
We are all Bad Santa. [ AP/Columbia TriStar ]
Published Dec. 9, 2020

Books and socks.

This is all — literally the only things — the 9-year-old in our house put on her 2020 Christmas list.

Books and socks! Libros y calcetines! Livres et chaussettes! It is dire in all languages.

“She needs a new bathrobe, I guess,” I said, trying to pad out this dismal holiday. It was then I realized the child might be a senior citizen, experiencing a Benjamin Button reverse-aging phenomenon.

Literacy and foot warmth are important. But where was the Nerf blaster? The $6,000 gaming console? The Shetland pony? Making outlandish demands you stand no chance of getting is a rite of passage.

She is astute, though. In virtual school, she pointed out, kids are not standing around talking about must-have stuff, comparing expected hauls and elevating toys to mythical status. I guess when peer pressure disappears, crew socks enter the picture. I will accept my sociology degree now.

A friend of mine noticed the same change. I am going to leave her name out of this, because I don’t want to spoil a really exciting holiday surprise:

“My niece wanted — and will receive — a spray bottle; it’s so she can mist, weekly, the one house plant that lives in her room. The bleakness is catching among children.”

It’s not much better for adults. Concert tickets and trips are out. Now that we’re confined to cluttered homes, random objects are poison. There is a possible exception, according to the throngs of you who have written this year, for bidets (the emails persist!).

I asked my newsletter readers about holiday gift ideas. What were they buying or making? What gifts were they requesting? What year is it and where are we?

The insights were helpful, so I’m going to put on this jaunty Santa hat, expand my belly and summarize them.

Give gifts for the outdoors, like state park memberships, beach gear and hiking equipment. Activity watches are useful for seeing how many calories you burn walking from the trail to the car when you forget water.

Buy local, and stock up on gift cards to independent restaurants for 2021 A.V. (After Vaccination). Anthony Barello of Palm Harbor suggests shopping on platforms like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace to help neighbors. Those transactions may come with the bonus of an entertaining story when you and SkipJack try to load a dresser into a compact car.

Related: How to shop local in Tampa Bay for everyone on your list

Online fitness app memberships can be great. But, please, act only if the person has expressed prior interest. Do not give fitness gifts unsolicited! I have now done all I can to help you.

It’s a perfect time for cozy quarantine gifts (a phrase I never thought I’d type). Consider robes, hoodies, pants with elastic waists and slippers. Make it a set with subscriptions to streaming services. Also books. Books and… sock… oh. Never mind.

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Mary Swanson of Pine Ridge writes: “For the past several years, my husband has bought us about $100 worth of lottery scratch-offs, ‘from Santa.’ (We are old and have given each other every gift we possibly ever could.) We then spend a cozy Christmas Eve scratching off little piles of black wax while listening to the Nat King Cole Christmas album. We usually clear about $15 in ‘winnings.’ Good times.” I’ll be right over, Mary!

More people are turning to food banks for help this year, the Associated Press reported. So maybe talk to your family about skipping gifts and directing the money to local charities.

My friend Désirée Fantal of Holiday acknowledged that without much interaction, we’re missing off-hand comments and quirks that inspire gift ideas. But thinking back on those conversations can be therapeutic. She writes: “I’m trying to keep that ‘this reminded me of you’ spirit, even if I can’t be as specific as I’d like. Still such a strange year that lasted a decade, but we try, I suppose.”

We do try. In the end, that’s what matters. The kid will get the best books and socks in the world.

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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