Why you should care
Because gift cards are a bad option.
You don’t have to do any of this, you know. If you don’t like your family or if they make you feel bad, you don’t have to go see them. You also don’t have to get anybody presents. Just celebrate the holiday of your choosing alone in your apartment with Chinese food. Adulthood is better than you ever thought it could be!
But you also have to listen to your heart, and there’s no shame in getting guilty gifts for people you don’t really know well enough to be thoughtful about. It does present a problem, though: What the heck do you buy them? Below, our guide for some of the situations you may run into.
Your College Friend You Haven’t Actually Seen Since He Had a Baby
You love him, you do. Facebook happy birthdays and everything else — you hit the like button with genuine fondness. But what do you really have to talk about now? You live different lives — and you know different people, so you can’t even fall back on gossip. Luckily, since he has a baby, you are off the hook: Get the kid a present and pretend it’s for the whole family, and write a cute inscription on the front (if you can remember his partner’s name — it’s definitely Derek or Daryl. Or Damon?). The right book depends on the age of the child, but for small kids, Morag Hood’s I Am Bat is weird enough that they won’t already have it, is utterly charming and teaches absolutely no moral lessons.
The Barista Who Remembers Your Order and Is Always Happy to See You
Your barista isn’t your friend, but she knows how you like your coffee and starts to call it in when she sees you in line, and that’s more than what some of your actual friends do. She will 100 percent not be expecting a gift, and for the love of God, don’t make it weird — or buy her anything from the coffee shop where she works. Buy something small and nice, like a quirky Christmas ornament that could easily be repurposed as a knickknack if it turns out she doesn’t celebrate Christmas. This is a good way to show that you think of her as a person and not the coffee robot that will eventually take her job (after a desk robot has taken yours and the robot apocalypse has begun, with robot snow falling and robot Santa delivering gifts to little hopeful robots everywhere).
Your Girlfriend’s Youngest Sibling Who’s Going Through One of Those Teenage Phases
Perhaps you, in your own misguided youth, browsed the racks at Hot Topic or lay on your floor listening to the Grateful Dead. Whatever, adolescence is hard for everyone. If you want to be the cool sorta-uncle, you have one huge advantage: The ’90s are back. Buy the kid DVDs of The Craft and Empire Records, which she can mine for fashion inspiration, music choices and an interest in starting a malevolent witch coven (if that’s her thing! Who knows what teenagers do these days, or any days).
Your Ex, With Whom You’re Trying to Remain Friends
This one’s a bit different: You probably know a lot about what he’d actually like, but you don’t necessarily want to rely on that intimate knowledge or get him anything too specific to things you’ve shared. So go full “bless your heart” and buy him a book about finding himself, which suggests he needs to get on that. We’re talking Eat, Pray, Love, or something you can deliver with a smile that will keep him up just a few extra minutes at night confused about what you meant by it. Oh, come off it, staying friends is for chumps. If this won’t be received well, just buy him a session of apartment cleaning from a local service: It’s a genuinely nice thing that also smacks, just enough, of judgment.