In reporting this story, I dropped by my own grandparents’ house to ask my Nana what she wanted for Hanukkah this year. “I just love spending time with you, sweetheart,” she said before launching into a story about how Hanukkah never used to be a gift-giving holiday. While incredibly charming and, I guess, informative, it was not exactly helpful (sorry, Nana). Shopping for grandpas is easy enough (a nice pair of argyle socks or books about past presidents or retired athletes tend to go over well), but shopping for grandmas is a bit more challenging — especially if they’re anything like mine, who only ever seems to want to spend more time with her grandchildren. Although that may be a budget-friendly gift, it isn’t the type of fun surprise you might want to watch her unwrap.
To find the best physical gifts to buy for someone who only wants to smother her grandchildren with love, affection, and food, I spoke to my nana and eight others — between the ages of 52- and 88-years-old — as well as a couple of granddaughters who’ve had success shopping for their own picky grandmothers. Read on for their suggestions, any of which would pair well with some good old-fashioned quality time together (if that’s indeed what she really wants).
According to all nine grandmothers I spoke to, the next best thing to being with a grandchild is having a picture of said grandchild. Even though almost every inch of my Nana’s kitchen (including her fridge) is plastered with framed family photos, she told me she’d gladly take more. New York programmatic sales director Kat Miller told me that her grandma is “a Chinese grandma to a T, and the toughest cookie you’ll ever meet. She literally wants nothing.” But last year, Miller apparently got it right by gifting her an album of her wedding photos. “She loves seeing memories of the family. Her house is littered with photos of everyone, even dating back to old photos of my great-uncles and so forth.” Kathy Van-Etten, who has four grandchildren under the age of 4, agrees, telling us that framed photos of her grandkids would make her happy. When we tested online framing services earlier this year, Framebridge came out on top for its wide variety of framing options, all of them high quality and user friendly. If you want to use the service to get grandma a new framed photo, be sure to order by December 19 in order to receive it by Christmas.
If you want to gift a frame that allows your grandma to see more than one family photo, MaryEllen Sayegh, a grandmother of one, recommends a digital photo frame. She bought a pricey Skylight Frame for her mother — who is a grandmother of five (and great-grandmother of one) — and now hopes to receive one herself. Sayegh says the frame allows her to easily “send her pictures and videos, especially of Penelope [her great-granddaughter], through the cloud to her mom, and she enjoys them immensely.” The Skylight Frame, which appeared on our list of the best-rated digital frames on Amazon, is harder to find right now due to its apparent popularity. But this digital frame from Nix, which also appears on our list of Amazon’s best-rated digital frames, is a more affordable alternative. It doesn’t allow you to upload photos via the cloud, which means it’ll require a trip to grandma’s house to load new ones — but isn’t that what she really wants?
After she told me she just wants to spend more time together, my Nana elaborated on the types of actual gifts she’d like. “I don’t need anything like jewelry anymore, but I love when you get me books, because you pick out something you think I’d like, and I appreciate that you put a lot of thought into my interests,” she told me. Three other grandmothers I spoke to agreed that books are always a welcome gift, including Sayegh and her mother. Sayegh adds that “sharing experiences, whether you are near or far, means the world to a grandparent,” so she suggests taking this gift one step further and reading the book together. Then you’ll each “make time for conversation and discussion,” she explains, which your grandmother would love more than the book itself. While your book choice might depend on your grandmother’s interests, the last one we gave Nana was Michelle Obama’s memoir, and she told me that it never had a dull moment and even inspired her. “Plus, who doesn’t love Michelle Obama,” she said.
Three grandmothers say they want want a vacation — whether with the family or solo. Ellen Kelly, a grandmother of two (and soon, of three), says she really just wants “people to be nicer to each other, slow down, and appreciate more.” But if she had to pick a more tangible gift, she says a family vacation would be a lovely. Grandmother of three Kathy Scala agrees, but says she’s also planning to travel more on her own next year. “I figured I’m not getting any younger so I should see more of the world while I can.” To help with that, she is hoping to get this wheeled Briggs and Riley carry-on suitcase to go with the brand’s hard-case luggage her grandkids chipped in to get her last year. “The carry-on expands for you to pack it and compresses down to its original size for traveling. I can’t stop staring at it online. Hey, grandkids, I need this!”
Social media strategist Hannah Gardner says her grandmother specifically asked for an Apple Watch this year. “My grandma is a social butterfly and super tech-savvy. She has an iPhone and an Alexa, and she’s 86,” Gardner says. She admits that not all grandmas are as tech-savvy, but thinks that any who are as technologically inclined as hers — or who are active — would enjoy the watch’s various functions. “My grandma wanted the metrics, like the heart rate, to keep track of her heath throughout the year — especially during Zumba and her personal-training sessions (yes, she has a trainer).” The watch is admittedly pricey, but one way to get around that, according to Garner, is splitting the cost with brothers or sisters or cousins like she did.
“The aroma from a candle can boost my mood and makes me happy,” says Maura Young, a grandmother of eight kids under the age of 11. Last year, one of her grandsons gifted her a candle that smelled like cookies, which “reminded him” of her. Young says this personal touch made the gift even more special. All our grandmothers seem to agree that any gift you put some thought into is a good one, so consider choosing a candle that conjures aromas of her house during the holidays, or even a fragrance she tends to wear. With notes of cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, amber, and Mandarin orange, this cozy-sounding candle from Nest — a brand we’ve written about before — seems a good place to start.
Grandmother of two Doris Plen told us that she specifically asked for socks this year. “Last year, my granddaughter got me the warmest, fuzziest socks from Syracuse University, where she goes to school, and I’d love another pair,” Plen says, adding that, as someone with poor circulation who is always cold, the socks showed her that her grandchildren cared about her well-being. While we have not worn these “ultracozy” Ugg socks, we’re very familiar with the brand’s slippers, which gives us little reason to doubt that the socks’ fuzzy fleece material is anything but cozy.
Another affordable gift that “would encourage more time spent together, connecting, and having fun,” according to grandmother of one Regina Crossley, is a set of cookie-cutters. “They’d give me and my grandchild a reason to have a baking day together,” she says. There are probably as many different kinds of cookie-cutters as there are grandmas, but this inexpensive set includes non-holiday-related shapes, making it one grandma can use all year-round. If she lives somewhere warm, you could also consider giving your grandma a set of these easy-release popsicle molds that writer Elizabeth DuBois says are “perfect for a first-time maker.”
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.