Avoiding the Inevitable

Big family? Lots of friends? Secret Santa? Everybody, at some point in the holiday season, has to acquire gifts in bulk. All too often, those are about as personal as the anonymous wrapped box that keeps getting handed around in the movie Brazil. But winning alternatives are easy to find.

Photo: PM Images/Getty Images

Families with Brady Bunch–like numbers (or multiple sets of friends, or co-workers) often set per-person budget limits, resulting in a lot of low-gasp-factor items like generic ceramic platters. But 6 x $25 = $150. Combining funds will easily cover one great gift, like Moss’s awesome, sculptural Cimetric could-be-art-could-be-a-tray for $145, with enough left over for a card and wrapping paper (Moss, 150 Greene St., nr. Houston St.; 212-204-7100).

Photo: Courtesy of J. Crew

Some people try to impress with a big label but can only afford the cheapest item there, like those flimsy-looking boxed scarf-and-glove sets from luxury-store outlets in Woodbury Common or a $145 key chain from Gucci (really nice in white leather and brass, but it’s still a key chain). Instead, get something luxurious and practical—the type of item that’s just a little too over-the-top for every day even if it’s not terribly bank-breaking. There’s J.Crew’s cashmere socks ($45; 99 Prince St., nr. Mercer St.; 212-966-2739). Cashmere socks are a little clichéd, but for good reason: They’re utterly plush and comfy, but not as durable as good old wool socks, so they come off as excitingly self-indulgent. Also, the Vosges hot-chocolate set ($89 at Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave., at 57th St.; 212-753-7300) has three amazing flavors (white chocolate with lavender and lemon myrtle, dark chocolate with vanilla, and one spiced with ancho and chipotle). I got this once and loved it, but could never bring myself to spend $89 on hot chocolate, so I’m hoping someone will read this and restock me.

Photo: Johner/Getty Images; Courtesy of Astor Court

I have this friend who has everything. For example, her idea of shopping is to call her sales rep and then have whatever it is delivered, inevitably, from a Madison Avenue locale. If she doesn’t have it, she probably saw it and didn’t want it. My attempts to give her gifts have failed (I’ve never seen the vase I gave her two years ago in her apartment). Last year, I took her to Sunday brunch at the St. Regis Hotel’s Astor Court (about $150 for two people; 2 E. 55th St., at Fifth Ave.; 212-753-4500). The hot coffee was supernaturally fresh and hot, the eggs Benedict satisfying, and the chandeliered, swag-curtained room was impressively warm and rich. She loved it. Bonus: I got half the gift.

Photo: Tom Schierlitz/Getty Images; Getty Images

The pick-a-name strategy is intended, at least among big families, to keep the amount of time spent shopping down, while forestalling favoritism. But there’s a potential problem—the unemotional nature of the hat-pick leads to uninspired gifts. If I have to get something for people I don’t know well, I hit the museum gift shops. For kids, there are the Dado Building Cubes at the MoMA Design Store ($28; 11 W. 53rd St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-708-9700). They’re modernist, but playful. For adults, I get Scott Henderson’s Hug salt and pepper shakers that actually hug ($28 at Whitney Museum Store, 945 Madison Ave., at 75th St.; 212-570-3614). Museum gifts make me look cultured, and are much more thoughtful than the box of Godiva that screams, “I don’t really know you at all.”

Photo: Getty Images; Courtesy of DWR.com

At a certain age, themes makes sense. But not monotony. Cousin Jim knows he’ll get another presidential biography this year, which he’ll stack, unread, on top of last year’s. Your sister got sober this year, so splitting a case of wine doesn’t work, either. This year, give everybody a throw pillow, like the one sold at Pastec ($130; 459 Broome St., nr. Mercer St.; 212-219-3922). It’s covered in white fabric printed with the top Google news searches of 2005 and 2006. Or the patterned Maharam pillow ($125 at Design Within Reach, 124 Hudson St., nr. N. Moore St.; 212-219-2217). The great thing about throw pillows is, you can throw them at each other, unleashing pent-up holiday tensions. Which is the best gift of all.

Avoiding the Inevitable