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The Surprise And Delight Holiday Gift Guide

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Photographed by Alexandra Genova

We know you're eager to scroll through all the photos in this editorial, but stay here a moment, will you? Imagine what it was like to get a gift when you were a child. You (likely) had no idea what it was going to be—you weren't thinking about how much it cost, or if it served a practical purpose. You just pulled off the bow, ripped through the shiny wrapping paper, and, wow! It was a moment of sheer surprise and delight, one so few adulthood experiences are able to properly replicate.

The best way to rekindle that feeling might be to start at the beginning, with joyful gifting. Which is why our 2020 gift guide is full of fun, unexpected items you can easily buy and send to just about anyone. A kitchen top garden you can't mess up, a new game to master, a dishtowel that doubles as a piece of hangable art... Everything here is built to last without losing its sparkle. And after a year of tossing things that don't spark joy, aren't you hungry for a few that do?

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Under $30

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You don't have to spend a lot of money to make someone's day—as Bill Nye might posit, consider the following. Budding bakers and serious chefs alike will appreciate the the way the little specks in a jar of vanilla paste make everything look way more... vanilla-y. It's one of those expensive cooking upgrades the pros tend to have on hand, but that you might not buy yourself. Or what about Glossier's Balm Roulette? The three balms inside are a mystery, but unlike real roulette, it's low-risk—any scent you get is gonna be good.

For a fragrant option that doesn't involve sticking your nose into goo, try burning a cedar-scented rope from Fredericks and Mae. The smell is familiar (like a campfire) but the form is wonderfully unique. So loopy! Some people don't want their whole house to smell like burning wood—they're more concerned with their hands. Say goodbye to hand sanitizer that smells like Svedka and hello to DS & Durga's version, which has 80% alcohol and a scent like wet grass.

No scent at all? No problem. Gift a deck of cards stylized with Japanese wood block prints. Grown ups will appreciate the arty design, and kids will appreciate that grown ups know how to teach them to play Spit. They're the perfect lo-fi entertainment for a snowy winter day indoors.

From 1: Heilala Vanilla Paste, Glossier Balm Roulette, Fredericks and Mae Cedar Rope Incense, DS & Durga Big Sur After Rain Hand Sanitizer, Okuno Karuta Ten Sumio Kawakami Playing Cards

Under $50

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Let's say you want to spend a bit more dough on your game-loving friend. For more style than a Playstation and less animosity than Monopoly, how about chess? This set, from Printworks, looks particularly lovely on a coffee table and goes well with a viewing session of The Queen's Gambit. It'll take you a while to get that good, so you'll be busy all winter.

Moseying on over from the couch to the kitchen, take a look at this Hamama microgreens growing kit. It's so easy, even your black-thumbed friend can figure it out: Just fill the box with water, push one of the included seed quilts in, and wait until litle sprouts start pushing through their paper coating. In less than a week you'll have fully-grown sprouts as healthful (antioxidants! vitamins!) as they are c-u-t-e. And, technically, this technicolor linen towel is made for drying dishes. But the print is based on a painting by Chris Ofili, and we wouldn't blame you for framing her.

For your beauty friend, fork over a leeeeetle more than 50 bucks (just $2!) for a J. Hannah polish set. Let them choose their own colors, or pick a selection as a surprise—the colors are highly edited, so you can't make a misstep.

From 1: Printworks Chess Set, Hamama Microgreen Grow Kit, Chris Ofili Afromuses Tea Towel, J. Hannah Nailpolish Set

Under $100

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Next up, you've got glamorous beauty staples elevated by ultra luxe packaging. We're not talking the weighty, gimmicky stuff you covet now but throw out later—Hermès' newly launched lipsticks are like tiny refillable heirlooms, and all the beautiful jars in Kindred Black's apothecary were hand blown from recycled glass. We went with the jojoba oil for its versatility (good for face, body, and hair!) but the whole site is worth a good peruse.

Let's say your concerns lie less with polishing up than protecting. Hello, have you seen these Bode face masks with bendable nose strips? They're on the low end, price-wise, of things you can buy from the Harry Styles-approved brand and you'll easily get your money's worth in use. Hang it on a Julia Elsas wall hook, which is equally good at holding keys, bags, hats, scarves, and attention. The organic squiggle shapes and bright colors say "I'M HAVING FUN, R U HAVING FUN?" Answer in your head or not at all—it is a wall hook, you know.

Moving down the body from head to toes, take a look at these cozy booties from Parachute. They look and feel like walking on a cloud, and—are you ready for this surprise? They're easily machine wash-and-dryable to keep their bright white shade. Or, if your homebody friend tends towards sweaty feet, send them this Cause Box from Curio Spice Co instead. Each one contains Toni Tipton-Martin's cookbook Jubilee, a juicy, fluffy, crispy celebration of Black Southern food. And it's sent alongside spices you can use to cook the recipes at home and a $10 donation to YW Boston. Make whoever you gift this to promise you a homecooked meal (once it's safe to gather).

From 1: Hermès Rouge Hermes Satin Lipstick, Kindred Black Apothecary Jojoba Oil, Bode Protective Mask, Julia Elsas Ceramic Wall Hook, Parachute Cozy Booties, Jubilee Cookbook and Spice Kit

$100 and Up

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The name of the game with expensive gifting is to choose things you really, really love, but wouldn't necessarily buy yourself. And what better way to do so than in a dress that's specifically made for being lazy? Sure, you can wear Hillhouse Home's smocked Nap Dress out into the world, it's winter and we're still in the midst of a pandemic so you probably won't. Slip it on to luxuriate in a fantasy of being the lady of some manor.

For the person who's perfected their at-home bartending skills this year, chalk up a few bucks short of a hundo for a pair of glasses from MaxID. They're inspired by the kind of cool vintage glassware you'd covet at someone else's house, but your giftee won't have to scour the internet to build out a full set. Take your pick of two shapes (tumblers and highballs) and eight colors—we're partial to this smoky blue.

Or, go full zen: Athena Calderone (better known on the internet as Eyeswoon) designed this elevated bath tray in tandem with The Wooden Palate. Each is stunningly one of a kind, thanks to the live edge wood that follows the natural curve of its parent tree. But some peope don't like taking baths, or don't have a tub. For them, send Vitruvi's new Stay diffuser. It's a longer-lasting (18 hour!) upgrade to their original stone diffuser for those days you spend completely at home—think of it as a candle that never, ever runs out. Buy it now and you'll get a free scent blend of your choice thrown in, too.

Happy gifting!

From 1: Hillhouse Home Nap Dress, MaxID Glasses, Athena Calderone X The Wooden Palate Bath Tray, Vitruvi Stay Diffuser