Every holiday season, like cursed clockwork, we can count on cousin/uncle Bob to make a joke about marrying our sister, or trolling us for “not owning a home yet, SHEESH,” which sends our brain skyrocketing so far into space, we can see the glimmer of Richard Branson’s veneers. Everyone has a relative they don’t really know (and don’t really want to know) but needs to buy a present for at some point in their life. And, next to some dissociative eggnog-sipping and dreidel-spinning, there are few remedies for that tricky holiday quest.
Luckily, we have a plan. If you have to give a gift to someone you don’t know but who shares your blood, you should rely on universally adored things to guide your shopping, including hands that smell good, a plant that won’t die, and a life without back pain. Frame your gifts around these safe and neutral endeavors, and it will be hard to take a wrong turn. And while we can’t guarantee that your libertarian great aunt won’t make a snide remark about your Feel the Bern bumper sticker, we’d sure like to see her try to say one bad thing about a book on the rock walls of New England. Check and mate, aunt Geraldine.
Here are the best gifts for the obligatory, awkward relative(s) in your life. They are presents that sit on a throne of truly neutral territory, from art books to wellness products and beyond.
Everyone goes gaga for this shiatsu massager
The Gift to Rule All Gifts is this heated, deep tissue massage machine. It has a 4.5-star average rating from over 33,000 reviews on Amazon, with many customers praising its lightweight fit around the neck and its ability to knead your knots away like a champion from The Great British Bake Off. Plus, one size fits all, which is great when you don’t know your giftee’s dimensions.
A plant that’s hard to kill
We can’t guarantee that they won’t kill this small ZZ plant, but we can guarantee that it would be hard to accomplish. As one of our favorite low-maintenance houseplants, the ZZ plant is a thick, waxy, tropical perennial that shrugs its little emerald shoulders and whispers, “Sure, I’ll take however much water/sunlight/love you got to give. No presh.”
You know what’s neutral? Rocks
“Finally, just what I’ve always (not) known I wanted: A curated guide to the rock walls and masonry practices of New England!”
They’re a child of the 70s-80s
Once upon a 1981, your relative was just another teen pining after an Atari console. This flashback edition will transport them back to the glory years of getting stoned in a Midwestern basement and playing with their favorite video game, and hit that sweet nostalgic spot everyone aims for around the holidays when it comes to gift gifting.
They probably drink water and other liquids
That relative you’re shopping for is a real person, despite everyone’s airtight theory that they’re reptilian (we believe). That means they drink stuff from cups, and could probably use a new one for… wherever they go when they aren’t hogging your downstairs bathroom [looks to stars]. Whether they’re a tea drinker or a coffee addict, an insulated, matte Kinto thermos or heated at-home ceramic cup will keep their beverage at whatever temperature they desire.
Speaking of the other liquids, In Good Taste has curated a selection of wines from around the world for its Passport Collection, so your giftee can sample the best wines from France and Italy, without committing to a whole bottle of wine they might not like upon opening.
If the only thing you know about your relative is that they don’t drink booze, gift them a chic bottle from our list of the best non-alcoholic beverages and spirits. We particularly dig Ghia for its earthy, botanical notes (and groovy bottle), and Seedlip Spirits, the OG of gin subs.
The simple joy of a silk pillowcase
Silk and copper pillowcases are the latest wellness/beauty trend, and we’re here for it. The idea is to rest your sweets cheeks—the ones one your face—upon silk at night, as the material is purportedly better for pores and less damaging on hair.
Initiate them into the cult of fancy soaps
It smells great over here in the cult of fancy hand soaps, since we’ve all been scrubbin’ with products from Le Labo, whose basil hand soap is crisp, bright, but not so flowery that it can’t live in the guest bath.
And yes, Aesop's legendary hand wash really is that good, because a) it smells incredible and b) the tiny textured beads exfoliate skin and leave your hands feeling as if they got a mini-spa day:
The mood lighting of their choice
Maybe cousin Rick prefers to munch his morning cereal while bathed in red light, and perhaps that one great aunt prefers amber lighting when watching American Horror Story in her farmhouse. We don’t know what they’re about, but we do know that these color-shifting bulbs are such an easy atmosphere booster, they’ll have your giftee wondering how they ever lived in a world without magic lights.
Gift cards are actually amazing
Why is it that people rag on gift cards as presents? Granted, when we were kids we might’ve wanted a Bop It, but now that we’re grown adults with bed frames, we’ve realized that nothing signals love, respect, and healthy emotional distance more than the honesty of a gift card as a present (so we can buy our own Bop It on Amazon). It’s the perfect way of saying, “I might not know exactly what you like, but I want to make sure you get it.” Give your relative some Brooklinen bucks, or a gift card to buy something totally eclectic [points to chicken leash] on Uncommon Goods.
Happy shopping for your estranged uncle, or whoever that guy pocketing the onion dip is. (Legend.)
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.