Bitch in a Box: Last-Minute Gift Ideas

No matter what you celebrate this time of year, chances are you’re going to need to buy a gift for someone, and that’s where our “Bitch in a Box” series comes in! Between now and the end of December, we (Bitch HQ staff and interns) will be taking turns writing themed gift guides designed to please even the scroogiest feminists on your shopping list. Here’s my guide to last-minute gifting—be sure to add your own suggestions in the comments!

Twas the night before Christmas…and you still needed presents for everyone! You’re not screwed yet. Here are some ideas from a bonafide, grade-A procrastinator on last-minute gifts that don’t sacrifice thoughtfulness and aren’t hard on your wallet either. Rather than specific presents, here are some guidelines I use when the Christmas clock is ticking.

Hit up the bookstore

Barnes & Noble will be open Christmas Eve. I know! I’ve worked that shift. But choosing the perfect book can be stressful, so here’s what I like to get people…

Anthologies and short prose: Anthologies are great because you don’t have to guess what your recipient is into—usually someone will really like at least something in the book instead of being stuck with two-hundred plus pages of a story that doesn’t speak to them. Plus, you can share not just one, but many writers within a single paperback. I prefer giving short story and essay collections and poetry books because they’re easily picked up and put down, digestible between work shifts and weekends, instead of a one-time investment.

Examples: Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Dropped Threads: What We Aren’t Told (my mom loved this book so much she bought Dropped Threads 2), Best American Comics (Lynda Barry edited the 2009 edition).

Reference books: I was totally bummed getting a dictionary for Christmas when I was kid. By the time I graduated high school it was completely dog-eared. Dictionaries, thesauruses, accessible grammar guides, and pocket atlases are all great to have around the house, but not everyone does. And not just those boring ones either: get a cooking-basics book for someone curious about the kitchen, a Scrabble dictionary for your competitive English-major friend, or a rhyming dictionary for a burgeoning songstress.

Other examples: The Elements of Style (illustrated by Maira Kalman), Our Bodies Ourselves, something from the Book Lust series.

Magazines: I’d be lying if I didn’t want you to give a Bitch subscription to everyone on your list. But just in case everyone is already a subscriber or sustainer, there are lots of other neat mags that you can pick up a magazine at the store, stick a bow on it, and then subscribe your pal later.

Examples: Original Plumbing: Trans Male Quarterly, Hyphen: Asian American Arts, Culture, and Politics, Tom Tom: A Magazine about Female Drummers, World Pulse: Global Issues Through the Eyes of Women, and Ashley had some great recommendations for teen girls.

Get Creative at the Grocery Store

You know what’s open Christmas and Christmas Eve? The grocery store.

Bake It Yourself: You can of course, make things yourself and distribute accordingly: breads, cookies, and bars, chex mix, trail mix, and puppy chow (or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods) are good for making in large batches and doling out to many people! (See Jillian’s post for more recipes!)

Recipe in a box: Don’t just give someone your favorite recipe, give them the ingredients! Put cookie mix in a jar, tie spices and dry ingredients up with ribbons, arrange items that look blasé on the shelf in an original way. My friend once gave me all the ingredients to make chai tea myself; the smells alone made my day! (Note: this is a bad present for people who don’t like to cook or bake!)

Make a care package: The aisles of Safeway are vast. Make a personal package! Many chain grocery stores carry DVDs—throw in a bag of Twizzlers and a box of microwave popcorn and you’ve given someone a great night in. Forget Harry and David and make your own fruit basket.

Other examples: White Christmas (White Christmas movie, White Christmas liquor, and White Christmas tea!), Batman (band-aids, toothbrush, and Pez dispenser), five-alarm flavors (the hottest wasabi, salsa, and curry you can find).

And always, make sure you keep people’s dietary restrictions in mind!

Burn baby, burn

You’ll need blank CDs and a CD burner for these suggestions.

Make a personalized mix CD for your gift list. Don’t limit yourself to holiday songs—tunes about the winter, special songs that you share with the person, or just what you’ve been listening to lately all make a good gift (Bitchtapes has you covered in case you can’t think of an idea!). It’s easier than ever to make a playlist on your computer. But a mix is not a get-out-of-giving-a-good-gift-for-free card. You can’t just throw ten songs together and call it something special—put some serious thought into your songs and order selection! And a mix CD doesn’t stop when you click Burn. Cut out a square piece of paper and decorate it, handwrite the track list so that it doesn’t just turn into a coaster for egg nog but a classic they’ll keep for years to come. While there are a million pretentious mix tape rules out there, just remember one: it’s a gift for someone else, and every track should be about them, for them—not your favorite prog rock jams.

If you’re the Bittorrent type and download movies online, burn someone their own DVD set of their favorite show or make a DVD compilation of their favorite actors or directors. Again, don’t just write the title in sharpie, pretend you work for Criterion and design your own cover.

Other tech-ish ideas include setting your photographer friend up with a Flickr Pro account, upgrade a film buff’s Netflix account, show someone who’s not tech-savvy your favorite internet sites, tricks, and plug-ins and type out detailed instructions on accessing them (hi Dad).

Practically Speaking

I’m a firm believer in giving people gifts that they not only like, but that will serve a purpose after the gift-giving seasons are over (I did, after all, suggest going Christmas shopping at Safeway). Sometimes it’s the little, practical things that make a big difference. Bus passes or gas cards, a big bottle of olive oil, a bag of the “expensive” coffee, a pair of warm socks, a book of stamps (self-addressed post-cards optional!), and reusable grocery bags will mean a lot, especially if you include a handwritten note of good-tidings.

What have you done for last-minute gifts? What’s a meaningful present you’ve received?

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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3 Comments Have Been Posted

recipe in a box

i just bought the illustrated elements of style, thanks for the suggestion! panic averted.


Honestly, practical gifts *are* the best, sometimes. My father just called me asking what I wanted and I asked for cat food. Maybe it's not an "exciting," gift but it really helps...

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