Your Holiday Guide to Secret Santa Gifts That Don’t Suck


Holiday-party season is upon us, which means you’ve probably encountered at least one round of Secret Santa, whether it’s at work or among friends. Of course, this also means you’re faced with the conundrum of finding something cool without spending too much. Because we all know that the two things most important with Secret Santa gifts are that 1) they shouldn’t actually set you back financially, and 2) they need to demonstrate your thoughtfulness, creativity, and utter coolness, impressing the pants off the recipient and everyone involved. We already took inspiration from the release of Madden NFL 12 from our friends at EA Sports to give you ideas on how to enjoy the holidays at home; now we’re using it as the jumping-off point to help you find some top-notch gifts that will leave you feeling smugger than Mr. Claus himself. Whether your recipient is a football fanatic, a culture vulture, or a sartorial junkie, here’s a plethora of thrifty gifts that will make you wish your own Secret Santa had this list.


Playbutton, $20

Whether you’re giving a gift to someone who’s into noise rock, synthpop, or humor writing, you can’t go wrong with a Playbutton. These wearable mp3 players include the newest from the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, a mixtape by Dublab, or readings from Tina Fey and David Sedaris by Hachette Audio. The buttons are neatly designed for collecting, putting a new spin on the old trend of displaying your favorite band as a badge.

High-Art Temporary Tattoos

Tim Noble & Sue Webster Temporary Tattoos, Sheet of 3, $5

While some artwork by hot British team Tim Noble & Sue Webster will set you back millions, these temporary tattoos allow almost anyone to give out a little high art for the holidays. You don’t have to be in the 1% to give (or wear) this artwork.

Lucky Deer Hooves

Lucky Deer Hooves from Partners & Spade, $15

These deer hooves are one of the many one-of-a-kind artifacts inspired by Miranda July’s book It Chooses You, currently on sale at Partners & Spade, the shop designed as a continually changing showcase for art, strange projects, and creative happenings. If severed hooves don’t tickle your fancy (or you’re shopping for a vegan), browse through the numerous other odd-and-affordable items, all beautifully packaged and replete with an individual story.

Happy Socks

Happy Socks from Opening Ceremony, $50

Surprise your more eccentric friends with this four-pack of colorfully patterned socks, one of the few affordable items from uber-stylish boutique Opening Ceremony.

World Mix Spice Kit

World of Flavours Spice Kit from Epices de Crus, $16

Whether the recipient is culinarily inclined or a spice novice, this collection of popular spice blends from around the world makes an exotic, fun gift. With a fragrance evocative of the tales of Scheherazade, the kit contains an Ethiopian Berbere blend, Spice Coast Garam Masala, and Sri Lanka White Curry.

Ryan Trecartin Coffee-Table Book

Ryan Trecartin Monograph, $30

Ryan Trecartin, along with his collaborator Lizzie Fitch, is one of the most important artists working today. His videos are some of the best instances of cultural commentary out there, and this coffee-table book documents the artist’s career to date. Published on the occasion of the global museum tour of his epic third body of work, Any Ever , it’s a great compendium for the culture vulture on your receiving end.

No-Frills MUJI Travel Speakers

MUJI Folding Speakers, $38

Simplicity, purity, and no-frills functionality are the hallmarks of MUJI’s extraordinarily attractive aesthetic. But the design powerhouse is also known for its innovation and reasonable prices, which is why we go back to it again and again — whether for thoughtful Secret Santa Gifts, like these streamlined speakers for the friend who travels frequently, or simple self-indulgence.

McSweeney’s “Best-Of” Bundle

Best-Of Bundle, $25

McSweeney’s offers a variety of cultural commodities, including its much-loved literary-fiction quarterly with a unique design for each issue (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), a non-fiction magazine (The Believer), and a film DVD “magazine” (Wholphin). All of these offerings are intellectually stimulating, and always artfully packaged. As such, these instantly fetishizable items make perfect gifts. This supreme bundle gives you the best of each, making it perfect for the recipient who likes a smattering of everything.

Storigamis, Free Fold-Em-Up Stories

Storigamis, Free

Indie publisher Featherproof Books always seems to have a fun scheme up its sleeve to complement the experimental fiction and poetry it publishes. Hence, Storigamis: stories that you turn into origami. Head to the site and choose from four selections, each with its own design for construction: “F*cking Pig” by Adam Robinson (publishing genius), “Astro Mike and the Bird Ghosts” by Kathryn Regina (video poet extraordinaire), “The Fox” by Zach Dodson, and “The Squid” by Daniel Olszewska. Print one out — heck, they’re free; print them all out! — fold it up into a swan or whatever, and present it as a gift itself, or a colorful thoughtful addition to any gift (like The Duel X5; see next page).

Five Candy-Colored Books Called The Duel

The Duel X 5 Set, $39.95

This is for the person fond of patterns in literature and art — in this case, stories with the same title. This person may fancy him or herself a collector of classics. Perhaps they enjoy a good fight. Or, perhaps they just need a good reason to read Casanova. Whatever the case, they’ll be tickled by the novelty of these five candy-colored books by indie publisher Melville House — the very same imprint that came up with the concept of celebrating the novella in the first place.

Psychoanalytic Coasters

Rorschach Coasters, $18

Give the gift of psychoanalysis to those with a taste for armchair psychology (and party games!) with this colorful coaster set that features Roschach’s famous Psycho Diagnostik Test.

Cinematic Cowboy Comedy Rock from Russia

Eclipse Series 29: Aki Kaurismaki’s Leningrad Cowboys, $35.96

Just out from Criterion, this set of three musical and comic odysseys by award-winning Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki follows a terrible Siberian rock band as it travels across the US and to Mexico (with a cameo appearance by Jim Jarmusch). These darkly humorous, witty, and cinematographically lustrous flicks are perfect for any film snob or lover of the absurd.

Maybe Too-Colorful iPad Cover

Jonathan Adler iPad Cover, $29.95

Jonathan Adler brings his signature flair to this iPad cover for stylish techies. Warning: Not for the pattern-shy.

Hot Chocolate with a Twist

Marie Belle Aztec Hot Chocolate, $12-$26

If you’ve ever been to the world of chocolate that is the Marie Belle shop, you know that nothing can replicate that experience. Luckily, you can get its signature hot chocolate in the spicy Aztec flavor online in a variety of elegant tins — because we all like things with a little more bite during the frigid holiday months.

Set of Harmony Korine Books

Harmony Korine Mister Lonely/Pigxote set, $38

For fans of underground filmmaker and artist Harmony Korine, this two-book set (also available separately) makes the perfect holiday gift. Mister Lonely was the first book in the paperback series by zine publisher Nieves; it contains the original film script for Korine’s movie of the same name, with 22 photographs by Rachel Korine and Brent Stewart. Pigxote, meanwhile, is a collection of 49 photographs from Korine’s private archive that reveals the artist’s largely unexamined creative process.

Corduroy Tie from the Corduroy Appreciation Club

Skinny Corduroy Tie from the Corduroy Appreciation Club, $41

This tie wins its wearer instant recognition from those who make up the Corduroy Appreciation Club (yes, there is one, and it holds its annual celebration on 11/11 — the day that most resembles corduroy). In a range of colors, and skinnier than the original corduroy tie (3″ at its widest), this is great for those with a penchant for the wale.

Madden NFL 12 for iPhone, iPad, or Android

Madden NFL 12 for iPad, $9.99

For any sports fan on the go, gift a game-winning touchdown on the way to work with the mobile version of the latest win in the Madden NFL franchise. Madden NFL 12 has has intuitive swipe and tap controls that let take your football rivalries with you, wherever you’re headed. Built-in Vintage Voltage Football provides retro-style electric table-top action, while multiplayer mode lets you school your friends and rivals via Bluetooth. Plus, you can get all creative making up a card to include the download code on, giving your giftee something to put on their mantle next to those high school trophies.