Planning what you’re going to give people for Christmas can be fun and stressful in equal measure. I take notes throughout the year, and keep a list at the back of my diary of things people might want, which usually saves me from having to rack my brains at the last minute over those impossible-to-buy for relatives! One of my most successful presents last year was a vacuum coffee keeper for my uncle, who is always bemoaning the effect of oxidation on his ground beans!
When I was younger and used to worry my mum about what I should give people as presents, her advice was always to give something I’d like to receive myself. While this doesn’t always work (I would not be very grateful for this remote control helicopter which so delighted Deri last year), it can be a good place to start (What would I really like to be doing on Boxing Day, and how can I help Person X achieve that? What do I like drinking my favourite tipple from, and what does Person Y most like to drink?).
The other great source is Gift Guides, and reading other people’s lists in the run-up to Christmas is one of my favourite things. So with these two thoughts in mind, I’ve put together a list of things I’d really like to find under the tree this year.
Dipytyque scented candles. My favourites are the simple Rose or bestselling Baies (a mix of crumpled blackcurrant leaves and rose petals, the companion to my current favourite perfume, L’Ombre dans L’Eau), but in winter there’s something lovely about layering Christmassy scents like pomander and warm pine needles.
For something longer-lasting (or if you’re keriophobic!), scented sticks might do the trick. Paolo Vranjes creates rich, luminous room fragrances inspired by the scented oils his silk-merchant grandfather brought back from his travels, and his adopted city of Florence, under the name Dr Vranjes. You can find them in independent boutiques across London (I first discovered them at the now sadly closed Lost in Beauty in Primrose Hill), at Fortnum’s, and online from Senti.
At this time of year many British thoughts are focused on keeping warm. Our flat – with its gloriously high ceilings and beautiful drafty sash windows – is always freezing, and I spend much of my time hiding under a woollen blanket with a hot water bottle for company. Hot water bottle covers are quick to knit and provide instant snuggles for your loved ones. If you’re not planning on knitting your Christmas presents this year, hand-made hot water bottle covers like these can be found all over the internet, or if you’d rather microwave your hottie these wheat bags are rather smart.
The blanket I am usually wrapped up in was a Christmas present from my dad a few years ago. Dad bought my mum a tartan cashmere blanket before I was born, and it came on every train, plane and car journey (the perfect travel companion: light, warm and good-looking). As kids my sister and I were always bundled up in it with the sniffles, and there is something inexpressibly comforting about wrapping yourself in a toasty blanket. This alpaca one from Johnny Loulous’s is quite handsome, or for someone really special how about a vintage Welsh blanket?
On the sparklier side of the blanket, I am still in love with these earrings. I always hesitate to give people things to wear as gifts, because I’m so fussy myself, but these earrings have brought me so many compliments from such very different people that I think you should be alright giving them to someone who likes sparkly things. I seem to have lost mine (last seen on our honeymoon, when I wore them nearly every day) so am going to have to replace them, but if not I would be thinking about investing in a pink pair, to add some colour to my otherwise usually neutral outfits. These red ones are decidedly festive!
Have you noticed how people’s houses after Christmas always have the same books piled next to the sofa? Bestseller lists are a good place to find current favourites, but for me winter is the time for tucking yourself up with a glass of mulled wine and a large chunk of Dickens. A Christmas Carol is the obvious choice for people (like me!) who like to theme their presents, but Our Mutual Friend and David Copperfield are magnificent – and worth a try if your favourite recipient has hacked Great Expectations or Bleak House half to death in GCSE English. If your friend is well-versed in Dickens and likes sensational Victorian novels with lots of detail, rags-to-riches (and back again!) transformations and ghostly gothicism, Lady Audley’s Secret is wonderful, as are Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and The Moonstone.
I am also a big fan of Agatha Christie, and Christmas calls for country house murder mysteries with a hefty dose of costume drama. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding isn’t (unsurprisingly!) particularly festive, and is usually published in a short story collection with the detestable Miss Marple, so you could try The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Christie’s first published novel), The Hollow (where the legendary Poirot appears in print for the first time) or ITV favourite Sad Cypress. These can all be found online or at your local independent bookshop, but I think there’s something lovely about reading a story which someone else has paged through and thought about before (maybe even with an inscription or annotations!), and some of the old cover designs – especially of the old Agatha Christies – are magical, so if you can find a copy in a secondhand shop or your nearest Oxfam Books, so much the better.
Now how about something to drink? Taylors of Harrogate make my favourite tea, or since it’s Christmas you could splash out on a packet from Fortnum’s. Tea in a tin caddy makes a particularly nice present.
For a mug to go with it, look no further than Emma Bridgewater. I love this Christmas Town pattern, similar to the sadly discontinued Walk in the Park. These little candle-in-a-cups will fill your house with the scent of fig, and leave you with a thimble-sized espresso mug to remember them by. I also really like these mismatched espresso cups (which you’ll notice don’t have the classic Emma Bridgewater silhouette, and I think are quite smart). For more committed tea drinkers, consider a half- or even full pint mug. We were given some as wedding presents, and they are amazing.
For a really special present, how about some handmade shoes? My (blue) wedding shoes were from Emmy, and they are some of the comfiest footwear I own – which is astonishing for shoes with a four inch heel! Buying a pair of Emmies is a really lovely experience. You start with a fitting appointment at their Islington shop (tucked away above Tallulah Lingerie on Cross Street), where you try on all the different shapes and styles, look at fabric and suede swatches, and choose your trim or piping. You then receive a hand-drawn sketch and note from Emmy with little swatches of your chosen materials in the post, and some weeks later go to collect your shoes, which are made by hand in Portugal and embellished in London – if you’ve asked for any decoration. Emmy makes ethereal wedding shoes in white, blush, cream and crystals, but change the colour and you can take them from silver stilettos for dancing ’til dawn to classic courts which are favoured by K-Middy and her family, if you’re interested.
But the best present of all, if you ask me is, is a ticket – to the theatre, to an exhibition, to see your favourite band. Take your friend with you, and you’re giving them not just the treat itself but your time, a shared experience, and future memories.
Wear your shiny earrings and your Emmy shoes, come home afterwards to snuggle under the blanket with a cup of Christmas tea in your favourite festive mug, and tell me all about it!
Picture credits, from the top: Oh Emma, Captured by Hart, annawoolmagic on etsy, Design for Living, OddlyEnchantingLuxe via etsy, moonlightbulb on flickr, My Creative, John Lewis, Belle & Bunty, Ballet Magazine.