Gift giving can be hard at the holidays, but it can be even harder when you haven’t spent any time with your intended recipient for the past nine months, won’t be there to explain the gift, and just don’t know what it is your sister’s kids are into anymore. That’s why we put together a special gift guide for this socially distant holiday season to help you connect better with your family from far away. We’ve curated it to include items for those times when there’s just nothing to talk about on Zoom, games you can play from far away, and ways grandparents can try to feel connected to their grandkids. It’s been a tough year. Maybe a few of these items can help bridge those distances for a little while longer.
Everyone’s got the friend or family member who just can’t figure out their best lighting for all those online video calls. They’re always in shadows. You’re always looking up their nose. They’re always blurry. You can’t see their eyes because of the glare on their glasses. While there are ring lights a plenty for sale online, Lume Cube’s Broadcast Lighting Kit is a step above. It’s got a full spectrum LED panel set on a ball mount, so that you can bounce it off a wall and adjust the light strength based on the time of your call. The Broadcast Kit comes with a handy tripod that can extend to 30″ and is sleek enough to tuck into a purse. If you don’t want the tripod, there’s also a cheaper option that just suction cups on to the back of a laptop.
(It’s a good present for yourself as well—especially if you’re tired of looking at your tired pandemic face over and over on Zoom.)
$129.95, plus free shipping; available on Lume Cube’s website
For many people, a key element of spending the holidays with family is gaming—not PS5 gaming, but old classics like Uno and Trivial Pursuit. Unfortunately, it’s hard to figure out how to play a lot of board games remotely—especially if you’re dealing with technologically challenged relatives. Fortunately there’s Jackbox, maker of various party games perfect for remote play. All you need to do is pick a game runner, have that person fire up the game on their end while sharing the screen on Zoom or the like, and have everyone else play along on their devices. The latest Jackbox Party Pack—no. 7, if you’re counting—includes updated versions of fan favorite game Quiplash, a “collaborative chaos” game called The Devils And The Details, a pop culture guessing game called Blather Round, and a couple other things perfect for groups. It’s a fun way to wile away the hours with family online, and a good way to remind each other that it’s still nice to laugh.
$29.99; available for purchase on most game sites or through Jackbox’s website.
Speaking of games, remember Guess Who? One of the few in-person games that actually works pretty well remotely, the ’90s classic (“Does your person have a hat?” “Are you Maurice?”) is perfect for lazy Christmas afternoons spent trying to talk to grade-school-aged nieces and nephews. Plus, it’s cheap enough that you won’t mind buying two sets—one for you, and one for whoever you plan on playing.
$7.99 for the modern version from Target, or $16.94 for a throwback ’90s edition from Amazon.
Send a little bit of home and support struggling small businesses with Goldbelly restaurant kits. If you’ve got a friend from New Orleans, let’s say, who can’t make it home for the holidays, why not gift them a Commander’s Palace three-course shrimp and grits dinner for two? Missing New York at the holidays? Order a brunch from Russ & Daughters, or even Xi’an Famous Foods spicy beef noodles. Offerings range from Detroit-style pizza from actual Detroit to kolaches from Texas. Again, this would also make a great present for yourself. After all, if you can’t go home for the holidays, at least let your favorite foods come to you.
Prices very depending on restaurant and offerings; purchase via Goldbelly’s site.
Most know about Cameo by now, but it’s always worth a reminder that sending a Cameo by someone truly off the wall is a great gift. The site has literally thousands of personalities to hire for a quick greeting, from Parks And Recreation punching bag Jim O’Heir to King Of Comedy Steve Harvey. While big names can go for big bucks (Harvey, for instance, charges $450 for amount a minute of his time), you could send your Boy Meets World-loving sibling a message from Will Friedle for $60, ask Billy West to do some Futurama voices for $50, or—best of all—hit up a friend with a weirdly specific message from a Quokka at the Perth Zoo in Australia for just $35. That’d be a bargain at twice the price!
Celebrity availability can change. Book via Cameo’s website.
Start a long distance movie club with the TCM Essentials Collection. Use this book to set up a monthly—or, heck, weekly—classic cinema night with family and friends. Pick a movie from one of the two Essentials guides included in the collection, bone up with a quick essay, and then press play simultaneously on anything from Casablanca to Field Of Dreams. It’s a fun way to connect over something you share, and an easy way to avoid just randomly scrolling Netflix until you fall asleep. Plus you get a snazzy coffee mug!
$45.95 on the TCM shop.
This one goes out to all the little kiddos living far away from their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other chosen family members this year. Bombas is selling family packs of adorable and quite fashionable Sesame Street socks. (You can also buy these socks as single pairs or as adult-only sets, so go nuts. They’re cute.) Though the sets are billed as “Mother-Toddler,” “Mother-Youth,” “Father-Youth” and so on (with seven pairs for each participant), you could split them up, sending one set off with a sock schedule to Grandpa 3,000 miles away and keeping one at home for your kiddo. Then, when Grandpa looks down at his Big Bird socks on a Friday, he’ll know that somewhere, far far away—for now—his little pal is wearing the same socks too. Plus, Bombas donates a pair of socks for every one you purchase to homeless shelters and community organizations, which is a win-win feel-good for the holidays. Maybe you should buy two sets.
$136-164, depending on the size of the socks; Bombas website