The Spectator’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

The staff and writers help you stuff your stockings

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Matt McDonald, Managing Editor

I am much better at buying gifts for others than I am at coming up with ideas for what I want: I’ve always valued experiences and memories more than material things… which isn’t very Christmassy or helpful. That said, I best unwind outside of work by going to the cinema and turning my phone off — replacing “bad screen” with “good screen,” if you will — and so getting me a MoviePass so I can watch Dune Part Two in IMAX next year at cut-price would be worthwhile. For others… the best thing I…

Matt McDonald, Managing Editor

I am much better at buying gifts for others than I am at coming up with ideas for what I want: I’ve always valued experiences and memories more than material things… which isn’t very Christmassy or helpful. That said, I best unwind outside of work by going to the cinema and turning my phone off — replacing “bad screen” with “good screen,” if you will — and so getting me a MoviePass so I can watch Dune Part Two in IMAX next year at cut-price would be worthwhile. For others… the best thing I regularly get my Irish-ish cousins is items of clothing in one of our family tartans. Scarves for the ladies, ties for the gents. There is also a MacDonald tartan pair of suspenders that has proved a hit at the family weddings I find myself attending every six months or so (Catholics, eh?).

Teresa Mull, Assistant Editor

The holidays being a nostalgic time of year, I’m wishing for something to help me relive one of my fondest childhood memories. When I was nine, our father gifted three of my older siblings and me a cross-country trip by train from Pennsylvania to New Mexico. He thought that the train system might be gone by the time we grew up and wanted us to enjoy the adventure and romance he experienced traveling by train as a kid. Which we did! Little did dad know that Amtrak Joe would ensure the railways’ existence with billions of dollars of subsidies and that all these years later, Amtrak would be flooding my inbox with irresistible train tour packages. Thanks to said subsidies, the trips are affordable (and always “on sale”), but where to go? Seattle, San Francisco and Muir Woods via the Northern Rail Experience? Memphis and New Orleans with the Blues and the Bayou excursion? Or seventeen days aboard the Norwegian Jewel from LA to Vancouver to Skagway and Anchorage? I will never be able to decide — someone surprise me!

Amber Duke, Washington Editor

If you have a golfer in your life, skip buying them the classic rangefinder and opt for a Garmin GPS Golf Watch. It comes loaded with colored maps of tens of thousands of courses and automatically tracks yardage without having to aim and push a button (which, shockingly, is prone to all kinds of human error). Just tap on the screen to quickly find yardages to hazards like sand and water traps or for layup shots on those long par 5s. You also avoid the common pitfall of leaving an expensive magnetic rangefinder behind on your cart, as this one is conveniently and securely strapped to your wrist. None of us are good at golf, but we are amazing at justifying purchasing expensive toys that we insist will improve our game. Let this be your latest addition.

Ben Domenech, Editor-at-large

I find the best approach is to gather Christmas gifts throughout the year as opposed to scrambling to find something in December. When you come across an antique book, a vintage print or an innovative gift for the camper or outdoorsman, don’t pass it up — buy it and keep it in a closet to make your end of year less hectic. But as a more specific recommendation, I like to give people a high-quality chef’s knife. Even if they are not home cooks, many people spend far too much of their lives sawing away with dull, unbalanced knives from mass-produced knife blocks. A well-made knife is useful for everyone, and the eight-inch Shun chef’s knife (typically priced around $160) is my personal favorite. Beyond its outstanding quality to price ratio, Shun will sharpen it for free if you just ship it to them. Shun means “season,” a reference to all food having its proper season and the perfect seasoning of it being a chef’s goal. In a world where people eat too much processed crap, a good knife can be a tool that leads to aspirations of creativity in the kitchen for even the least foodie of your friends.

Zack Christenson, Editor and publisher

If you want to create an absurdly expensive hobby for a loved one, consider a watch. It’s a slippery slope to spending house down-payment-type money, but starting out needn’t be expensive. A fantastic gateway drug is Seiko — they’ve been creating great automatic watches in the sub-$1,000 range for years now. Check out the Seiko 5, which retails for around $475. For those who are already hooked and have more to spend, I love the Tudor Black Bay 58 — the best watch on the market in the sub-$5,000 range. Tudor, a sub-brand of Rolex, has leaned into their history as tool watches historically linked to military units like UDTs, Navy SEALs and the Marine nationale. Watch people consider today’s Tudor what Rolex was in the Fifties and Sixties — a higher-end yet still somewhat affordable, beautiful and functional watch made to be worn daily.

For the kids in your life, check out a new brand called Parchie. Started by a former editor at watch magazine Hodinkee, it’s a great entry-level way to spark an interest in a new hobby you can share, with prices around $65. The watches come in various colors with mix and match straps so you can create your own unique variations.

Cockburn, Gossip columnist

As a regular on the DC party circuit, Cockburn knows a thing or two about host gifts that bring the class factor up by several degrees. To do likewise, consider Champagne and caviar. But fear not! You can show off your sophistication and still make your alimony payments. First, the bubbles. Cockburn will always recommend Pol Roger, the in-house drink of The Spectator, but since we’re trying to save some notes, skip the Champagne and try Crémant. The other French sparkling wine, Crémant comes from all over France rather than the Champagne region — thus making it much cheaper than its cousin. Consider the Crémant from Lucien Albrecht, in the Alsace region, which typically retails for around $18 a bottle. At that price, bring two or three — because while more isn’t always better, in the case of Crémant, let Cockburn assure you it is. Next, the caviar. Skip the Petrossian or the rare Russian Beluga. Instead, opt for something American — Cockburn’s wallet was grateful when he learned of a thriving caviar industry right here in the US of A. Try California White Sturgeon or American Hackleback, both of which are delightful, buttery and smooth in taste, with only the most annoying caviar snob able to tell the difference. They can be found at various internet retailers starting at $45 an ounce, a major discount from your typical fare.

Alexander Larman, Books editor

This Christmas, as usual, I’ll be hoping for a couple of books from the estimable Folio Society, purveyor of the most beautifully bound and illustrated volumes anywhere on either side of the Atlantic. The recent limited edition of The Waste Land is probably a bit out of most people’s price range at $1,500, so I’ll be content with a couple of less pricey but just as impressive recent offerings. Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle is one of the great comic novels of the twentieth century, and the new edition ($90), with illustrations by Sarah Dyer, does it spectacularly proud. For those of a more robust disposition, Angela Barrett’s Gothic pictures for Frankenstein ($90) do justice to this excellent and perennially popular story.

Ross Anderson, Life editor

The perfect gifts are those you love but wouldn’t buy for yourself; and coffee-table books are an excellent choice. Nothing’s quite so decadent as a heavy book filled with glossy photographs. A run of quick recommendations: for car design, the Car Design Yearbook series and Phaidon’s Atlas of Automotive Design. On interior design and architecture, try Campo Baeza: Selected Works; Ralph Lauren: A Way of Living; Living in Colour and Mies. In travel and culture, Dolce Vita and New York Chic from Assouline. There are endless great fashion choices, but I’ll highlight Pharrell: Carbon, Pressure & Time, The Men’s Fashion Book and Assouline’s Dior series. More broadly, try Cowboy; The Art of Manufacture: Alain DucasseHi-Fi: The History of High-End Audio DesignMoments That Made MoviesWatches: A Guide by Hodinkee and About Face. My favorites are Fantasies: Carine Roitfeld Fashion BookLouis Vuitton: Virgil Abloh#nsfwThe Creative Pragmatist; Rihanna and the New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons.

Amy Rose Everett, Writer

July’s Original signature 42L carry-on case is nothing short of a lifesaver for frequent travelers who pack light. It holds the maximum amount that’s allowed into the cabin with you for all international standards. Bags come with a lifetime warranty on manufacturing faults, and 100-day returns for unpersonalized items. It comes in a range of colors, but I’d go with black, which tends to look new for longer. My favorite feature? The ejectable battery with a USC-B charger cable (I’m forever forgetting to actually pack my portable chargers, so having one built into my luggage makes a difference). No more fighting people for café tables near an electrical socket or sitting cross-legged on the concourse waiting for some juice. Shipping is free across the US for orders above $100.

Shez Shafiq, President

Finding the ideal gift for a father who craves peace and quiet at home can be a thoughtful gesture that truly resonates. After careful consideration, I stumbled upon a remarkable gift that encapsulates tranquility and fosters an environment of calmness: the Noise-Canceling Headphones from Beats by Dr. Dre. These cutting-edge headphones are masterfully designed to provide an immersive audio experience while effectively blocking out ambient noise. Whether your father wants to unwind with his favorite music, delve into an engrossing audiobook or simply enjoy blissful silence, these headphones will be his perfect sanctuary. Crafted with comfort in mind, they boast plush ear cushions and an adjustable headband, ensuring a snug fit for prolonged use. The wireless functionality allows him to move freely around the house, enjoying peace in any room he desires. Furthermore, the headphones offer impressive battery life, allowing for extended periods of uninterrupted tranquility. These headphones will be your dad’s steadfast companion. Elevate his personal sanctuary and give him the gift of uninterrupted tranquility.

William Newton, Art critic

When I first visited the Casa Sorolla Museum in Madrid, I was struck by a detail in the studio of Spain’s most famous late nineteenth-century painter. Joaquín Sorolla’s former home is filled with his art, and with antiques and art objects that he and his family collected. While the majority of these objects were behind glass, in his studio Sorolla had antique ceramic apothecary jars of different sizes. They once contained things like herbs and minerals, but he used them to hold his pencils, pens and brushes. I had never seen apothecary jars used this way, but then began to notice them used for the same purpose in historic homes and in photographs of other artists and writers. For those cringing at the idea of using a genuine bit of Renaissance majolica like this, reproductions are available. Check out First Dibs, Chairish or Etsy, where vintage examples can be found. Perhaps you’ll spot a Delftware jar for juniper berries, which would suit someone who appreciates a good gin and tonic. Whether as a single example or, as Sorolla used them, clustered in a group, this form of decorative art is beautiful, handmade and practical, as well as offering something different to give the sketchers and scribblers on your list this year.

Billy McMorris, Contributing editor

I’m not saying a coffeemaker can save your marriage. Were I truly confident that a $200 machine made by a small appliance company famous for its infomercials could ensure domestic bliss, then I wouldn’t be spending Christmas 2023 homeless while Mrs. McMorris builds a new kitchen complete with 300,000 square feet of cabinetry. A wholesale tear-down-rebuild of one’s main floor in the middle of winter is surely the sign of a desperate husband. What I am saying is that if Mrs. McMorris didn’t receive the Ninja DualBrew PRO CFP305 with built-in frother and K-cup compatibility last Christmas, I would be homeless permanently. I sometimes spy her sipping her cup, quietly pondering the handsome machine on the counter. Sure, she is likely waiting for the caffeine to kick in or about to cook up some oatmeal for the kids with its water boiling capabilities, but I like to think she’s thinking, “He can’t be all bad if he bought me this.” It will be the only item from the before-times remaining in the kitchen when construction finishes.

Juan P. Villasmil, Editorial fellow

After a break-up earlier this year, I can safely say the one thing I miss is the warm embrace of… her weighted blanket. Most men don’t seem to understand the delight of being snuggled in the loving hold of a beloved. A weighted blanket would make a perfect gift for anyone needing a bit of physical support. These blankets are great: if you are unenlightened as I once was, get one and thank me later. It will help you on those cold, lonely nights.

Daniel McCarthy, Contributing editor

New translations of Homer by Emily Wilson have inspired a great deal of literary buzz. But for a gift this Christmas, why not consider a translation that inspired Keats? He was moved to write “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” by his encounter with the classic-in-its-own right Elizabethan rendition of the Iliad, Odyssey and Homeric Hymns produced by the poet and playwright George Chapman. It’s the closest thing there is to a Shakespearean Homer — and it’s available in three paperback volumes from Princeton University Press.

Yasmina Green, Art director

I’m always on the hunt for the next indulgent gift and you can never go wrong with cashmere. But rather than going for the standard pieces, my favorite find this year must be the bespoke cashmere hoodie from Atelier Inam. Super luxurious and makes you feel like you’re being hugged by a thousand baby lambs. It’s surprisingly lightweight, perfect for the regular traveler and while it’s on the pricier side, it’s made to measure and very durable. Call it an investment.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2023 World edition.