The Gift Guide
55 gift ideas from LaTonya Yvette, Pandora Sykes and Youngna Park, like personalized sweaters, colorful toys and page-turning books. Plus, "I do not skimp on myself," says LaTonya.
Hi! How’s your week going? We’re hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas at our place, so I’ve been bookmarking crowd-pleasing recipes — like a beautiful latke board or a make-ahead breakfast — and, of course, thoughtful gifts for loved ones.
On that note, we’re excited to bring you the first ever Big Salad gift guide. We turned to three brilliant women whose recommendations we always trust — LaTonya Yvette, Pandora Sykes, and Youngna Park — and asked them to reveal the actual presents they give and receive. Here goes!is one of our favorite storytellers — you may have read her book, Woman of Color, and she’s the creative genius behind The Mae House, a colorful farmhouse in upstate New York designed for BIPOC folks who need rest.
She lives with her kids, River and Oak, in Brooklyn. Every year, she wraps gifts on Christmas Eve — a tradition passed down by her own mother. “I drink wine and stay up late wrapping,“ says LaTonya. “Then my kids wake up at five, and they’re like, ‘Santa came!’”
When it comes to giving, she leads with love: “One of my favorite gifts is to cook for loved ones. Sometimes people just want to be fed, and it’s that simple.” And her go-to holiday soundtrack is Mariah Carey. “Every year, I listen to her album,” she says, “And every year, it’s like the first time I’ve ever heard it.”
Here, LaTonya shares ideas for kids and women, including yourself…
Clock: MoMa has a Kit-Cat Clock, which my daughter, River — who is in seventh grade and very into cats — would love, love, love.
Charm: Years ago, I gave River a pearl charm from Catbird. This year, I’d love to give her another charm, specifically the tiniest croissant charm. She’s obsessed with Paris. We went this summer, and it would be a reminder of a beautiful trip.
Cassette player: I gave my nine-year-old son, Oak, a cassette player from eBay (similar here), and he’s so into it. Also, my kids are all about headphones. Last year, they wanted the big Sony headphones that everyone was wearing, and now they want the Apple ear phones — they’re begging for the ones with wires! We’re slowly going back in time.
Nail polish: River is a classic Essie girl. I use their polish, too.
Debit card: My kids are both into buying things for themselves, so I gave them Greenlight cards. It’s a cool gift because the kids get to go shopping and track their spending on the app.
Socks: Uniqlo socks come in 50 different colors and are so pretty. A stack of them would make a fun gift.
Sneakers: I’m a creature of habit. I wear red Saucony Originals, so I’m going to buy myself another pair for Christmas. And I will literally wrap them, put them under the tree, open them, and be like, “Yay!” I think it’s good for kids to see that you can buy gifts for yourself.
Membership: My #1 thing to give is a membership to BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It’s a great year-round activity to see theatre, film, shows, and talks, but if people don’t have memberships, it can be hard to go. So, everyone gets memberships!
Thank you, LaTonya. You’re the best.
(Opening photo by Rochelle Brockington.)
This year, she’s asking her husband for a fear of flying course. “I want to be a bit more of a chilled passenger when I travel,” she told us. “An extremely sexy gift, that.”
When it comes to holiday magic, she looks to childhood memories for inspiration. “My mum is Mrs. Christmas — she wears a Christmas watch, Christmas earrings, a roster of Christmas jumpers. The kitchen clock and tablecloth are swapped out for Christmassy ones, and she knit a nativity scene for the hallway. My parents’ house becomes this beautiful grotto and it made such an impression on my siblings and me, and my friends still talk about it,” says Pandora. “Now that I have three kids, I realize how much energy went into decorating the stairs top to toe, and I hope to recreate some of that imagination for my own kids.”
Pandora’s gift-giving strategy is to look for one-of-a-kind vintage and handmade presents. Here are her picks…
Vintage finds: I mainly give vintage and secondhand gifts to my children and godchildren. I like to shop Etsy, eBay, Vinted and any old, old village sale! This year’s roster includes squirrel bookends (similar here, here, and here). And for the baby, I found a pull-along lobster toy (similar here).
Personalized sweaters: Astro Angels make name jumpers in the best colors. I bought them for my kids two years ago, and they’re still going strong. The prices have gone up a bit since then — they’re all handmade by ladies in Yorkshire, so it’s pretty fair when you work out the hourly rate — so it’s a ‘special gift’ rather than an everyday purchase.
Puzzles: A personalized jigsaw puzzle makes an affordable yet bespoke present. Jiggers Jigsaws was started in 1979 by a mother and son duo. My aunt got me one when I was born, and now my kids have them, too (similar here).
Sneakers: While looking for secondhand high-tops for my daughter, I came across these adorable ones by EDY Embroidery. The embroidery is reasonably priced, and there’s a large range of florals, mushrooms, leaves, and colors.
Crafts: I also love Super Smalls — the crown jewels of gifting. I bought my daughter clip-on earrings for her birthday after searching high and low for kids clip-on earrings that didn‘t come from Amazon. Super Smalls is the work of professional magpie and former Elle Accessories Director, Maria Dueñas Jacobs.
Handmade ceramics: My favorite things to give are vintage trinkets I pick up throughout the year — vases, paperweights, bowls — and I also love Paul Molloy's ceramic fruit.
Original artwork: Small artwork makes a heartfelt gift. My best friends once got an artist to draw the first place where my husband and I ever lived, complete with the cat in the window! I’d also love to give pressed flowers by Clove at Home.
Personalized decor: A full set of bed linens can be £££. My hack is to cheer up old duvet sets with beautiful monogrammed pillowcases, like these.
Fragrance: I’ve become utterly obsessed with the world’s oldest pharmacy — googling it like a new boyfriend — Santa Maria Novello, which opened in Florence in 1221. Everything is divine, especially their terracotta pomegranate. Baked in their melograno fragrance, it emits scent for 9-12 months.
Tabletop: A porcelain bowl that looks like a starburst for storing fruit or serving salad at dinner.
Olives: Very much a cliché of The Shoppy Shop, but these Spanish olives are the best of the bunch. Even better, the cans are so pretty. I use the small ones for my kids' crayons, and the larger one for flowers.
Pandora, thank you for sharing!
(Opening photo by Eva K. Salvi.)
Her approach to the holidays is to keep things fun and easy. “Last year for the holidays, we hosted a cookie decorating party for my two kids and their friends,” she says. “We baked the cookies ahead of time, so they could just decorate.” Another family-friendly holiday activity she recommends is seeing the lights at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: “It’s really nice with kids because you can do it at your own pace with hot chocolate.”
Here, Youngna shares 16 tried-and-true gifts…
Building toy: Plus-Plus blocks are great to take to restaurants and in the car. I'm like, I don't really understand how all these blocks connect, but then my kids make wildly elaborate shapes. We have them in primary colors, neon, and even glow in the dark. I love the colorway that lets kids build Monet’s famous bridge.
Markers: After her classmates talked about Marvin’s Amazing Magic Pens at school, my daughter begged for them for months. You draw with one color and then use the magic pen to change your drawing into another color. The pens also draw in white or make secret messages. Endlessly entertaining.
Craft supplies: We bought a set of polymer clay beads and stretchy string to play with during my kids’ birthday parties, and they were such a hit. Now, my daughter pulls them out whenever she has playdates to make keychains and friendship bracelets.
Board game: Board games elicit all kinds of drama in our house, but Blokus is one game that everyone loves. It’s fun to play and easy to learn (there’s only one rule). You need some skill, but everyone feels like they have a chance at winning, even young kids.
Work jacket: Le Mont St. Michel makes the best work jacket. It's perfect for layering because you can dress it up or down, and it comes in many great colors. I have a railroad stripe one that I found at Beacon’s Closet. I get compliments every time I wear it.
Body wash: I have sensitive skin, but Sisters body wash is so gentle. It also smells amazing without being too strong. I have a normal body wash from CVS, but this is my fancy body wash for special days or when I just need it. I’ve given it as a gift a lot.
Handmade mug: I found this beautiful mug at a shop called Minna in Hudson. I used to do a lot of ceramics, so I know how hard it is to make a really well-proportioned mug. The glaze is matte, and it just feels good in your hand. You know how it is with mugs — I have ten at home but always try to use this one!
Fancy socks: My rule for fancy socks is that they have to be durable because, you know, they’re still socks. One year for my birthday, I asked my husband for five pairs from Bonne Maison. They’re not something I’d buy for myself, but I love receiving them.
Coffee thermos: I bought myself a Kinto travel tumbler, but my husband stole it! Now we have his and hers. Hands down, it’s the best coffee thermos — easy to clean, doesn’t leak, and looks good. For a splurge, you could add a monthly coffee subscription. We discovered Speckled Ax coffee eight years ago on a trip to Portland, Maine, and have been getting a monthly coffee delivery ever since. We always look forward to when “the good coffee” arrives.
Tech gear: A portable charger is extremely unsexy but SO useful! My phone is constantly dying, and my husband telling me ‘I have a battery in my bag’ is the gift that keeps on giving back. We have multiple for travel and everyday, and when we give them to family members, they’re always like, wow, this is so helpful!
Artwork: A mini print from Anastasia Inciardi featuring your friend’s or partner’s favorite food would be a lovely addition to a desk or kitchen.
Glassware: We use this glassware for cocktails and everyday drinking glasses. They make a lovely housewarming gift. They’re elevated and beautiful, and even though they’re really thin, they’ve somehow never broken, not even when our children use them.
Wonderful. Thank you, Youngna!
Finally, a few book recommendations from LaTonya, Pandora and Youngna…
Picture book: Everything Under The Sun is my go-to book to give kids — it’s full of questions and answers and is beautifully packaged. I learn something every time I read it. — Pandora
Children’s classic: Immersing myself in early years literature has been one of the greatest joys of parenthood. Whilst quite a few books from my childhood have stood the test of time, Eloise is my ultimate favorite. — Pandora
Graphic novels: The Raina Telgemeier Box Set were my daughter’s first graphic novels, and a few years later, she still reads them over and over — she’s probably read them a dozen times! They’re rich in emotional depth, friendships, family dynamics, and the experience of growing up; and they cover issues like anxiety, a fall out with friends, and parents getting divorced. Now that she’s older, my daughter gets even more from them. — Youngna
Middle grade novel: My kids love anything by Jaqueline Woodson. Her latest is Remember Us, which is about a kid entering seventh grade. And for younger kids, I’m very into Ada Twist, Scientist. — LaTonya
Nonfiction: The Story of Art Without Men and The Golden Mole — both are intelligent, informative and gorgeously illustrated and perfect for dipping in and out of, in those lazy days between Christmas and New Year. — Pandora
Novel: Hope by Andrew Ridker, for anyone who wants a fast-moving page turner. It’s a great portrayal of the complexities and interpersonal dynamics between members of a Jewish family in Brookline, MA, who are dealing with the fallout of the dad's medical research malpractice. There are two budding adult kids and a marriage going through some real valleys. This is an especially good pick, if you liked The Corrections or Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. — Youngna
Short stories: Roman Stories is the new collection from Jhumpa Lahiri. I'm in awe of her. She moved to Italy about 10 years ago and taught herself Italian, then wrote these stories in Italian, and translated them back to English. They're so observant and beautifully composed. Great for writerly friends, friends living abroad, or for fans of Lydia Davis, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, and, obviously, Lahiri's other writing. — Youngna
Essays: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants is the gift that keeps on giving. These essays inspire so much of the work I’m trying to do in the world. So beautiful. — LaTonya
(Graphic design by Miss Moss. Note: If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission or have a sponsored relationship with the brand, at no cost to you. We recommend only products we genuinely like. Thank you so much.)
For friends, siblings, cousins, co-workers, aunts, and loved ones, how about a subscription to Big Salad? $6/month or $60/year for a newsletter every Friday with lots of fun things to chat about together.
Gift Guide #1: Your Funny Kids Who Are Almost Your Height But Still Want Bedtime Cuddles. 11 gifts for kids, including a dog game and the book series everyone loves.
Gift Guide #2: Your Mom (or Mother Figure) Who Reads Poetry and Plays Nerf Basketball With Your Kids. 12 gifts for moms, like chunky cookies and a travel essential.
Gift Guide #3: Your Outdoorsy Sister Whose Texts Make You Laugh as You’re Walking Down the Street. 12 gifts for sisters, such as a beautiful necklace and very gooey cheese.
How to Make Home a Haven (Plus, a Huge Sale). Buttery sheets, airy duvets and fluffy towels, all on sale right now.
What’s on your holiday wishlist? How do you approach gift giving? We hope the season ahead is cozy and filled with surprises and delights enjoyed with the people who love you most. xoxo