The ultimate gift guide for the pandemic

I have always taken gift-giving very seriously. Even before I had money to spend on gifts, I was finding ways to celebrate my loved ones. I spend a lot of time thinking about what to get people and nothing makes me happier than seeing the look on someone’s face when a gift I’ve put a lot of time into makes them truly joyful.

This year, there are several people who I would normally buy holiday gifts for that I will not get to see. As we continue to hold birthdays and other celebrations in the pandemic and as we go into a holiday season where you might find yourself distanced from those you normally celebrate with, here are some gifts you can send through email that aren’t e-transfers.


I couldn’t write a list of gifts to give faraway loved ones without including gift cards, even though sometimes they can be boring gifts. However, depending on the gift card, your recipient will really enjoy it. Find a gift card that helps them buy an item that they’re saving up for or get them a gift card to cover their Spotify subscription, groceries, or other bills for a little while.


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A post shared by WaySpa | Spa Gift Card (@wayspa)

Also consider finding a gift card that pays for your recipient’s splurges. Do they regularly get facials? See if their favourite spa is on Wayspa. Do they typically spend too much money on concert or sports tickets? Gift them a Ticketmaster or StubHub gift card so they can be the first in line when venues open back up. Are they always ordering takeout? Get them a gift card to their favourite restaurant. Or, pick a gift card to their signature stores or stores that sell products only they would buy.

But it is the most entertaining as a gift-giver to surprise them with an out-of-the-box gift card. Consider options such as gift cards to businesses that sell photobooks and other personalized goods. Is there a store your friend loves, but they can’t afford their products? Give them a gift card that makes it easier for them to get that item they’ve been wanting. Are they looking for a particular product? Find a small business that sells what your friend is looking for and get them a gift card from there.

You can find local small businesses at sites and Instagram pages such as Not-Amazon, Hamilton Supports Local and Blk Owned Hamont. You can also give Etsy gift cards, which allows your recipient to pick the item they want from a small business that’s local to them.


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A post shared by BLK OWNED Hamont (@blkownedhamont)

Lastly, never underestimate the power of an I owe you gift certificate. Especially with the cancellations and changes caused by the pandemic, their perfect gift may be something you can’t give them now but want to promise to get them in the future. You could also gift free items — a hug for when COVID-19 is over or a regularly scheduled Zoom call with them.


Printables are paper products that your recipient can print out themselves. You can find several gift-worthy printable items for free or you can buy one from a small business. Many printables are also easy to DIY.


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A post shared by The Witch’s Fix (@thewitchsfix)

Book lovers may enjoy printable bookmarks, such as these ones from Hamilton-based shop The Witch’s Fix or printable reading journals such as these I found on Etsy. For the cook in your life, you can get printable recipe cards like these ones from The Witch’s Fix.

Consider sending crossword and sudoku puzzles to those in your life who like a challenge or a personalized calendar to those who like to keep track of things. You can also grab art lovers a print or poster, which several small businesses also create custom.


There is truly a subscription box for everyone, from fitness to escape room lovers. For both the cooks and kitchen hazards in your life, consider a short-term meal kit subscription. For the readers in your life, consider book subscription boxes like Raven Reads, which ships Indigenous literature both in Canada and abroad.

Know someone who is always hunting for the best beauty products? Try a subscription box like Curls & Confidence, which sends a quarterly hair regime for curly hair. Hoping to get a loved one to slow down and take some time for themselves? Try a self-care subscription box like Pampered Post.


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A post shared by Raven Reads (@raven_reads)

Many subscription boxes are pricey — or at least add up quickly — but don’t think that there isn’t a subscription-based service in your price range. Treat your loved ones to a short-term subscription (or gift card) to a streaming service that they’d love but don’t have yet, like Disney+ or Crave TV (the new home of Friends).

For the audiobook and podcast listeners you know, consider getting a subscription for services such as Audible. Know a theatre lover? The Stratford Festival is selling Stratfest at Home subscriptions to their digital content, which includes the films of their classic productions. Know someone who loves to make things? Check out Hamilton-based design studio Okay Shoe’s digital portal on Patreon. If they follow creators with Patreon accounts, consider getting them a membership so they can enjoy bonus content.

Another interesting avenue is discount-related subscriptions and memberships. For the person you know who’s always ordering out, check out Uber Eats’ Eats Pass, which gives subscribers free delivery over $15. Know someone who is obsessed with buying books? Get them an Indigo Plum Plus Card, which gives them an extra 10% off and free shipping. Know an avid shopper? You could purchase or sign them up for an SPC or other discount card for them.


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A post shared by Okay Shoe (@okayshoe)

Several discount cards and memberships don’t cost money. Make a new email account for them and sign them up for the reward program at their favourite store or restaurant. Also, check what services are offered through your library and sign them up for free audiobooks or a language learning program.


Just like subscription boxes, there’s a virtual experience for everyone. These gifts are particularly special because you may be able to do the activity with your loved one. You could do virtual paint nights, plant nights, cooking classes or exercise classes. Many of the places that originally offered these events have moved them online in the wake of the pandemic.

Airbnb is also offering many virtual experiences with hosts around the world, from history and nature tours to concerts and dance classes. Also check out local businesses and creators for virtual events, such as Goodbodyfeel’s virtual yoga classes or Hamilton tarot reader, Clairandean Humphrey’s virtual tarot readings. If you have any skills you’d love to share with others, you could also gift an event led by you.


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A post shared by CLAIRandean (@clairitytarot)

Another unique virtual experience is Cameo, where everyone from TikTok creators to legendary athletes to cute animals make personalized videos that can be gifted to adoring loved ones. You can also book live chats. While these can be extremely expensive, if you know someone who’d love a message from Santa or was obsessed with a one-off character in an old teen drama, this could make a great and inexpensive gift.


Donate money to organizations on their behalf. Pick an organization that is involved in a cause they truly care about or donate to an organization that they’ve supported for a while. Also, don’t forget to include individuals as possible avenues, be it a creator whose work they love or a stranger in need that you know they would love to help.


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A post shared by GivingTuesday Canada (@givingtuesdayca)


Gifts don’t have to cost money! As I’ve mentioned with some of the free options above, you can use your skills and creativity to craft free meaningful gifts. Piece together your memories with them in a slideshow or video.

Write them a poem or a story. Share with them your favourite memories of them or things you love about them. Ask their close friends and relatives to write them a letter or an email with their best wishes or a special memory. You could also get their loved ones to send videos with personalized messages.


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A post shared by Greetings Island (@greetingsisland)

If they love cat videos or pictures of dogs, send them a compilation that they can scroll through when they’re down. You could do a similar thing with anything that makes them happy, be it inspirational quotes or watching all the best episodes of Insecure.

Make them a playlist of music or podcasts or audiobooks that they can reference throughout 2021. Put together a list of things that happened on that day in history or, especially for the birthdays of the seniors in your life, a list of things that happened the year they were born.

And last but not least, send an e-card (my personal favourite site is Greetings Island). It’s an awesome feeling to know that people are thinking of you and wishing you well. So show your loved ones that they’re on your mind as they celebrate holidays and milestones. You can do that with any of the gifts above or you could simply send an e-card.

Photo C/O Unsplash

By: Katie van Kampen, Contributor

Finding the perfect gift while holiday shopping is hard and will likely be time consuming, nerve wracking and frankly, stressful. Clothing, in particular, is nearly impossible to get right. What size is the person you’re shopping for? What styles do they like? Do they prefer fitted or oversized? With so many variables to consider, you’re overwhelmed. To help you find gifts that everyone would appreciate, here are fashion items that you could buy for anyone this holiday season. 

Let’s Sock n’ Roll

Price: $

There has been a recent resurgence in sock subscription services and an increasing demand for trendy sock designs. A well-picked pair of socks can complement your outfit while adding a splash of personality. A great place to find a variety of socks within the city is floorplaysocks (194 Locke St. S). They have walls filled with socks, neatly organized and displayed for easy browsing. One reliable brand that the store carries is Stance—. my favorite brand for fun and durable socks.. They have many different designs to choose from that’ll be sure to appeal to anyone on your holiday list. 

Green (T-Shirt) Sleeves

Price: $$

T-shirts are one of the best gifts you can give someone. Just like socks, they come in a variety of shapes, colours and designs. As trends in 90s fashion re-emerge, it’s becoming cooler to wear oversized t-shirts or to tuck them in. So, go out there and get your Secret Santa their favourite band t-shirt or a comic graphic t-shirt, and don’t worry if it’s a size too large. There’s lots of ways you can style a t-shirt — perhaps through a french tuck, layering the shirt with shorter items or by rolling the sleeves. Omnes (191 King St. E)  has a selection of second hand vintage shirts from brands like Adidas to Guess. Or, you can take a walk down James Street and browse through boutiques like The Pale Blue Dot (240 James St. N) to find the perfect t-shirt for whoever’s on your list.

The Holiday Sweater

Price: $$

‘Tis the season! What’s better than an aggressively adorned holiday sweater for those office parties, unbearable family events, or themed parties. Holiday sweaters vary in their design from “My Grandpa made this in the 1970s” to “Minimalistic snowflake” and can be found at a variety of stores. Depending on what you think they’ll like or how much you actually want them to wear this sweater, there’s a variety to choose from. The McMaster Campus Store carries their own McMaster Christmas sweater so you can get some Mac swag while also purchasing a festive gift. If your friend won’t buy one  for themselves, and always complains about not owning a holiday sweater, you can easily fix this situation. They’ll soon be sporting their new sweater to every holiday event. 

Backpack, Backpack, Yeah!

Price: $$$

A backpack is a necessity for students, so why not take the opportunity to turn it into a fashion item? Even if they already have a backpack, having different styles and different sizes to choose from can be useful if they ever want to downsize their daily carry-all. Pair it with the right colours and it can be easily integrated into any outfit. Check out the Campus Store for a variety of backpacks featuring designs by Hershel and Fjallraven.


Price: $$

While it is a bit chilly for denim jackets, they can prove useful and fashionable during the warmer months. As I said, oversized clothing is in style. Buying someone an oversized jacket can help elevate their style as they can experiment with layering other fashion pieces. Jean jackets come in a variety of linings and colours. Some non-conventional colors to check out are grey, white, black and olive. Denim jackets are a great item to find at a thrift store, especially since they’re quite durable and timeless. One close option to Mac is Deja Vu Used and New (262 King St. W). Here you’re sure to find different styles, colours and sizes of jackets. If you want a vintage, retro aesthetic you can take the trek to Ottawa Street and visit Out of the Past (308 Ottawa St. N). Whoever you’re buying for will surely appreciate this item as it can be styled in  many different ways, creating a great addition to their wardrobe.

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