Gift Giving Guide

Find inspiration this holiday season from these classic gifts given in American writing.

If you’re anything like me, finding the perfect gift for a loved one can be such a stressful endeavor. With literally billions of options out there, how can I be sure I’m getting the absolute best gift for the people I love the most? This year, I thought I would take at look at some of the gifts given and received from works of classic and contemporary writing. But first, I have a gift for you.

Even though the museum is closed, you can still shop at our online store! Plus, this weekend only (Dec. 11—Dec. 13), all items in our shop are 10% OFF! Just use the code Holiday10 at checkout to apply the discount. The AWM online gift shop is perfect for the literature lovers on your holiday gift list (or for yourself!) Choose from AWM-branded apparel, literary-themed masks, fun magnets and more.

Now, come along with me as I explore some of the best gifts in books, films, and television.

Written by Matthew Masino


An Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle

From A Christmas Story
Written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark
Based on the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd
An ad for the Red Ryder bb gun
Be careful with this one, or you’ll shoot your eye out!

Often ranked as one of the best Christmas films of all time, A Christmas Story tells the tale of Ralphie Parker on a particular Christmas when he was but 9-years-old. Ralphie only wanted one thing for Christmas that year: an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle. Ralphie’s Christmas wish is rejected by almost all the adults in his life including his mother, his teacher, and even a Santa Claus at Higbee’s department store, all with the same warning: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” After opening all his presents on Christmas morning, Ralphie is disappointed to discover that he did not receive the shotgun this year. But then, his father secretly pulls out one final gift: the Red Ryder gun! When Ralphie goes out to the backyard to test the gun, he ends up shooting off his glasses and breaking them in half.

Interspersed throughout the film are a series of vignettes including Ralphie’s father receiving a “major award” (a table lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg wearing fishnet stockings), a “triple dog dare” gone terribly wrong, and the famous pink bunny onesie from Ralphie’s Aunt Clara. Though the gun was never actually manufactured, you can see the prop from the film on display at the Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.


Teapot

From The Office episode “Christmas Party” (Season 2, Episode 10)
Written by Michael Schur
Pam from The Office holds her teapot gift from Jim
Pam loves her teapot!

First broadcasted on December 6, 2005, “Christmas Party” is the 16th episode of the Emmy-winning mockumentary series The Office. To celebrate the holiday season, employees of Dunder Mifflin hold a “Secret Santa” gift exchange at their annual holiday party. Paper salesman Jim Halpert gets Pam Beesly–his office crush–and puts a lot of effort into the gift: a teapot filled with mementos and an extremely personal letter.

As the game goes on, Regional Manager Michael Scott gets angry after receiving a handmade oven mitt when he spent $400 on an iPod for his Secret Santa gift (far exceeding the $20 limit). Annoyed at the gift, he announced that the Secret Santa game is now a game of Yankee Swap/White Elephant/Nasty Christmas. Jim’s present for Pam ends up with Dwight Schrute who eventually trades it with Pam for the iPod to spare Jim’s feelings. While Pam goes through the gift, Jim sneaks the letter into his back pocket without her knowing. The episode was nominated for two Emmy awards including Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.


The Christmas Candle

From Saturday Night Live (Season 42; Hosted by Emma Stone)
Head Writers: Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider

“Everyone knows the story of our lord and savior Jesus Christ, but this is a story of another, more powerful Christmas savior.” Picture this, you have an office Christmas party coming up and need to buy a gift for someone you don’t know (and don’t really care about). Or maybe you’re out at dinner with a friend when they present you with a gift and you have nothing to give in return. In both these situations, the only thing to do is reach for that random, unused, winter candle you got from someone else and never used. The magic of the candle is its power to travel the world and be given over and over again, to every single woman and most gays. We all get the candle at some point in our life.

First premiering on December 3, 2016, this Saturday Night Live sketch speaks to the true meaning of the season: regifting. Host Emma Stone and cast members Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant form a ‘90s girl group to share the story of that marbled, pine-scented, formerly $12.99 but now $8.99 symbol of the holiday season. It’s the gift of having a gift, to give away.


A Red Scarf

From Hanukkah Bear
Written by Eric Kimmel
Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Hanukkah Bear by Eric Kimmel, Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Always have gifts ready for unexpected guests!

When the Old Bear wakes up from hibernation, he follows a delicious smell to the home of Bubba Brayna who makes the best latkes in the village. At 97 years old, Bubba Brayna does not have the best hearing or sight, so when the Old Bear arrives at her door she believes it’s the rabbi who’s come to celebrate Hanukkah with her. Together, Bubba Brayna and the Old Bear light the menorah, play the dreidel game, and eat delicious latkes. As the Old Bear goes to leave, Bubba Brayna pulls out a Hanukkah gift for him, a handmade, red scarf. She wraps it around the Bear’s neck and says goodnight to her friend. Later, when the real rabbi appears, it’s revealed who her hairy party guest was really all along! After a good laugh, Bubba Brayna and the people of the town work together to make more latkes. Eric Kimmel’s work, Hanukkah Bear, was a recipient of the 2013 National Jewish Book Award.


Books

From Little Women
Written by Louisa May Alcott
The March sisters open present on Christmas. From the book Little Women written by Louisa May Alcott
Literature is the gift that keeps on giving!

Originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, Little Women tells the story of the four Marsh sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy — and how they grow from childhood to adulthood. Part One of the novel begins and ends at Christmastime. Because their father is away serving in the Union army, the March sisters experience their first Christmas without him while living in near poverty. When she wakes up Christmas morning, Jo is disappointed at the lack of presents under the tree. Remembering a conversation from the night before, Jo checks under her pillow and discovers a small red book. The other March sisters each find books under their pillows as well, Meg’s book is green, Amy’s book is blue, and Beth’s is gray.

In this chapter, Louisa May Alcott provides a unique look at an American Christmas in the 1860s when gathering with friends and family to dine and sing may have been the most families could afford. The March sisters’ Christmas, reminds us (and them) that, while they don’t have many presents, they have each other. If there are any bookworms on your gift list this season, check out our reading recommendation lists on our page at Bookshop.org. When you purchase books through Bookshop.org you help support independent bookstores and literary organizations like us.


Watch Chain and Comb

From The Gift of the Magi
Written by O. Henry
Gold watch a chain
You can see this watch (and a comb not pictured) at the American Writers Museum!

First published in 1905, O. Henry’s classic short story The Gift of the Magi tells the tale of Jim and Della and their struggle to buy secret Christmas presents for each other with very little money. When Della discovers that she only has $1.87 to buy her husband a gift, she visits a nearby hairdresser who buys her hair for $20. With the $21.87 in her pocket, she has enough money to buy Jim a platinum chain for his beloved pocket watch. That night, when the young couple go to exchange gifts, Jim presents Della a set of beautiful ornamental combs, which she is unable to use until her hair grows back. To pay for the combs, Jim reveals that he sold his pocket watch. Although they are both now left with gifts they cannot use, they realize that their love is the most priceless gift of all and discover how far they’re willing to go to show their love for each other.

One of the most famous pieces of Christmas literature, this work has been adapted many times including as segments on Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas and the 1978 special, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street as well as serving the source materials for episodes of Futurama (“Xmas Story”) and Family Guy (“Bri, Robot”).


Just like everything else that is wrapped up in the experience of 2020, the holiday season this year will be like no other before. Despite the stress and strain of the worldwide pandemic, these stories help remind us to reflect on the true meaning of the holidays and how powerful the gift of love is when given with a full heart. We are reminded how joyous the gratitude is when that gift is received from the one you love. No matter what holiday you’re celebrating this season, always remember the lesson learned by Jim & Della: the incredible power of love and sacrifice. Happy Holidays!


Matthew Masino is a content creator, writer, and theatre director based in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated with a B.F.A. in Theatre Directing from Columbia College Chicago in 2019. Matthew began writing for the AWM blog in April 2020, just after the museum’s closure and has since written more than two dozen articles for the blog. He is also responsible for creating the AWM Destinations blog series. As a theatre artist, Matthew has worked with the International Voices Project, the Chicago Fringe Festival, and BYOT Productions. You can learn more by visiting his website www.matthewmasino.com.

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