With each passing holiday season, you get a little older until you wake up one Christmas morning trapped in the frozen clutches of your life partner, whose heart gave out sometime after you both fell asleep watching It's a Wonderful Life. If your nieces, nephews, kids, and grandkids spent years denying your old age by getting you stuff like gym memberships and windsurfing boards, you would have never seen it coming. Though there are certain privileges that come with getting old like shoplifting with impunity, swearing loudly in public, and retiring, most people still think of inexorable organic decay the way Sam the Lion does in The Last Picture Show: ridiculous. If you're stumped with what to get an aging relative this year, you might opt for a gift that defies the traditional concept of stolid old age, like skydiving lessons or a Nintendo Wii. Those are fine (if patronizing) choices but if you really want to do your parents, your aunts and uncles, your grandparents, and that forty-something Gen X cousin you have because your Aunt Jeanie and Uncle Raymond didn't use condoms when they started dating in high school all a favor, get them something that will politely remind them that, at their age, death can come at any moment so they should do what a lot of mature, older people want to do once their kids have grown up and their lives have more or less stabilized: chill the fuck out and maybe go on a sweet cruise in the Caribbean.
A sweet cruise to the Caribbean
I'll admit that this is pretty impractical for any gift-giver who's not an a Hollywood star, bank robber, or investment banker siphoning off client funds, but if you can afford it and you love your parents, you'll buy them passage on a ship bound for the balmy waters of the Caribbean and hire someone to shovel their snowbound driveway while they're gone. If you can't afford such an extravagant display of filial affection because you opted to spend your 20's in the snug cocoon of graduate school and owe some loan sharks a mortgage-sized sum of cash, you can always make your parents some mojitos and buy them a Jimmy Buffet CD. If you sit them both down in rocking chairs and spray Panama Jack tanning lotion on their upper lips, it'll be almost like they're in lounging in deckchairs on an ocean liner anchored off of Tortuga.
Royal Caribbean Cruises, seasonal, $600-$2,000.
Image from Chris Jenner/Shutterstock
A DVD box set
If you've waited until the very last minute every year before shopping for your family, odds are you've stumbled into a Target or, if you're an archaeologist, a Borders amid rows and rows of DVD box sets, found one that more or less coincided with a relative's interests, and said, "Good enough." The great thing about getting a box set for an older relative is that they probably won't see it for the obsolete, waste-of-money technology that it is and instead think that you really pay attention to their cinematic interests. There's a DVD box set for just about anyone and if you know even a little bit about your relatives, it should be pretty easy to spend five minutes browsing the interweb for a box set like Band of Brothers that tells your war history buff father, uncle, or grandfather that, sure, you'll listen to another tedious, rambling account about the Ardennes Offensive, but wouldn't he rather just watch it?
Soothe their achy old body
If you've been walking around for 50+ years chances are that your feet could use a nice long soak and a massage. Well, with a healthy glass of red wine or three and a warm foot bath, you'll be able to satisfy the first part of your older relative's podiatry problems without having to touch their nasty old feet.
Heated foot bath, $99.99.
Something for their deteriorating eyes
These are probably for your awesome Aunt Mable who gets way too drunk at holiday dinners and talks explicitly about all the acid she dropped and wild sex she had in the 60's, but you know what? I'd fucking wear these if I was old (you know, because I could die doing something really awesome, like base-jumping) and had grandkids I wanted to scare whenever I had to babysit them. If your older relative has to wear reading glasses, give them a pair that will spice up her (or his) reading experience and make them feel as old and crazy as she (but maybe he too) probably is.
Vintage Cat Eye Reading Glasses, $9.88.
A shameless read
Whoever wants to spend time with this book either knows Jill Abramson well because they're stuck in the 19th century and still reading newspapers or can relate to the story of getting a dog to fill the gaping void in their life left by grown children. Either way, this is the perfect read for someone who's so mature they don't give a damn about people in public scoffing at their reading material.
Jill Abramson's The Puppy Diaries, $14.96 on Amazon.
A second chance at life
A personal defibrillator was a hot item a few years ago and, what with the obesity epidemic of zombie eclairs roaming the earth and shoving themselves down people's gullets, demand will only increase. Though not a cheap gift, it offers a good opportunity for your whole family to give a collaborative gift to Uncle Marv and have an intervention on Christmas day before he gorges himself on bread pudding. If you come from a family of healthy people with no history of heart disease, good for you; enjoy your egg-white nog.
Personal defibrillator, $1,199.00..
Familiar with that often maternal question when you and your SO visit for the holidays: "So, when can I expect some grandkids?" Your parents are empty-nesters and at least one of them has a horrible allergy to pet dander. They set extra places at dinner every night for you and your departed siblings, inevitably make too much food, and watch the steam rise from your uneaten meal and dissipate in the harsh kitchen light. Then they shovel the food into their Tupperware containers and spend the rest of the night wondering when their children are going to procreate and give them something to dote over. This Christmas, don't you think you owe it to your parents to skip your birth control? Remember, diamonds can be stolen but a baby is forever, or at least for probably as long as the rest of your life, which works out to be pretty much the same thing when you get down to it.
Your child, no initial payment required.
Image from Vivid Pixels/Shutterstock
Entry into the world of old-person discounts
AARP is sort of like a mafia for people over 50 except without the leather jackets and billy clubs, which lose their appeal anyway at a certain level of maturity. Members get all kinds of sweet discounts on stuff people who've accumulated a bit of money over a lifetime of relentless toil have a right to enjoy — travel, fancy dinners, and shopping. And this all because the stigma of aging in this country is such that people will give older people all kinds of crap for reduced prices just so they won't be burdened with the guilt of pushing burdensome older relations into nursing homes. If you're squeamish about making someone feel old by giving them this present, consider what my dad said to me after joining AARP when he turned fifty and getting a movie ticket discount: "I bet you have to pay full price, huh? Sucks to be twenty."
AARP Membership, 1 year for $16.
Pretty pictures of far-flung places
Nothing says, "My life is as settled as the Appalachian Mountains" like a coffee table book. Give this to a relative that always wanted to do a wine tour in Tuscany as a tasteful way to tell that that, even though they probably won't live to realize their dream, they can still look at pictures of other people who did. Also, coffee table books have huge illustrations and sturdy spines, perfect for anyone whose eyesight has diminished with age and who unabashedly takes books into the bathroom.
That's right, a whole case of the stuff. A case of wine is a good gift if you're really open and comfortable with your parents, an aunt and uncle, or, if you're really new-age, grandparents who you know FOR SURE are still doing it like all the time and will exchange lusty glances when they unwrap your big box of wine.
A case of Kendall Jackson, $100-$400.
Generic gift certificate
You spent too much time stressing about what to get your SO or the finicky SO of an older sibling that you've run out of time to shop for a real present and have to get a gift card. Though it might seem impersonal, if you choose the right store, this could be the gift your older relative gets the most use out of. The best gift certificates are for stores with small and inexpensive items, like Starbuck's, 7-Eleven, or, if you still live near one, a Blockbuster, where $25 will let your lucky relative pillage the discount DVD bin like a Visigoth in ancient Rome.
7-11 Gift Certificate, $25-$35.
Tools for things you can do with your hands
If your relatives are like any of my uncles, they don't need gifts like these because when they have an itch, they use pasta spoons to scratch their backs while they grunt in pleasure like gorillas. For anyone's relatives whose lines of personal hygiene are delineated a little more sharply, this head scratcher is great and the best part is that it looks so much like a kitchen utensil, you can trick your ape-like relatives to use it by hiding it in a kitchen drawer.
Back scratcher, $2.89.
A classy afterlife
For the relative who's come to terms with his or her mortality and would appreciate, instead of a clever Christmas card, something a little more indelible, like an evocative haiku chiseled into piece of granite: "Here lies Uncle Joe/until zombies roam the earth/when he'll eat your brains."
Custom headstone, $285.