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The Best Novelty Gifts

Last updated on November 17, 2021
Best Novelty Gifts

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Key Takeaway

Buying Guide

There are thoughtful gifts that come from the heart, those presents that make children squeal with glee and parents exclaim, “This is just what I needed!” And then there are gifts that aim for the gut, presented with tongue firmly in cheek. Call them gag gifts, novelty gifts or just the oddballs of the Christmas pile. These are the items that prove that you don’t just know the recipient well enough to get them what they need. You know them well enough to have a little fun at their expense.

These are by definition very personal gifts, and as such there’s no one perfect present for all occasions — though there are popular perennial favorites that will get a chuckle out of almost anyone. (Remember the Chia Pet? It’s still around, and you can now get it in a dizzying array of designs.)

That’s really the first rule of buying novelty gifts: You want to make sure you know the recipient well enough to turn your nice gesture into a joke. And hopefully one that will make both of you chuckle. If you wrap up a fart noisemaker to bring to an office party, for instance, you run the risk of your “joke” falling flat. Not only that, you’ll be seen as cheap and a little thoughtless.

Even with close friends, you might want to read the room. Sure, your oversized wine glass might be a solid private joke between you and a drinking buddy, but what if they’re opening it in front of their judgmental parents? Definitely consider the company as well as the target of your gift. Or maybe your friend is hitting that 50th birthday and you’re considering that time-honored “over the hill” T-shirt. That’s great, as long as that friend has a sense of humor about their age. The better you know the recipient, the better chance you have that your gift will be received in the spirit you intend.

Now that you’ve waded through all those red flags, what do you get? Once again, the best gifts — novelty or otherwise — will have some connection to the person’s hobbies, passions or foibles. Got an avid golfer? Try a desktop putting game. Are they a “Star Trek” fan? They might get a kick out of a phaser keychain, especially if it can produce sound effects. Do they love coffee? Mugs with humorous sayings are always a good bet — as long as they don’t have a cupboard full of them already.

Of course, the best novelty gifts don’t have to be items that are solely for fun. Personalized BBQ aprons can become a home chef’s favorite item of clothing (and a conversation-starter!) during cookouts, and kids are always going to love pool toys no matter what kind of crazy shape they’re in. Remember, it’s all about finding something that’s going to make that person smile and remember you whenever they use it — even if they’re thinking, “It’s your turn next Christmas…”

What to Look For

There will always be a place for novelty gifts at most special occasions, but if you’ve got friends with a healthy sense of humor, you can create one where novelty gifts are the focal point of the whole event. White elephant parties are a big hit during the holidays, and they’re a great way for old and new friends alike to bond over some oddball gifts.

Here’s how to host one: You get all your friends to bring a wrapped gift, typically under a certain price limit to keep things civil. Put all the gifts on a central table and put all the attendees’ names in a hat. As each name is drawn, the attendees have a choice: They can take a gift from the table or “steal” a gift that’s already been opened. Whoever has their gift stolen can either grab a new one from the pile or steal a present from a different guest. The exchange continues until everybody has a gift.

This can get pretty chaotic (and that’s part of the fun), but you may want to limit steals to two or three in a round, with no one allowed to steal back gifts that were just stolen from them. It’s one of those rare gift-opening gatherings where the awkward presents get as much praise from guests as the practical ones, and maybe even more so.

Novelty Gift Rankings

More to Explore

If there’s a hall of fame for novelty gifts, whoopie cushions have a (very loud) seat of honor reserved there. We might think of these chuckle-inducing airbags as a weapon in the gag arsenal of post-war kids, but it turns out there has always been a place for fart humor. There are records of animal bladders and other items being used as whoopie cushions as far back as the 3rd  century AD, when the teenage Roman emperor Elagabalus used them for a laugh at the expense of his dinner guests.

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