Giving the Gift of Death (er, Life) this Holiday Season
‘Tis the season to give and receive meaningless gifts built for one purpose: trashing regifting. That chai-banana-balsam scented candle you received from Mindy at the office holiday mixer? That puppy has made the rounds. And if you plan on wrapping that monstrosity back up and putting it under the tree/ Festivus pole for your Great Aunt Carole, well, let me stop you right here. You can do so much better.
You can’t control what you get (other than maybe lumps of coal, you dirty rotten sinner you!), but you can control what you give. And you’re going to give some seriously meaningful gifts this year, friends.
You have the opportunity to wake your family and friends up … to rouse them from their slumbering, take-life-for-granted existences. Why not bestow the gift of memento mori this year? (Refresher for those of you who skipped the first day of class: memento mori means “remember we must die” and before you scoff at it, remember that I’ve devoted my personal and professional life to this philosophy. No eye-rolling permitted.)
Reminding your loved ones of their inevitable, no-way-out-alive lot in life (i.e.: THEY ARE ALL CAREENING TOWARDS INESCAPABLE OBLIVION!) really is the gift that keeps on giving. Subtle (and not-so-subtle) reminders of our mortality can provide the motivational fuel to start living with more intention and purpose, with a greater sense of urgency.
You don’t have to dwell on the morbid side of mortality … giving your Great Aunt Carole an adorable skull tea cosy isn’t so much about the death part as it is about the LET’S GET ON WITH THE LIVING part. You might have some explaining to do after your family and friends unwrap your rather macabre gifts, but that’s okay. It’s the thought that counts anyways.
31+ morbid-sounding gifts to spark a livelier life:
The best app ever: For $1.99 a month, the WeCroak app will conveniently remind your gift recipient—five times each day—that they are going to die. This means that you, too, will be thought of five times a day as your friend swipes the creepy (but effective) notice away on his or her phone. You and death, intertwined, together!
Candle: Look how cute this little bugger is, especially if you choose the “pink guava” color option! It is not my understanding that this candle smells like a rotting corpse as it burns. Apologies if that disappoints you.
Calendars: Don’t give a boring sloths-hanging-in-sloth-like-positions calendar this year, guys. Why not give a life countdown calendar? I wrote about 12 amazing memento-mori inspired calendars here last year, and trust me when I tell you these are all high-five holiday hits. (Buy one for yourself while you’re at it.)
Skull Cufflinks: These are for the dapper “Always Be Closing” corporate types in your life. For $10,500 your gift recipient will be the coolest cat at the boardroom table. WHO IS GOING TO MESS WITH SOMEONE WEARING THESE CUFFLINKS? Brilliant negotiation tactic! They scream “I am not one to mess with,” but with class.
Ice molds: $21.95 will elevate the boozehound in your life to a whole new level of douchbagness. As they sip on their bougie bourbon, they’ll delight in the trendy skull cube looking back at them. (This gift scores extra points for its powerful metaphor: the ice melts away over time … just like life … drowning in a bourbon-soaked stupor.)
T-shirt: This All My Friends are Dead shirt is a personal favorite (based on the excellent book of the same name), and comes in a long-sleeved version for your friends dying slow deaths in chillier climates.
Cremains: That’s right: cremation + remains = cremains. You know what else is right? Giving a gift certificate for the coolest cremation of all time! Check out my 16 aforementioned ideas to deal with pesky cremains here, and tell me you won’t be Great Aunt Carole’s favorite great niece ever by turning her into a biodegradable sea turtle. (After she dies.) It’s the gift of a lifetime!
Gummy skulls: No holiday treats table is complete without grotesque looking edible skulls, amirite? These darling skulls are stuffed with sweet strawberry centers and will satisfy sweet tooths and cheapskates alike … they are (alarmingly?) only $5.99 and will be sure to rip Grandpa’s dentures out.
Cookie cutters: I’m having a hard time deciding whether to present the skull, the Grim Reaper, or the tombstone cookie cutter to you. It’s the holidays so I’m feeling generous. They’re cheap enough to buy all three!
Scythe: This ain’t no plastic Halloween version! For $109, “this ergonomic scythe is ideal for cutting grass and weeds for a tidy garden, and it is great for cutting wheat, oats, barley and other crops.” You know what else it’s good for? HEPLING PEOPLE REMEMBER THAT THE REAPER IS COMING FOR THEM. Ho ho ho!
Hourglass: Someone’s going to count down their time in style! Hourglasses are classic memento mori symbols and will never not make us think of this soap opera line: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” (But really … our time is slipping through our fingers and we need reminders to live like we mean it. Like hourglasses that cost about $60 a pop.)
Books: Why not give the bookworms in your life something thought-provoking this year?
The Daily Stoic boxed set by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman is begging to be given to “anyone seeking to add serenity, self-knowledge, and resilience into their lives” … so, everyone?
The Journal of Death and Dying: This monthly publication is for your academic friend who likes every discussion to be empirically based (and therefore boring). (This is me btw.) For $255 you can get them a year full of research papers on all things death and dying. If you’re lucky they’ll deliver PowerPoint presentations that capture their learnings!
Skull socks: We’ve got low end ($4.20), medium end ($28, pictured below), and high end ($95) … something for every caliber of feet you’re buying for.
A life-or-death conversation: The people over at Five Wishes have put together a package to help you have the “dun dun dunnnnn” conversation with your family. For $50 you’ll have a framework to answer key questions like, “what is an advance directive again, and why should I care?”. It’ll be so festive, especially with seriously spiked egg nog greasing the skids.
Caskets: Looking to fill that empty corner in the living room? Why not give your special someone a biodegradable woven willow casket to chill out in? Is this gift idea extreme? Absolutely. (Word to the wise: this gift should probably not be given following a recent life insurance policy increase.) But in all seriousness, you can hold a living funeral for your loved one(s) once the wrapping paper gets ripped off this gift-of-a-lifetime. (Taking this to a new level, you can get a more expensive custom casket … like this cow print version. Please don’t ask me questions about this picture because I don’t understand it either. Apparently they found a mechanism that made a “moo” sound as people walked past the casket, which is breathtakingly spectacular.)
Yoga mat: What yogi doesn’t want a mat with a bunch of uber-flexible skeletons in warrior pose? Don’t let $38.50 get in the way of making your yoga-loving Mom appreciate the scarcity of life.
Eulogy: What about penning a preemptive eulogy for someone you care about, and framing it? I wrote one for my Dad on his birthday, and he didn’t disown me! This is a more heart-felt kind of gift, so if you’re in the mood to just buy a skull keychain and call it a win, then maybe move on from this one. But if you want tears, you’ve landed on the perfect gift!
Online personal development course: Why not give the deadbeats in your life my 12-module course called How to Live Like You Mean It? Done and done!
Fancy art: If you can’t afford Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God (you know … the $50,000,000 skull he sat down and glued 8,601 perfect diamonds onto [hopefully with Krazy Glue?]), then maybe you can afford a picture of it for $30K? Go on a hog-wild shopping spree here, and leave a few prints for the rest of us, will you please?
Wallpaper: Why not give the gift of a home makeover to your most décor-challenged friend? The Husband and I had this skull-icious wallpaper up in one of our places in Chicago and loved it so much we put it up in the bathroom, too. Imagine how alive your gift recipients could feel while sitting on the toilet? (While you’re in the bathroom why not introduce this jazzy shower curtain?)
Stroller blanket: Because babies need memento mori reminders, too. This $88 blanky will keep the wee ones feeling warm but looking cool as they launch into their 4,000 Mondays.
Wine: My death-inspired friend (hi CJ!) told me about this wine and it’s on my wish list that I mailed to Santa back in February. It’s called Memento Mori, and it’s no drugstore swill; Wine Spectator just gave them 95 points and wrote this love letter about one of their Cabs: “Sleek in style, with a lovely sense of purity to the cassis and cherry reduction notes inlaid with a subtle iron thread. Offers a pretty floral lift in the background from a steady violet note, and the finish has a tug of warm earth to keep it honest.” Pour that shit down my throat, pronto! Oh—and since this isn’t about me, buy some for your oenophile friends too. (And invite me over.)
Dark tourism-inspired trip: Why not book a getaway somewhere fabulous on our planet … that just so happens to be a hotspot for death &/or tragedy? Humans are intrigued by the macabre, and now that “dark tourism” has been covered in the NYT, we don’t have to pretend we’re not fascinated by the death and destruction of other people. Maybe that’s just my schadenfreude speaking? Regardless—we love to visit famous gravesites, war battlefields, and other ghastly places. Why not give an all-expenses paid trip to that special someone in your life to join you on a romantic afternoon, touring the Catacombs in Paris? (If your significant other turns their nose up at this gift, please call me immediately. My passport is ready.)
So there you have it.
What a majestically overwhelming array of memento mori-inspired gift choices to initially confuse and ultimately delight your loved ones this holiday season!
When your family and friends breathlessly tear open their gifts (thoughtfully wrapped in this skull paper, no less), and then raise their eyebrows/ get all quiet/ whatever they do when they are on the verge of being offended, you’ll want to quickly pivot from the “I want you dead” implication to the “I want you to carpe the heck out of this diem!” narrative.
And if none of these gifts seem “appropriate” for your Great Aunt Carole (or any other gift-requiring leeches in your life), can I suggest that you buy a few ghoulish goodies for yourself? At least a stocking stuffer. You can fit these lovely earringsin this stocking, for sure.