On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ... hand sanitizer, a spray can of Lysol, a big box of TP and a cleaning gizmo for keys and phones.
All year, cleaning products have been flying off the shelves — now, they're flying straight into Christmas stockings and wrapping paper. Holiday-season sales of sanitizing wipes and sprays have doubled this year, according to Nielsen. Sales of hand sanitizer have more than quadrupled.
"You can say, 'Oh, yeah, remember back in 2020, when we all had a bottle of scented hand sanitizer in our stockings?' " says Charles Kopec, a neuroscience researcher from New Jersey who's also gifting his wife's parents a UV-light box to help keep their cellphones a bit cleaner.
Whether as a joke or something serious and practical — or both — coronavirus essentials make for no-brainer holiday presents. Fancy soaps and face masks! Bedazzled face shields! Little bottles with hooks for sanitizing on the go!
Mary Lopez, a retired forensic accountant from California, is a longtime home-necessities gifting proponent, and her family has been giving pandemic-themed gifts all year.
For her daughter's birthday, Lopez assembled a basket of lockdown-survival aids, including Clorox cleaning spray, some money on a gift card, two candy-filled wine glasses and a bottle of wine. Her daughter replicated this basket for her friends for the holidays, adding also toilet paper and jigsaw puzzles.
Gifts of sanitation tend to be an add-on to other items people are exchanging this year — a dose of pandemic reality on top of regular gifts. According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, categories selling particularly well are electronics, home furnishings and athleisure clothes.
On a recent run to Costco just outside Washington, D.C., banking analyst Ritesh Ranjan spotted a 2020 unicorn: a five pack of Clorox wipes. He remembered friends mentioning they had trouble finding them. "Hopefully it'll remind them of the conversation we have had about it, and hopefully it helps," Ranjan said.
But later he felt a bit guilty for snatching those wipes that are so rare these days: "Did [I] steer the product away from someone who would need it much more urgently?" he pondered. "After I bought this one, I decided I'm not going to buy any more of these for gifts."
Kathleen Murray, a teacher from Virginia Beach, Va., also never expected to be gifting cleaning products for the holidays. But she came across some holiday-themed hand sanitizers, with scents like vanilla and Christmas cookies, and couldn't resist.
"It at least cheers you up," she said. "You have to use it regardless. But if it smells like gingerbread, I'd rather use that."
The sanitizers went into her Advent calendars for family members, as little daily gifts alongside candy, festive face masks and other pandemic essentials. Asked if all these sanitation-themed gifts felt just a little bit sad, she laughed.
"I guess a bit sad," Murray said. "But also like — if you could give anyone a gift, you want to give them safety. I would love to be able to give them all the vaccine, but you obviously can't do that. It's the closest thing to safety that you can give them."
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
KATHLEEN MURRAY: A lot of hand sanitizers.
MARY LOPEZ: Clorox cleaning spray.
CHARLES KOPEC: A phone sanitizer.
RITESH RANJAN: Five-pack Clorox wipes.
SHAPIRO: All year, cleaning products have been flying off the shelves. And now they are flying straight into Christmas stockings and wrapping paper. NPR's Alina Selyukh reports.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: It would not be a pandemic holiday without grown adults asking Santa for the hottest sellers of 2020. Sanitizing wipes and sprays - sales doubled this year. Hand sanitizer - quadrupled.
KOPEC: You can say, oh, yeah. Remember back in 2020 when we all had a bottle of hand sanitizer in our stockings?
SELYUKH: Charles Kopec is a scientist from New Jersey who is married to a physician. They're really focused on safety and sanitation. This year, they bought his wife's parents a UV light box to help keep their cellphones a bit more clean.
KOPEC: And we're also giving scented hand sanitizer to people sort of as a stocking stuffer joke gift, but it's also something that we know everyone's going to use.
SELYUKH: Whether as a joke or something serious and practical, coronavirus essentials are no-brainer gifts - fancy soaps and face masks, bedazzled face shields, little bottles with hooks for sanitizing on the go. Mary Lopez and her family in California have been doing pandemic-themed presents all year.
LOPEZ: I had made a joke that if I want anything for my birthday, it's toilet paper because it was really scary there for a while (laughter).
SELYUKH: Her daughter obliged and procured an industrial-sized pack, which Lopez staged like a cake. She repaid her daughter with her own themed gift basket.
LOPEZ: I looked for months, but I got a big bottle of Clorox cleaning spray, a thing of Clorox wipes, two wine glasses filled with candy and a bottle of wine.
SELYUKH: Lockdown survival supplies, which her daughter loved so much she's replicating a version of this pandemic basket as holiday gifts for friends. In Northern Virginia, Ritesh Ranjan's friends are getting a gift card and a bulk pack of sanitizing wipes, which Ranjan spotted at Costco after these friends mentioned having trouble finding some.
RANJAN: I wouldn't say it's a joke. It's a kind of serious gift. Hopefully, it'll remind them of the conversation we have had about it.
SELYUKH: He says he later felt a bit guilty for snatching these wipes, which are so rare these days. I briefly mentioned his find to Kathleen Murray from Virginia Beach, and she was impressed.
MURRAY: Maybe that person could put me on their Christmas list (laughter).
SELYUKH: Murray made Advent calendars for family members, little daily gifts that are often candy and chocolate but, this year, also include Christmas-themed face masks and the 2020 classic, hand sanitizers.
MURRAY: Christmas-scented and, like, vanilla and Christmas cookies - it at least cheers you up. Like, you have to use it regardless. But if it smells like gingerbread, I'd rather use that.
SELYUKH: I asked Murray, don't cleaning-oriented gifts feel a little sad?
MURRAY: I guess a bit sad - but also, like, if you could give anyone a gift, like, you want to give them safety. Like, I would love to be able to give them all the vaccine, but you obviously can't do that.
SELYUKH: And so she says gifts of sanitation are the closest thing to gifting someone safety.
Alina Selyukh, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF LEONARD COHEN SONG, "I CAN'T FORGET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.