The elements of a perfect holiday gift are as follows: It has to be something that the gift recipient wouldn't buy for themselves. It has to be within a price range that will not personally bankrupt the gift giver. It varies by person, of course, but for me, the ideal gift should be something that has a touch of practicality—you will actually use it rather than re-gifting it or leaving it to gather dust in a corner forever—but also whimsy. You want to find that sweet spot in the spectrum between Skymall and a gift card to Autozone. If I'm being really honest with you, the ideal gift is something that I can buy online to have shipped directly to someone's house, rather than lugging it there myself or dealing with the post office. And to that end, in a deep weird Amazon hole looking at various breakfast machines, I found what might be my best gift idea ever, or my worst gift idea: personal fondue mugs.
Regular fondue sets are cumbersome and difficult to store, and unlikely to be used more than once or twice in a lifetime unless you are really into fondue. I love melted cheese or melted chocolate—who doesn't?—but so rarely put in the effort to actually turn the solid forms of my beloved dairy products into dip-able liquids. So the fondue mug is kind of genius. It's a mug built with a compartment beneath to put in a burning tea candle, in order to keep the liquid component of your fondue hot. It comes as a set of two, complete with tiny fondue forks, though I'm sure you could just use your basic, normal-sized fork, too. And it is $14.99. That is extremely reasonable for something that could potentially be life-transforming, right? A little bit practical, a little bit whimsical: they're perfect.
So on the one hand: melted cheese at your fingertips all the time! Maybe you could just us the little compartment as a rest for your tea bag or for a cookie now and then? A small cookie, but still. It would be a revelation in mug use. The Amazon reviews are generally positive, though they note that the heat of the tea candle is actually enough to burn the contents of the very bottom of the mug. That's a bummer, but it's a manageable setback. And probably an entire cup of cheese or chocolate is enough to eat that you can sacrifice that final sixteenth of the bowl. And should this set not appeal to you; you have options! There are larger fondue mugs with heart-shaped handles and slots in the handle to store your tiny fondue forks! Maybe you would even eat more fruit if you could just always dip it in chocolate. As one reviewer wrote, "All in all, I can't think of a reason NOT to have these mugs around (except that my doctor seems to think I need to dip fewer things into chocolate and cheese)."
But in the back of my head I could see exactly what would happen with these mugs if I received them. Maybe I would use them a couple times to have a delightful cup of hot nacho cheese or chocolate, and then eventually I would lose one or more of the tiny forks. Then they would get shoved to the back of the cabinet and used only occasionally, during a party where all other cups are circulating, or when I really just can't bring myself to do dishes. Perhaps the idea of a fondue mug is better than the fondue mug in action. But perhaps that is true with almost any object, almost any gift. How many lovely scarves are piled in a box in my closet; how many thoughtfully selected books remain on my shelf with their spines uncracked? This is the annual crisis that Christmas capitalism inspires in me, the frenzy of spending for things half-wanted, or used to delight someone for a couple of hours. There is the Kondo-ism that an object should spark joy. But for how long? What is the worth of whimsy, and what is its half-life? Should we all just be exchanging economy packets of AA batteries and reasonably-priced linens, the kinds of things that we actually need to get through our days and appreciate only when they are absent? Is the only joy in function? Will melted cheese exacerbate the whole conundrum, or act as a gooey salve?
Reader, I bought the fondue mugs. Their fate remains to be seen.