This article appeared in the Dec. 4, 2008 Jewish Advocate.


Great useful Chanukah gifts for non-frivolous times


by Susie Davidson
Special to the Advocate

The days of the cutesy trivets, the unique bric-a-brac, decorative boxes, schmantzy picture frames and cologne sets may be fading fast. Instead, during these resourceful times, those scarves and mittens, socks and t-shirts, soap-on-a-rope, even the fruitcake may be taking on renewed appeal.

Practical types have always enjoyed these sorts of receivables, and often themselves give gifts that people can actually use. Don't groan; there's an upside to it. By carefully analyzing a recipient, you elicit the highest level of usefulness, and thus sincere gratitude, instead of feigned delight over a jeweled hair clip or leather wallet they'll never use.

"Everyone is feeling the pinch this year in their pocketbook, and many people may choose to skip gifts altogether," says Arielle Klein of Manhattan, who runs the "BargainJewess" blog. "If you choose to give gifts, there are many that are affordable, that the recipient will love," she writes.

"Gifts don't need to cost a lot to be special," she told the Advocate. "What matters most to those you love is that you spent time truly thinking about what they wanted. Those are the gifts that remain in a person's memory."

Thus, for the iPodophiles around us, an iTunes certificate does the job. For those who adhere to letter writing, books of stamps not only fit into a card, but can be highly individualized and hey, you can even use one of them and not look tacky. Electronics gurus? Nothing wrong with a super-strip of batteries. For news junkies, newspaper subscriptions provide a full year of enjoyment and enlightenment.

In these tight days, food, always appreciated, may now be welcomed. And healthy foods are just what we need during stressful and junk-food laden holiday times, let alone winter. So think fruit, crusty breads and healthful spreads, or nuts. Their colors make assortments naturally beautiful. How about whole-grain bagels and a package of lox, mit low-fat cream cheese, in a recyclable or reusable bag? A selection of hummus, tabouleh and baba with whole-grain pitas on a bamboo cutting board? Gift cards for supermarkets (as well as drug and office supply stores) have become highly prized items. A pound of good coffee with a high-quality chocolate bar? A hit every time (in fact, anything chocolate is a winner, guaranteed to not be re-gifted). "Baking is a great gift," agrees Klein. "You can make cookies or mini-cakes and people will truly appreciate your time and effort."

Another advantage, In our increasingly conscious society, is that useful and homemade items, which tend to be more natural, personal, sensible, and recyclable, don't usually bring up ethical issues regarding worker conditions in foreign factories, toxins in the products, overpackaging, or throwaway, short-lived use.

Creative types can still craft thoughtful items. "A 'memory jar' is a fun way to collect oral history and personal thoughts," says local genealogist Sharon Sergeant. "Homemade versions can be made with a simple glass jar with a top, decorated and personalized with paint, decoupage or any craft medium," she says. The giver places a small pad of paper or index cards, or even decorated postcard stock and pen or pencil inside the jar, with a personal note. Like manual Twittering, recipients record their thoughts for posterity. "A few years before an elderly friend died, I gave her a memory jar," recalled Sergeant. "When she was gone, I enjoyed reading her notes. I learned about what life was like for different generations for women."

But don't forget to patronize local Judaica shops and synagogue gift bazaars, to help out the community and celebrate our heritage.

Like the old adage, it is the thought that counts. "The key to budget gift-giving is essentially thoughtfulness," says BargainJewess Klein. "Before you go out and buy cheap stuff, think about what the person you are gifting will really want and work from there. The look on their face when they receive it will be worth the time and effort."