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Christmas Shopping: The Art of the Small Gift


Zelda Caldwell - published on 12/15/14

10 great little gifts for everyone on your list

Ah, less than two weeks before Christmas and perhaps the first hint of panic is creeping in to spoil your Advent. How can you get in the spirit of the season when you still need to shop and you don’t know where to start?

Maybe you’d love to find a way to really nail it this year — to somehow express that magical feeling of Christmas in a perfect, little (read: not too expensive) token of appreciation of others. And why not spread the joy far and wide and include everybody on your list — teachers, coaches, the neighbor who waters your plants while you’re away, and the neighbor who doesn’t call the police when your dog barks.

Here are 10 ideas for small gifts for most everyone on your list to help you on your merry way:

1. Cloth Napkins: They’re eco-friendly, inexpensive, and oh-so-stylish. These block-print ones from Crate and Barrel are $3.97 each.

Tolo Block Print Napkin from Crate and Barrel

2. Breakfast bowl andhomemade granola. Who wouldn’t want to start the day with this lovely cereal bowl ($12) from Anthropologie?  Include a bag of homemade granola and they’ll know you care.

Old Havana Bowl from Anthropologie

3. Favorite paperback novels.  There’s no better way to share what brings joy to your own heart than to give someone two or three of your favorite novels. If they’ve already read them, it doesn’t matter – they can reread them. As the novelist Martin Amis said, “Every 10 years you’re a different person, and the really great books evolve with you as you get older. They’re full of new rewards.”

If you’ve found an author you think your friend may not know about and might really enjoy, even better. Recent discoveries I’ve shared: Elizabeth Taylor (not that Elizabeth Taylor) and Elizabeth Jenkins. Mysteries are also much appreciated for those cold winter nights.

4. Table-top Ping-Pong. It really works, you can play it on the dining room table. Fun for the whole family — and what better way to spend Christmas vacation than perfecting one’s topspin on one’s children? At Amazon for $17.99.

5. Sushi dishes.  One of the greatests gifts I ever received was a set of sushi plates and soy-sauce dishes for two.  So much promise in the thought of carry-out sushi! Can be found very inexpensively at Asian markets or at

 Sushi plate for $6.95 at

6. Hot sauce selection.  For those who take the Scoville scale very seriously, nothing could be better than a selection of blow-your-head-off hot sauces. The current favorite in our house is Bhut Jolokia — I think they like to say "Bhut Jolokia"  more than anything else.

Hell’s Inferno Bhut Jalokia Sauce ($12.99) from

7. Watercolor set.  Who wouldn’t want this? Okay, I can think of a few people, but it is a fine gift for anyone with a slightly artistic bent. Winston Churchill found painting with water colors the perfect antidote to his “Black Dog.” Coupons available here.

 Reeves water color set for $16.68  from Blick art materials

8. Something handmade and/or delicious from monks and nuns. Last month we ran a list of great gifts from religious communities that you can order online. There’s still time to get your order in. My family knows I will always be thrilled with candles, soap or candy which can be happily consumed and which eventually disappear without a trace. No clutter!

Holy Spirit Monastery fudge ($12.95)

9. has a great selection of inexpensive unique gifts, especially jewelry. A hot gift item: single-initial charm necklaces.

GemPassionJewelry ($24) at Etsy

10. Brass pencil sharpener.  A good, solid, German-built pencil sharpener will be much appreciated. Like a BMW for your pencils. Find an inexpensive coffee mug, throw in some pencils and you’ve got the perfect teacher’s gift. Coupons available here.

Mobius and Rupert Brass pencil sharpener ($4.46) at Blick art materials

And don’t stress out if you get stuck. That nephew of yours really might like an iTunes gift card after all!

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