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Q. Dear Umbra,

It’s the middle of December! I’ve had a frenzied fall and did zero holiday shopping. I come from a family of Jews and Gentiles, and I’ve already missed the Hanukkah gift giving. Oy! Any recommendations for an 11th-hour gift giver who wants to give something memorable and sustainable?

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Last Minute Lucy
Philadelphia, PA

Lit-up gifts in a tree.That’s a wrap!Photo: Iko

A. Dearest Last Minute,

What they say about saving the best for last applies to last-minute gifts too. Reminds me of the time I was just a wee Fisk hastily shopping the night before Gristmas. I bought my family fishing supplies and earplugs at a small gas station store and diner. We exchanged odd gift items, including dental floss, and ate dinner at that gas station diner in a blizzard. To this day, it ranks among my top holidays on record. It may sound odd, but my point is that it’s not the gifts you give that matter. It’s the memories you make along the way.

Throw expectations out the window and check out this list of wonderful and weird ideas that put spirit into giving for your for Gristmahanukwanzakah.

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It may sound trite, but truth is, the best present is your presence. If you can’t be there in person, be there in spirit. Don’t haunt your loved one, but do send something filled with love — like cookies you baked, or a recommendation you write for them. Take 20 minutes and write down the things you appreciate about anyone on your gift list. Write it as a formal recommendation for a job, or just make a list they can keep. A recommendation is the epitome of the thought counting — it’s handy for those who are looking for jobs and even those who have them. There’s nothing quite as warming as the articulation of what someone admires in you. Someone wrote one for me and I felt happier than if there had been a pony under the tree on Gristmas morning.

If you want to give an object, here are some sustainable suggestions, but you’ll need to order fast. As I’ve written before, online shopping merrily saves many metric tons of C02, according to the Department of Energy. But do try to avoid overnight shipping, as fast flying is a fossil fuel furnace.

  • Give handmade: Whether you make things or someone else does it for you, your present will stand out in a consumer crowd. Not a DIYer? Support crafty types, many of whom sell wares on Etsy, a web hub for the handmade. Whether you like to give practical gifts or practical jokes, you can find handcrafted items like a warm owl hat, hand-sewn Santa boxers, crocheted bacon strips, a hand-painted moustache mug, an “I love brains” necklace, or this unusual adult-themed custom ornament.
  • Give local: Find local, independent businesses in your city in this directory to cut down on your carbon giftprint.
  • Give a dam: By literally giving a beaver dam T-shirt. You’ll show a friend or family member you love them while supporting small businesses. You can show you care with Salvador Dali and Pee Wee Herman too.
  • Give vintage, antique, and secondhand gifts: Not only are they sustainable, vintage gifts are well-made, unique, and a testament to your good sense of style. How about giving an antique Loving Cup Prize trophy to someone you love?
  • Give a donation: What to get the person who has it all at the last minute? Consider donating to their favorite kind of cause. A gift donation to Grist during our holiday fund drive is not only fast, it’s festive.

Need more ideas for the fa-la-la-la-last minute? Watch my video on simple giving and have a gander at Grist’s list of stuff-free ideas and the gift guide of Gristmas past.

Mark Twain once said, “It is better to give than receive — especially advice.” And so, I shall stop there for now, Lucy. Happy giving!