Yes, there really are only twelve days ‘til Christmas. So, unless you’ve got a partridge and a pear tree, a handful of spare rings and some leaping lords lying about, it’s time to get busy. With the convenience of the Internet, it’s tempting to order gifts online, but I’m a huge fan of supporting local businesses, which sponsor youth programs, employ neighbors and build communities. So, I’ve put together a last-minute shopping guide sure to cover everyone on your list and to be a whole lot more memorable than clicking a button on your computer screen.

  • Cruise for local craft fairs. This past weekend, I hung out at the St. John’s craft fair in Brunswick, selling books. Not only did I meet some wonderful people and eat some fine fish chowder, I spent all the money I earned buying stocking stuffers and unique gifts, including a hand-crocheted snowman scarf, a personalized Christmas ornament for my dog and a set of four Maine-themed drinking glasses designed by Ebenezer Akakpo, who grew up in Ghana and uses his jewelry and home furnishings business to employ other new Mainers and to fund clean drinking water in his homeland. You can read Ebenezer’s story and find his work here. Or find craft fairs in your local newspaper.
  • Browse at your nearest bookstore. One gift everyone in my family is guaranteed to get for Christmas is a new book. The benefit of visiting a local bookstore is that you can ask the staff for recommendations. You are also more likely to find books by local authors – sometimes signed! And many bookstores carry a variety of other gifts too, from journals and calendars to notecards and fancy pens. For a list of independent bookstores, click here (and don’t forget about Barnes & Noble; all brick-and-mortar bookstores can use our support).
  • Take a break at a local bakery or café. Not only can you sip a warm latte, you can pick premium coffees by a local roaster. Combine a pound or two of your favorite Joe with a travel mug and a gift certificate, and you’re good to go.
  • Consider giving a share through a local farm. Years ago, I enjoyed working at an area farm in exchange for all-we-could-eat fresh vegetables. I loved it, but not everyone has the time or energy to grow their own food. Buy gifting someone with CSA (community supported agriculture), you’ll give them a months of weekly produce while supporting a local farmer. To find a Maine CSA click here.
  • Make a donation to a local church, synagogue or other non-profit. From your local food pantry to youth organizations, such as Big Brothers and Sisters, to programs that support the elderly, such as Meals on Wheels, to those that support the arts, such as (my favorite) the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, many organizations depend on year-end giving to continue serving. So, for the person who has everything, why not make a donation in their name?

Whatever you buy this Christmas, don’t give in to the hype about what’s hot this holiday season. The first Christmas took place in a manager, not a warehouse. So look for unique gifts that bring joy, build community and keep giving long after the holidays are over.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Christmas Cradle and four other books in the Lantern Hill Farm series, celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith.