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Christmas Eve means it's time to start holiday shopping

Fahari Wambura models a shawl at her shop in Chatham, NY
Ralph Gardner Jr.
Fahari Wambura models a shawl at her shop in Chatham, NY

Christmas Eve means it’s time to start holiday shopping. I jest. I’ve been shopping for days. At least one day. Last Saturday I made my annual pilgrimage to Great Barrington and Fluff Alpaca. I’m not very good at coming up with gift ideas. What I’ve learned is that you can give the same gift, or category of gift, year after year. People come to rely on your lack of creativity; I mean predictability.

I’m talking about interesting socks. I buy each of my daughters a pair of fluffy alpaca socks, hence the store’s name, with a tasteful design of something like woodland creatures, pine trees, or alpacas. Last year I had only one son-in-law. This year I have two. Not to mention twin granddaughters.

Grandchildren are no problem since, still less than a year old, they’re easy to shop for. They’re mesmerized by things like the lettering on your t-shirt. Their favorite toys are their fingers, followed by their toes. It doesn’t pay to waste a lot of mental energy, not to mention cash, buying them the perfect gift.

Besides, I’m sure my wife has already done that for all family members, judging by our plummeting net worth. I don’t know what she’s acquired so I’ll be at least as surprised, if not more so, than Aggie and Faye; though I probably shouldn’t go out on that limb because babies, as I’ve already suggested, are gob smacked by just about everything. That’s part of their charm.

Sons-in-law present a higher hurdle. I’m familiar enough with my daughters’ personalities, having known them their whole lives, that I’m reasonably confident which one gets the socks with the cats and which one the owls and raccoons. But I’m still developing a sense of their husbands’ interests.

You’d think they’d be easy to buy for since they’re guys and I’m a guy. But I’m not sure it works that way. Henry, a professional chef, complimented me on a recent column about the under sung virtues of roast chicken. So when I spotted socks with chickens I grabbed them. Malcolm is a traditionalist; I purchased him orange-toed blue and grey-stripped socks that might be just outside his comfort zone.

I don’t know if you have this problem – if you’re not a narcissist, malignant or otherwise, you probably don’t – but I strenuously have to resist the urge to buy exclusively for myself when I go shopping for others. This presented a blatant challenge at another of my annual holiday shopping meccas – Myers of Keswick, a Greenwich Village shop that specializes in British products.

I go there for stocking stuffers, particularly favorite authentic Cadbury candy bars (not the pale imitation made in the U.S. under license by the Hershey company. My favorites include the dreamy Flake – thinly folded crumbly milk chocolate that quite literally melts in your mouth – honeycombed Crunchies, and Yorkies.

Yorkie’s unwoke logo – “It’s not for girls” – is what first attracted me to the bar, even though I notice their wrapping has dropped it. It’s always seemed the right candy bar for my feisty younger daughter Gracie. I found the logo less sexist than provocative because anything boys can do, to paraphrase Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun, girls can do, too and often better. And that includes enjoying a chunky milk chocolate candy bar.

In the seeming blink of an eye we’ve gone from four to eight stockings hung by the chimney with care. That means lots of stuffers and resisting the guilty urge to short change my children’s’ stocking as I load my own.

Since I happened to be in Great Barrington I thought it would be irresponsible not to drop by Farnsworth, a cannabis dispensary with a Cartier vibe on Main Street. I picked up some fast-acting CBD gummies for myself and since I was already there, and in need of more stocking stuffers, I took advantage of the knowledgeable staff’s expertise to select a few surprises for other family members. Don’t judge me. I’m up against the clock.

Crossing back into New York State I dropped the Chatham Bookstore for gift certificates for the whole family, as I have in seasons past. You can’t go wrong supporting independent bookstores. My only moment of modest inspiration came when I visited Fahari Bazaar, a Chatham boutique on the way into town that sells colorful batik dresses and woven baskets from owner Fahari Wambura’s native Tanzania.

I spotted napkins that I thought Gracie, who recently moved into a new apartment, would like. They’re hand dyed olive dotted black napkins. Fahari had only five but she seamed a sixth on her sewing machine while I waited and she told me something of the fabrics’ backstory.

They’re made by former military wives at bases in Tanzania. “They teach the wives a different skill at different bases,” the storeowner, who returns to Africa to shop for material, said. “This particular one was dyeing.”

My quest for stocking stuffers is far from over. I’m considering going shopping in our basement. There’s enough stuff down there to fill an antiques store. And, fearing I may have shortchanged my kids and their spouses their fair portion of chocolate, I’ll be visiting Vasilow’s candy store in Hudson to top off their stockings with homemade chocolate Santas or something similarly festive.

I’m lucky the babies are too young for sweets, or so their mother tells me. That doesn’t mean I can’t buy them Santas and reclaim custody once Christmas morning is done. By next Christmas they’ll probably be wise to my tricks.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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