Holiday Guide 2008: Creative giving

Pub date November 18, 2008


Barack Obama may have won the election and things may be looking up, but now, in post–Election Day reality, certain things are still true: we’re stuck with George W. Bush until January. Proposition 8 passed in California. And the economy still sucks. Not to rain on anyone’s parade — or water down your big steaming cup of holiday cheer — but things aren’t all better yet. Which means that on an economic level, at least, the prospect of gift giving this season remains daunting — if not impossible — for most of us.

But there’s no need to fear. Obama may be our hope for changing the country, but we’re hoping this guide to affordable gifts (most $10 and under!) might give you a little hope for Christmas morning or the Hanukkah gift exchange — one that doesn’t involve guilt trips (your friends’ and families’) or credit card debt (yours).


All great gifts involve a certain ratio of money, time, and thoughtfulness. The more thoughtful the gift, the less money you need to spend on it. A great example? My cash-strapped friend once got his girlfriend a concert poster for Christmas. Expensive? Hardly. But the poster was from the first concert the two ever attended together. Similarly, spending a lot of time or effort on a gift can mean as much — if not more — than spending a lot of scrill. I doubt the secondhand corset my sister got me last year cost much up front, but I know that personalizing it with leopard-print fabric, feathers, and red lace took a bunch of work and thought. If you adjust your ratio according to your budget, you just might be able to ride the Obama high through New Year’s.

For those who are crafty, now’s the time to use the skills you’ve got. Photoshop wizards might consider making a personalized magazine or concert-style poster for loved ones. Those who sew can get bags, clothes, and even shoes from thrift stores and jazz them up with fabric, beads, and iron-on images. If you’re more paint- than needle-friendly, find a funky box, vase, or even lampshade and re-imagine it for your giftee’s tastes. In addition to secondhand stores like Thrift Town (2101 Mission, SF. 415-861-1132, and Out of the Closet (1600 University, Berk.; 100 Church, SF; 1295 Folsom, SF; 1498 Polk, SF., consider stopping by SCRAP (801 Toland, SF. 415-647-1746, for ideas and supplies.


Determined to make something, but don’t know how? For Jews and Judeophiles, try making an incredible edible dreidel. All you need are Hershey’s chocolate kisses, marshmallows, thin pretzel sticks, and peanut butter.

Step 1: Spread a generous amount of peanut butter on the end of a marshmallow. This peanut butter will act as a glue for the next step.

Step 2: Unwrap a kiss and attach it to the peanut butter–glazed side of the marshmallow. This will create the bottom of the dreidel — the part that allows it to spin.

Step 3: On the side of the marshmallow that has thus far remained untouched, take a pretzel stick and press it into the center of the top of the marshmallow. This will create the top handle of the dreidel.

It may not spin very well, but it’ll sure be cute!

Another idea is a real cork board. Just collect about 30 corks from wine bottles and hot-glue them to any wooden frame. Voilà! Instant wino-chic. Or turn a cheap wooden frame into an earring holder. Simply adorn the frame with paint, beads, stickers, glitter or feathers; staple netting to the back of the frame (an old window screen works great!); and attach a picture-hanger to the back for easy wall application. All your giftee need do is attach earrings — both dangly and post styles — to the net, and they’re on display for all to see.


If you like a crafty feel but don’t have the creative touch yourself, there are plenty of local artisans ready to sell you their wares — for much lower prices and with much more flair than you might find at big corporate stores. Some of the best gifts are available over at Etsy (, where you can search for nearby vendors. Our favorites include SquishySushi pendants made from recycled Scrabble pieces, TalkingHands jewelry in the shape of sign language letters, rings from contraptions that are made to look like they’ve been scarred in battle, and bottlecap necklaces by recaps.

If you’re shopping for a crafter, a great idea is a gift certificate to Noe Knit Flicks at NoeKnit (3957 24th St., SF.), which treats him or her to a night of movie-watching and needle-clicking. Other affordable local stops? Stylish marshmallows from Coco-luxe (1673 Haight, SF. 415-367-4012,, Little Mismatched socks from Sock Heaven (2801 Leavenworth, SF. 415-563-7327,, or funky zines from Needle and Pens (3253 16th St., SF. 415-255-1534,

We also love the papers, pens, and tchotchkes at Kinokuniya Bookstore (1581 Webster, SF. 415-567-7625, You can find all kinds of vintage clothes, jewelry, and other delights at Alemany Flea Market (100 Alemany, SF. 415-647-2043), Sundays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. And you can get all kinds of kitchenware goodies — at wholesale prices! — at Economy Restaurant Fixtures (1200 Seventh St., SF. 415-626-5611,

Of course, there are tons more places to get cheap gifts in town. This is just a starting point. Neighborhood boutiques, crafts fairs, and art shows are great places to find one-of-a-kind objects that’ll not only delight those on your list, but also support our local economy. Used books and CDs are always good for media types. A collection of magazines — perhaps foreign ones from Fog City that might be hard to find otherwise — can be beautiful and cost-effective.

The most important thing to remember is that when trying to give a gift with minimal cash, you should think about the message you want to send. Showing someone they’re important to you, important enough to pay attention to, can mean just as much as getting them the Guitar Hero for MacBook game they know you’ve been wanting (hint hint, Mom). And who knows? Maybe next year, Obama will give us a better economy for Christmas. *

More Holiday Guide 2008.