It’s that time of year again: sunset comes earlier each night, the leaves have almost all fallen from the trees, and holiday decorations are wrapped around every downtown lamppost. Hanukkah starts on November 28 this year, and then of course there’s Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, and all the other fall and winter festivities.
This season, with more Connecticut businesses successfully navigating safely reopening and more people venturing out into the world, I found myself scouting the Shoreline in search of the best Hanukkah gifts.
I should say here that Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday. (The most important ones take place in fall and spring.) But it is one of my favorites. And although presents are not a traditional part of the celebrations – those include candles, food, and child-friendly songs and games recalling the Jewish triumph against forced assimilation in 165 BCE – in modern times, they’ve become a common aspect of the fun.
I’m always happy to have an excuse to go shopping, especially when it means I get to explore more local businesses. So with the idea of one gift for every night, just as we light one additional candle, I chose eight presents that I’d love to give or get for Hanukkah. Some are made in Connecticut, and all come from independent businesses on the Connecticut coast.
These picks are almost all suitable not just for Hanukkah, but also for Christmas, birthdays, or “just because” treats for friends, family members, or yourself. And even if they’re not quite what you’re looking for, the stores where I found them are bound to have something else that’s perfect for your purpose.
1. Pretty Hanukkah Candles and Matches
Sure, you can get the standard Hanukkah candles at a supermarket (or online.) But give someone a set of unique candles along with some adorable matches, and you’re sure to make their holiday feel just a little bit brighter. I got these colorful and cute options at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison; it’s one of the best bookstores in the state (and beyond), but it could also stand on its own as a purveyor of thoughtful little gifts.
2. A Bottle of Local Wine
Connecticut’s vineyards are known for their stunning scenery and convivial atmosphere, but these popular destinations aren’t just for tastings and outings. They’re also a lifesaver whenever you need to grab a classy local gift. Whether the person you’re shopping for prefers red, white, rosé, or fruit wine, you can always find the right bottle at a local winery: in this case, a merlot from the gorgeous Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington. (And not to be shallow, but just look at that label!)
3. A Bit of Connecticut for the Kitchen
I want to buy almost everything at dwell New Haven, a lovely Elm City shop brimming with sweet gifts for kitchen, home, baby, and more. And if you like cooking and/or Connecticut, you probably will too. Along with more general items, the store stocks a bunch of locally-themed goods like pillows, tumblers, and this cute cutting board – a perfectly practical holiday gift that’s also likely to be a conversation starter. (Terramuggus?!)
4. A Handmade Hamsa
Glaze Handmade may be located in a deceptively average-looking shopping center in Stonington, but the mugs, dishes, and ornaments you’ll find inside are anything but bland. These tasteful pieces of pottery – crafted on the premises – come in natural hues reminiscent of the colors of the coastline. The hamsa I chose makes a lovely Hanukkah present (to Jews, the ancient symbol represents protection from harm) but as a motif used simultaneously by many cultures and peoples around the world, it also has universal, year-round appeal.
5. A Beautiful Book
Books are always a reliable gift option, and I especially love giving volumes with a local focus, like A Field Guide to Long Island Sound. Written by Connecticut author Patrick J. Lynch, it’s packed with information about the natural history of the Sound, and gorgeously illustrated too. You can order this title through R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison (also mentioned above); Breakwater Books in Guilford; or Bank Square Books in Mystic. (As well as at other bookstores in my previous post about the best Connecticut bookstores.) One warning: once you start browsing in any of these locations, you probably won’t be able to emerge with just one book!
6. The Coziest Slipper Socks
Fuzzy footwear is a holiday gift cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Hey, it gets wicked cold around here, and the more warm accessories, the better! I found these socks, which take cozy to a whole ‘nother level, at Grace in Niantic, known for its seaside vibe and aesthetic mix of clothing, jewelry, home accents, and other temptations.
7. Locally Crafted Jewelry
This graceful bird necklace reminds me of the Shoreline’s tenacious seagulls, and if you’re shopping for someone who loves subtle accessories with a nod to nature’s beauty, you can’t go wrong with Aquinnah Jewelry. The silver and gold pieces are made in Killingworth and sold at flagship store The Dressing Room in Madison, as well as other Connecticut and New England boutiques.
8. Connecticut Chocolate
What’s better than chocolate? Locally-made, organic, small-batch chocolate, with Mystic’s iconic bascule bridge printed on the wrapper. This classic bar is one of dozens of flavors you can choose from at Mystic River Chocolate in Mystic. It’s a simple, small, and inexpensive (not to mention delicious) present, but if you want to go bigger, Mystic River also offers a variety of gift boxes, truffles, and tempting bags of drinking chocolate. By the way, you can also buy a cup of that chocolate in their café, and sip it as you decide which treat(s) to bring home.
This post is part of the State of Connecticut’s Do Your Thing CT campaign in support of Connecticut small businesses. Visit doyourthingct.org for more about shopping local this holiday season!