December has the special honor of being the most anticipated—and most dreaded—month of the year. There’s the shopping and the decorating and the wrapping. The baking, the post office lines, the flu. And then there are the parties. Work functions, school events, family gatherings and friend soirées. I love a good holiday party. As long as I’m not hosting it. December parties are festive and fun and a lot of work during an already jam-packed time of year—which is why bringing a small token of appreciation is never a bad idea.
Wine is the item we most often reach for when in need of a hostess gift. I haven’t met a bottle of wine I didn’t appreciate receiving, but my favorite hostess gifts have been more personal. I was recently given shower oil from Abura, a new apothecary and skin care studio on Stevens Avenue in Portland. The ginger rose scented oil was meant to help me unwind after the work of hosting a big Halloween party. It was thoughtful and indulgent, not something I would have bought for myself, and I truly appreciated the intention behind the gift.
I set out to find more of these special gifts of gratitude for the women in our lives—especially the brave hostesses—who bring joy and celebration to our holiday seasons.
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JuJu opened last June on Congress Street in Portland run by owner Missie Yasko who sells “colorfully curated goods for your home and health.” Inside the small storefront, Yasko has artfully arranged items by colorways, which makes it very easy to put together the perfect little package. “Everything here is about good juju for yourself and others,” Yasko says. “Things with intention, or for self-care, or to elevate your everyday.” Ninety-five percent of the brands she carries are women-owned and founded, including a line of natural cleaning products made by a coven of witches (!) in Salem, Massachusetts. Paired with a fancy scrub brush or reusable cleaning cloths, a basket of these goodies, which start at $13, would certainly make party clean up a little more tolerable.
Yasko also sells reclaimed steel horseshoes wrapped in colorful yarn ($56), meant to bring good fortune and protection to the home. The gift of luck is a unique, generous thank for an extra-special hostess or important friend, while sweet-smelling sage and palo santo bundles ($18–$28), sustainably sourced and wrapped with dried roses and vintage ribbon, can smudge away the past year’s negative energy and usher in new beginnings. Give one with a reusable glass jar of pretty matches ($25).
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I also like to give vintage gifts for their unique and unexpected factor. At Freeport Antiques & Heirlooms, which houses vintage items from over 40 vendors, the collections are carefully chosen and thoughtfully displayed. There are no toppling piles of dusty curios or creepy dark corners. It’s sunlit and clean and full of treasures. Their decanters and pitchers (ranging from $25–$45) have wide appeal and come in styles from Depression-era rose glass to retro mod ceramic. Accompanying mix-and-match glassware starts at just a dollar each. (It’s a bonus if the gift helps the hostess throw her next party.)
Sales associate Mariah Bintliff encourages shoppers to identify a unique interest of the recipient and steers them to related collections around the store. For an avid cook, an assortment of tins ($7–$10) that once held staples like lard, baking soda, tobacco or senna leaves makes a fun kitchen display. A more traditional holiday-themed gift could include German Krugel mercury glass ornaments, sleigh bells and even a light-up Santa from the 1960s. “People will come in to browse and find an item their grandmother used to have, or a piece that completes a set, or something nostalgic,” Bintliff says. “Antiques connect people through time.”
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At Fitz & Bennett Home, which opened on Silver Street in Portland two years ago, Lauren Siviski is also ready to help shoppers find just the right gift. “I advise gifting something that is practical but has a quality that makes it stand out or feel special […] and will encourage the recipient to slow down and enjoy a moment in time.” Three favorites at Fitz & Bennett Home are brass bookmarks ($18 each) that come in four styles, including a Venus figure and a lobster; pottery by Maine native Sasha Lennon, whose playful pieces, especially the small ones shaped like houses ($17–$25), are likely to bring smiles; and modern wind chimes from Pigeon Toe Ceramics made with tinted, matte-finished clay and strung on natural deerskin lace cord ($48 for the small strand), which can be used as a home decor piece when they’re not outside.
Siviski also carries scented candles—another hostess gift staple—from local candlemaker Near & Native. They’re made from even-burning coconut wax, and the wooden wick sounds like a crackling fire as it burns. But these are unique—you can bring the vessel back in and have it refilled for just $10 (the large candle retails for under $30).
With affordable local resources and shopkeepers eager to help, there’s no reason to feel like wine in a pretty bag is the only option for a hostess gift. And remember: tag your gift with a brief note of thanks and most important, your name. Chances are the host won’t be able to really look at and appreciate your gift until the next day, and she’ll be grateful for a reminder of where the lovely item came from.
Sarah Holman is a writer living in Portland. She is enthusiastic about cheese plates, thrift shop treasures and old houses in need of saving. Find her online at storiesandsidebars.com.