Dec. 8, 2020

Keeping it local: 14 stocking-stuffer ideas for 2020

Stuffing a stocking with local goodies doesn’t have to be pricey. Here are some affordable gift ideas that will also help support UCalgary alumni

What should you get for all the beloved, yet quirky, picky, fancy, practical or eccentric people in your life? To answer that we have a curated litany of stocking stuffers to help you check even the trickiest giftee off your list. And, as a bonus, you’ll be sending some business to your fellow alumni.

Be an original or buy one

Want to support a local visual artist? Representing scores of Alberta artists, Vandy Midha, BFA’12, art consultant and owner of ArtMatch, can set you up with an affordable package. Bundles include digital photos of any piece from a selection of more than 700 original paintings, the delivery of the actual painting by the artist, a 48-hour trial period (yes, you can “test-drive” a piece of art), framing discounts, hanging and certificates of authenticity. Of course, a gift certificate toward the purchase of local and original art, a discount off framing or a free 30-minute art consultation (by phone), are other options you can take advantage of. Discover more here.

’Twas the night before Christmas

When what to our wondering eyes should appear, but a recent Santa sighting at UCalgary’s Students’ Union Campus Food Bank? Turns out the jolly ol’ gent confessed that before he met Mrs. Claus and drifted northward, he studied drama at UCalgary and graduated with a BFA in 2000. You may have seen Santa over the years as many a tot whispered their wishes into his ear at Chinook Centre — but this year, COVID-19 has forced his sleigh to take a detour. Not to worry, though — from now until Christmas, you can purchase a Zoom with Santa session where the little (or big) one in your life can have a live chat with the big guy in red.

“I’m looking forward to having real conversations with people, without the pressure to clock big numbers of visitors,” says Santa (a.k.a. Benjamin Laird). “In my Zoom calls, I want to listen to kids because sometimes Santa is the only person they’ll tell something to. I’m inviting families to sing a song all together, just chat about what kind of year it’s been, or let me read a holiday story to them. It can be a moment that turns a kid’s entire attitude around. And even when they don’t listen to their parents, kids always listen to Santa. Remember, I’m the one bringing the goods. Ho, ho, ho!”

Festive face masks

Can a person ever have too many masks these days? Likely not, but, if you want a Christmas original, support alumna Leslie Brooks, whose new inventory of festive masks has just been released. Brooks, BA’02, president of Hippo Hug Inc. (a company that specializes in weighted blankets), pivoted sharply last spring and began sewing masks — more than 30,000 to date, thanks to a large contract with the City of Calgary. Not only has Brooks tripled her staff to keep up with the demand, but since last April she has added mask accessories ($5-$25) and Chewlery ($18) to her stock.

Dressing it up

If you have a musician in your family, the branded $20 masks the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) is selling ahead of the holidays might just strike the right note. You may have seen one during a CPO virtual concert as conductor Karl Hirzer has been sporting his for months. Riffing on the musical theme are two other mask designs, as well as whimsical mismatched socks ($16 a pair). As a pre-Xmas present, you can tune into a virtual concert featuring singer Ellen Doty, BSc’12, who's co-written a new single for her annual giveback campaign. She performed the song with the CPO on Dec. 12 as part of its holiday concert. Donations will be made to the Mustard Seed.

For coffee lovers

If someone on your list loves a good cuppa joe, buy them a bag of beans ($19-$30) from Phil & Sebastian and stuff them in a handsome mug ($16.50). Want to blow the bank? Sign up for a coffee subscription that guarantees you a steady drip of the good stuff. Shipping is free in Canada and the U.S. and each subscription is customized to your tastes, appetite, frequency and so forth. If you change your mind, you can update your preferences any time, says Phil Robertson, BSc (Eng)’00, who co-founded the company with fellow alumnus Sebastian Sztabzyb, BSc (Eng)’00. Another favourite local coffee house, co-owned by alumnus Jamie Parker, BKin'15, is the Calgary Heritage Roasting Company, which is now selling stocking-stuffer sampler packs that include four sample bags of different beans, in either the Baby Bear or Big Bear size. Stuff them in one of their funky toques or caps or add a dripper to the gift and those who worship at the altar of a great espresso will love you for it.

Giving warmth

Everything else may feel wobbly this Christmas, but one thing, sadly, that remains unchanged is the need for donations at the Calgary Drop-In Centre (DI). More than 1,000 Calgarians rely on the DI every day, says Kala Ortwein, MA’16, senior manager of communications. Meals are served three times a day and more than 200,000 items of clothing were donated to people in need last year. A great stocking stuffer, suggests Ortwein, “would be a $5-$10 gift card for Tim Hortons or a $20 grocery store gift card. This, paired with a brand-new pair of men’s socks would be appreciated by any of the Calgarians staying in an emergency shelter this holiday season.” Winter items such as boots, jackets, ski pants and long underwear are a perpetual need. And, of course, cash. “Cash donations go a very long way, as many of the individuals that the Drop-In Centre serves require exceptional medical, mental and day-to-day support to be successful in the community,” Ortwein says. Discover how you can help here.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

If you’re looking to stuff a jolt of escapism into someone’s stocking this year, consider The Wizard of Oz, courtesy of Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP). Couldn’t we all benefit from a trip to the Emerald City, sprinkled with bits of wisdom from Dorothy and Toto? ATP recently hosted a livestreamed reading of the classic tale, but if you missed that you can still tune in to an on-demand recording that is available until Dec. 31. Tickets for this as well as an accompanying dinner experience from the Deane House (via curbside pick-up service) can be found here.

No humbug here

If one of your holiday traditions is to see A Christmas Carol, there’s no need to abandon the ritual this year. Theatre Calgary is mounting a digital production that won’t feature its typical cast of 25 but, instead, a cast of three: Stephen Hair, Jamie Tognazzini and Marshall Vielle Natay’ao’tako, who will each play a host of characters ranging from Scrooge to the entire Cratchit family. Want to pull out all the stops? Choose a holiday menu with Devour Catering (run by alumna J’Val Shuster, BA’94, MA’98) as part of your package. Details for the production, which stream from Dec. 11 to 31, are available here.

Bookmark this

When you have a bookworm on your holiday list, you can’t go wrong with any of these ideas from Dr. JoAnn McCaig, MA’88, PhD’97, who co-owns Calgary’s small but mighty Shelf Life Books. From clever literary lapel pins ($9-$14) to adorable finger puppets ($10-$15), zippy card decks, puzzles and games galore (starting at $8) — browse the shelves (online or in-person) and you won’t be disappointed. McCaig adds you could bundle a book with a holiday reading or a kid-friendly event (both are free) and voila! you’ve created a literary marvel. For something more lavish, say a book that could double as a doorstop, be tempted by Spirited: Cocktails from Around the World by Adrienne Stillman ($59.95) that showcases 610 cocktail recipes from 60 countries spanning 500 years. In the juvenile fiction category, the exquisite gold, foil-embossed A Natural History of Fairies by Emily Hawkins ($39) will delight anyone remotely curious about the life cycle of a fairy, their camouflage, habitats and other wonders that were meticulously captured in the notebooks of botanist Professor Elsie Arbour in the 1920s. Discover more.  

Making tracks

Dubbed a “passion project” by one of its founders and current president, Kim McKenney, MSc’92, the Nordic Ski Lab is, at its most basic level, a vast library of instructional cross-country ski-technique videos. The idea behind this online resource is simple: plug the gap that exists between recreational and competitive cross-country skiers. “Our business is built on the belief that people can, and will, enjoy skiing with greater expertise,” says McKenney. “We pair our knowledge of skiing and coaching with online learning tools to create unique and effective instructional ski videos for all levels of skiers and coaches.” Some 2,000 members from roughly 35 countries have discovered what a steal this solution is — US$25 per month or US$33 for a year. From technique trends to analysis and dryland training, many of the videos feature tips and tricks from Olympic athletes. There’s never been any doubt as to the physical and emotional merits of cross-country skiing but, due to the pandemic, this winter, of all winters, may be the year “to spend time with family and friends outside,” suggests McKenny. Before you commit, check out some free sample videos here.

Frame someone

Whether you just graduated or want to pull out that hard-earned parchment from your files and finally show it off in style — do it up right with an official UCalgary degree frame. All seven styles of frames come complete with the University of Calgary crest matted on our own university colours. In addition, all proceeds from diploma frame sales are invested back into programs and services for current and future alumni. Order before Dec. 31 and receive free shipping anywhere in North America, a savings of almost $25 per frame. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery. Note: Currently only online orders are being accepted.

Steep, deep and cheap

’Tis the season to hit the slopes — precisely why a day of skiing at Sunshine Village at a 20 per cent discount for alumni may be the ideal gift for the boarder or skier in your life. Wrap the day pass up with some toe warmers or a balaclava and you’ll have taken your gift-giving skills to new altitudes. Passes can be used any day up to May 24, 2021, and can be picked up at the UCalgary Campus bookstore the day after ordering (aside from Dec. 24-Jan. 4 as the bookstore will be closed).  Enjoy this alumni discount here.

Make it spicy

Who wouldn’t like to find a special hot cocoa or a mulled-wine kit in their stocking? You’ll discover these popular seasonal hits as well as more than 500 other products at Silk Road Spice Merchant, points out co-owner Colin Leach, BA’98: “Any jar of barbecue rub or curry powder or other spice blend makes a great stocking stuffer,” he says. “And, for something more lavish, the Deluxe Silk Road Spice Set or a set of Fletcher's Mill salt and pepper mills with nice peppercorns and coarse salt or a jar of black truffle salt or fennel pollen is also nice.”

Make it sweet

From retro packages of cake and cookie mix to tubs of divine buttercream frosting, Crave Cupcakes goes all out the month of December. Festive cakes, squares, cookies and a specialty cupcake of the month (cookies and cream) as well as gingerbread people, take-home cookie decorating kits as well as fancy cake plates — a visit to Crave is what dreams are made of.