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 I was in Portland last weekend and couldn’t believe the number of people I saw clogging the streets and sidewalks of that city’s Old Port. From what I could tell most were shopping for Christmas and Holiday gifts.
You’d never see anything like that Down East where I come from. Not just because my hometown’s a bit smaller than Portland and we never get crowds of any size for any reason, but because I’m sure that most people in my hometown have had all their Christmas shopping done for weeks now – months, even.
How do I know?
Well, according to local custom most everyone in our town begins their Christmas shopping around Memorial Weekend when yard sales begin to bloom on almost every Down East lawn. And every yard sale worth stopping at has all kinds of bargain-priced stuff that anyone on anyone’s gift list would be tickled to get. Why pay near-full price when you can get an almost-like-new item for a loved one for pennies on the dollar at a yard sale?
Several years ago I got into the Christmas spirit and started my gift list. After stocking up on Crisco and sugar so the wife could whip up a few large batches of whoopie pies for relatives with a sweet tooth (more about this fabulous gift later), I set off on my yard sale gift-buying. Right off, I got one of those clever combination vegetable chopper-unwanted hair remover gizmos that I’d seen years ago on late-night infomercials. Clever items like that are always in stock and in fashion at a well-stocked yard sale near you.
Other unique gifts, like hardly used exercise equipment for your tubby relations, slightly worn eight-track tapes for the musically inclined, collectible Avon bottles for the investment-minded, and slightly used Clappers, which are great as gifts for anyone but can also be used to clap on your Christmas lights with the clap of your hands, or a slam from a door, for that matter.
Folks Down East also like to make gifts for family members. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a dozen or so whoopie pies. You can whip up a batch anytime of year, since your average whoopie pie has a shelf life of several decades or more. Wrap those delicacies up in a festive box from the Dollar Store and you’re good to go. A frozen vat of corn chowder also will make someone on your list jump with joy. Who wouldn’t relish having this curious Maine winter dish – no meat, no fish, just milk, potato and, yes, corn – on hand when they’re just too busy to cook? I myself am pleased to receive practical gifts that I wouldn’t otherwise purchase, and you can’t get more practical than a frozen vat of good old corn chowder.
If you don’t have time to bake or cook but still like the idea of food gifts, there are some top-notch presents to be found right at your local Mom and Pop store. A package you’ll be proud to give is a case of Moxie – the official soft drink of Maine. Nothing says good taste like a bottle of a liquid that tastes like well-used motor oil. Or, for your close friends who have been known to tipple from time to time, how about a gallon of the state of Maine’s unofficial alcoholic beverage – Allen’s Coffee Brandy? I’ve seen more than a couple of those bottles opened up early Christmas morning and the gratitude from the recipients is unparalleled. Often, those gifts are emptied before breakfast is served. sun but it’s the thought that counts and not how long the gift lasts after being opened.
And, I’m certainly not one for shameless promotion, but for more gift ideas you might want to check out a book titled: “Down the road a piece: A Storyteller’s Guide to Maine” or “A moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar.” Come to think of it you might want to give one of my books as a gift.

John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller
who performs regularly throughout New England.
Contact John at or 899-1868.
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