Creative Shopping

     If you’re one of those people who love to shop, you can stop reading now and go wrap some presents.    

      But if it takes eight crazed reindeer to drag you to the store during the holidays, this story is for you.

      Throughout the month — far, far away from maddening malls and big-box blahs — Bay Country is jingling with holiday spirit. Look past the vast asphalt lots to the independent shops and museums, to the art shows, craft festivals and good-cheer street fairs. Sipping cider, sharing good times, you’ll be having so much fun that you’ll forget you’re shopping.

      Grab a friend. The more the merrier, and you’ll both be boosting the local economy.

     Read on — and keep your copies of Bay Weekly and our Season’s Bounty Holiday Guide by your side — to find your way to good-time shopping.

Antique and Consignment Shops

      Shy about giving a used gift? Get over it. Antiques are, after all, used. You can spend a bundle or just dollars on old treasures.

     Shop antique and consignment shops to find gifts with history and personality for the less conventional loved ones on your list. Got collectors to shop for? All the better. From perfume bottle collectors to fishermen to dish fanciers, you’ve got them covered.

     Whoever you’re shopping for, half the fun is in the search, as you dig through piles of possibilities. Often your find tells you who wants it.

Art Shows and Craft Fairs

     In our manufactured age, gifts that pass from hand to hand have added value. When you buy gifts from artists and artisans, you’re making a human connection that works three ways, from the maker to the giver to the receiver.

      Have a Santa collector on your list? Shop these fairs for Santas galore: Santas made from glass, gourds, starfish, driftwood, pipe cleaners and oyster shells. You might even be lucky enough to score a Rudolph toilet paper holder.

      You’ll also find paintings, fine wood furniture, silk screens, stained glass panels, jewelry and clothing. Prices range from a few dollars to hundreds.

      You may not dare buy a painting for Aunt Jane, but a hand-thrown vase or a crocheted throw — especially one made from alpaca yarn — is a good bet. Artful ornaments, which flourish at these shows, make good, affordable gifts.

      Many fairs also benefit a charity, so your gifts give twice

Farmers Markets

      This time of year, Farmers Markets rally for a final holiday hurrah. So don’t forget these purveyors of local bounty. Believe us when we tell you that somebody on your list would love a stem of Brussels sprouts tied with a big red ribbon. Or a basket of beautiful broccoli and cauliflower. How about a big jar of local honey? Real bees’ wax candles? Even oyster shell art. Jewelry, soap and lotion, jelly and vinegar makers gather at these winter markets, too, in case you don’t believe us about the Brussels sprouts.

Garden and Wildlife Centers

      When skies, ground and trees are gray and your feet are cold and tired from beating the pavement, garden centers thaw your attitude — and give you great shopping. Under the big greenhouse, it feels like spring but looks like Christmas. Santa holds court and hears wishes, trains run on time through villages with no zoning issues and Christmas decoration reaches its bright and enviable height.

      This is a no-brainer for the gardeners on your list. They all lust after hand tools, seeds, books and — the most coveted — gift certificates for spring.

       Or you can give growing gifts right now. Beyond the ubiquitous poinsettia — always a great gift — consider Christmas cactus, amaryllis, paperwhites and orchids. Winter is shutting the garden down, but an herb basket grows an indoor cook’s garden till spring comes to the rescue.

      A big bag of birdseed — or a birdhouse, birdbath or bird feeder — is a good gift for birds and bird lovers, who at 48 million are a big bunch. Surely one of them has landed on your list.

      Garden and wildlife centers also know how to deck out a tree. Shop here for huge selections of ornaments. As well as angels, icicles and pickles, you’ll find blown-glass vegetables, pinecone raccoons and birch-bark birds for more nature lovers on your list.

       American Chestnut Land Trust, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, Jug Bay Nature Center, Kinder Farm Park, Quiet Waters Park and the gardens of many historic homes — the list of possibilities for memberships in nature centers and their friends’ organization is long, so match the center to the tastes of the nature lovers on your list.

Museums and Historic Places

      The out-of-town visitors have already checked in, and you haven’t checked off half the people on your list. What to do?

      Hit the museums, and shop while they gawk. Museum gift shops are stocked by imaginative people who’ve thought of gift possibilities you never dreamed of.

       Visit this time of year, and you’ll find historic places decorated for the season and many (find them in Seasons Bounty) offering workshops that teach you how to make historic holiday decorations for gifts or for yourself.

       If all your friends have too much stuff, give a gift that never needs to be dusted: the gift of a membership. You’ll not find a museum or historic house that doesn’t want members. And maybe you’ll get invited to go along when you can look rather than shop.

Holidays on the Town 

      Small-town shopping with happy people thronging the sidewalks makes us feel like we’ve slipped into a nostalgic holiday pageant.

      Chesapeake towns and villages band together this season to lure you out to play and in to shop. Shop­keepers deck their walls and lay out, if not a feast, certainly tables of nibbles and potables. The streets are illuminated and crowded with other revelers. These festivals are safe and fun, and you can find a whole lot of gifts as you shop-hop.

     Midnight Madness takes over historic Annapolis and spills down West Street and into West Annapolis on three Thursday nights, December 6, 13 and 20. The town Christmas tree shines, and everything is bright, lovely, crowded and fun.

       Many stores offer special pricing plus personal attention to encourage you to buy. Buy what? Heirloom silver spoons, rings, beads and bangles, soft warm clothes, hand-thrown pottery, gourmet foods, toy trains and teddy bears, dog treats — and whatever else strikes your fancy.

       Downtown Annapolis parking meters are wrapped in holiday bags, for in December, parking is free for three hours. To cover distance, hop the Connector trolley.

        The December 7 and 8 Christmas Walk may be the best time of year to explore Solomons Island. Santa’s in town, and 2,000 luminaries light your way store to store. Saturday night, boats decked out in light displays parade up to the Patuxent River Bridge.

      You’ll have fun strolling Solomons, but don’t get sidetracked: Shopping is your mission. Essentials aren’t what you’ll find in the shops of this quaint waterfront town. Look for atmospherics to accessorize your friends’ — and their dogs’ — Bay-centric lifestyles.