Guides

13 notable Bostonians share what they’re gifting this holiday season

Popular 2020 gift guide picks include local items and restaurant gift certificates.

The Huntington Theatre Company's holiday display at 481 Washington St. Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe

Looking for some gift-giving inspiration? We reached out to local media personalities, chefs, curators, educators, and others to find out what they’re giving their friends and family this holiday season.

Jose Duarte, chef-owner of Tambo 22 and co-owner of Trattoria San Pietro: “During the holidays, I have always traveled with my wife and children to Peru or Miami to be together with family. This year, we are staying in Boston, and we have decided that our gift will be to organize toy drives in the communities where our restaurants are located. That way we can bring holiday cheer to families with small children who have been laid off or have lost their jobs indefinitely. Tambo 22 will benefit La Colaborativa in Chelsea and Trattoria San Pietro will benefit [Friends of Norwell] Norwell Food Pantry.”

Erica McDermott, actress, ‘The Fighter’ and ‘Black Mass’: “I’m focusing my holiday gift-giving on warmth and comfort this year. The cozier the better. 2020 has been a stressful year for many, so I’d like to find just the right present to help tame the tension. While visiting local shops, I’ll be looking for gourmet hot chocolate, herbal teas, toasty slipper socks, lavender neck wraps, and plush throws. In essence, anything that speaks peace and relaxation.”

Joanne Chang, owner, Flour Bakery + Cafe, Myers + Chang: This year for gifts I’m buying gift cards at all of my favorite restaurants along with any merchandise the restaurants are offering. Boston has an amazing restaurant community and now that patio seating is gone, these restaurants are relying on an active takeout business to keep them going through the winter months. We all miss going out to eat, and when we come out of this, we all can’t wait to gather together in these wonderful food establishments. Buying gift cards and merchandise helps sustain them, so our vibrant restaurant scene survives through the pandemic.” 

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Jack Gantos, Newbery award-winning children’s author: As a writer my first drafts are always by hand. For pens (particularly fountain pens), paper, and inks, there’s no better choice than Bromfield Pen in Downtown Crossing. The signature on your holiday cards and gift tags will definitely improve. Staying on theme, Brattle Book Shop has the best selection of newish/used/collectible/hip books in town. Go peruse the $5 shelves outside — I guarantee you will find a beauty worth far more. Run upstairs to the rare/collectible room and pick up some tasty titles — better than bonbons. Finally, the entire holiday landscape will be vastly improved by shopping at Patch NYC — no one in the city can compare to its elegant, celebratory aesthetic.”

Danielle Murr, co-host, WEEI’s ‘The Greg Hill Show’: Everyone is getting into plants these days, and they make great gifts. If you don’t know how ‘green’ your recipient’s thumb is, stick with low-maintenance plants like pothos, heart-leaf philodendron, snake plants, and succulents. They are inexpensive, and usually found in any store that carries a plant selection. Pair the plant with a fun pot, and you’re ready to gift.”

Nia Grace, owner of Daryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen: “I enjoy gifting new experiences and ‘must-try’ items. I get so much joy in recommending an item and watching the reactions of my family and friends when they love it. This year I am bringing cheer to the holidays by gifting bottles of Black-owned wine and spirit brands that I think everyone should know and try, starting with: Uncle Nearest WhiskeyWine Enthusiast‘s Spirit Brand of the Year; Longevity Wines, a boutique urban winery in California; and the McBride Sisters’ Black Girl Magic wines.”

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Joseph Thuney, guard for the New England Patriots: “I think a good gift this year for a friend, family member, or loved one would be a book, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. With the times we’re living in, it can get pretty mind-numbing staring at a screen all day. Everyone is passionate about something or some topic. There are so many great books out there that cover everyone’s interests, and it’s a great feeling to give someone something to inspire them, or make them think about things in a new way. Maybe you could even read it together, if maybe it’s a book you’ve already read, that you think they would like.”

Cher Knight, professor of Art History, Emerson College: I really like to give experience-oriented or consumable gifts that don’t clutter people’s lives. With so many of our cultural and arts institutions struggling due to COVID, museum memberships are a great gift, providing funds to sustain those places and something to which the recipient can look forward. The Gardner, ICA, MFA, and Peabody Essex are among some of the museums you may want to consider, and local organizations such as Now + There and The Greenway have been doing terrific work in public art. Short Path Distillery in Everett has fine spirits and plenty of hand sanitizer, the perfect duo for pandemic holidays. And those spirits might benefit from some bitters from The Boston Shaker in Somerville’s Davis Square. 2020 has been a tough one. We’re going to need something to wash it down.”

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Keiko Matsudo Orrall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism: “My gifts this holiday season will follow a ‘My Local MA’ theme.  My challenge will be to find at least one item made in Massachusetts for each person on my list. I have found delicious Massachusetts chocolates, fancy soaps, gift cards from local restaurants and local artwork. I’m going to use gift tags from lovemylocalma.com to dress up my packages and show my support of our small businesses. I’m excited to put my money where my heart is, right here in Massachusetts.”

Kathryn Vallier, general manager of 907 Main in Cambridge: “I always try to find the perfect gift that is meaningful to the person or can make for new memories! Whether it be an antique from one of the many antique shops on the North Shore or the ever-so-wished-for kitchen gadget. Even though the usual friends and family gatherings will not be happening, they can count on a dozen of my favorite macarons and a yule log from Caramel French Patisserie in Salem or Somerville being found at their door to enjoy this time of year. This year I also spent time canning vegetables from my garden, so my gifts are guaranteed to be paired with a homemade pickled snack.”

Ed Kane, principal and founder of Big Night: “Since the pandemic started, I have been committed to helping to save the restaurant industry and its incredible employees. It’s an industry that deserves every ounce of our energy, so my focus for gifting is restaurant-centric. I am pairing up cookbooks and cocktail books with lots and lots of restaurant gift certificates. I’ve personally committed $10,000 to purchasing Boston-centric restaurant gift certificates this season. I will pair some of these gift certificates with cookbooks from Mei Mei and the Li sisters, Margaret and Irene, the fantastic cookbooks from Flour and Joanne Chang, and a bunch from Andy Husband’s Smoke Shop. So far, I’ve targeted gift certificates from these and other restaurants around Boston — Mariel, Woods Hill Pier 4, the fantastic duo KAVA and ilona; everything from the Broadway Restaurant Group, my favorite Pallotta sisters’ Nebo and the incredible Nia Grace’s Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen. The list goes on. Everyone needs to help restaurants survive this winter. Restaurants helping other restaurants is critical too. We are in this together. I’m doing whatever I can to pull everyone through this. Gift certificates will help big time. I hope everyone considers buying restaurant gift certificates this holiday season.”

Rebecca Roth Gullo, president of The Gallows Group: “For this holiday season, I will be shopping local. My friends who have businesses in the South End have shown amazing hustle and resilience over the past seven months. Here are just a few: M. Flynn for the most beautiful jewelry and gifts, Kodomo for thoughtful and stylish kids clothing and accessories, and a new idea this year — flowers and juices from Jugos + Fresco Flowers. I do have one exception: for my family out of town, my go-to is Made In Cookware (created by Boston natives). Their knives and pans are unbelievable. Our small businesses and restaurants are what make this city vibrant. This winter will be tough for us all; please remember to get out and support our hardworking neighbors.”
Kennedy Elsey, co-host of Karson & Kennedy in the Morning on Mix 104.1: “I’m supporting my remarkable female entrepreneur friends and giving gifts made from their hands. If you need a monogram, Lana Tager, of Boston Belle, is your woman. She can and will monogram anything. My niece loves dragons, so Lana ‘dragonized’ a jean jacket for her, and now I’m the favorite aunt. Stocking stuffers are coming from ‘bartender-turned-soapmaking’ goddess Lizzie Havoc. She started her business Beach Witch Bars during quarantine and has soap for everyone, every mood, every holiday. All made with love and humor and a great deal of creativity.” 
Some responses were lightly edited.

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