Local is in
You would think that with the world’s longest Christmas season, one that starts with the “ber” months (September onward), we should be able to plan our gift shopping. But no. Have you noticed how our already-bad traffic has worsened over the last few days?
Even with the “ber” months we just had to wait until last weekend to realize we still didn’t have gifts for our “monito” and “monita” (exchange-gift partners) at the office or school.
This weekend will be worse because now it’s time to shop for our closest relatives and friends, and they’re always the most difficult ones for gifts. It’s always tempting to just go to the tiangge and pick up mugs. (It used to be people complaining about getting socks and handkerchiefs; now, it’s mugs.)
Avoid cheap Chinese goods, especially toys, many of which are safety hazards. They have small parts that young children might choke on, or paint that might contain dangerous levels of lead. Then there are those toy guns and gadgets with sticky tunes and flashing lights that will keep replaying in your (and your child’s) brain for the rest of the day.
A last gift not to give: I remember a time, I hope now in the ancient past, when people would just pick up cartons of cigarettes to give away, preferably “blue seal” (imported… and smuggled). I can’t think of a more inappropriate gift; it’s almost like saying, sarcastically, “To your health!”
I’ve probably panicked you even more now that I’ve talked about what not to give.
Let me help calm you down then with some suggestions on what to get, and with a pitch for going local. I’ve been looking at the cache of gifts that came into my office and home, and I’m impressed with the many high-quality local products now available. UP Visayas Vice Chancellor Rommel Espinosa gave one of the best gifts: a colorfully woven bayong containing food products from all over the Visayas.
It’s chic now to go local, but you do have to work out a plan to figure out where to get them. To preserve your sanity, pick a few places where you can do all your shopping. Up market, you could do SM’s Kultura, Tesoro’s, and Rustan’s Filipiniana. (The store clerks, however, will give you a blank look if you ask for Filipiniana. Just say “native handicraft.”) When I say “up market,” I really mean it. You’re talking about piña fabrics made into fans (from P1,500 to P5,000 each) and hand-embroidered piña shawls (hold your breath, up to P45,000).
I don’t want to scare you off those places. They do have affordable products, even for fine, handcrafted ones. Try the different weaves, especially inabel from the north. One of the clerks in Tesoro’s told me about a customer who bought up several inabel table runners then returned a few months later, showing how she had the runners altered into scarves!
Scarves and shawls have become practical, and much-appreciated, gifts because so many offices are now air-conditioned. And then you have all those conferences and meetings in hotels that make you think you’re in Siberia.
The Sunday tiangge in Centris (Quezon City) and in Legaspi Park (Makati) have some stalls that also offer local products. Look for banig (mats) that actually make good wall decor for offices and homes.
Then there are food items—always a good bet. There are now EchoStores in Centris, Salcedo, Serendra, the Podium and even Davao that are like green groceries, for a variety of local organic (some, not all) products. Check out the website echostore.ph for more information.
A good gift would be organic rice, which you can get even in the better supermarkets. One pack of red rice that came as a gift caught my eye with its clear instructions on how to cook the rice. Remember, these upland varieties need more water (two-and-a-half to three cups of water for one cup of rice). They’re bulky, which is good because you get full more quickly, and eat less.
That pack of red rice was biodynamically grown and came from the Don Bosco Multi-Purpose Cooperative in North Cotabato. It also has black and brown rice. I haven’t seen these Don Bosco products being sold in Manila, but the gift pack I got had a calling card with a number to call: 0916-225-4158, offering free delivery within Metro Manila if you order at least 10 kilos.
I do notice that some of the best food products are coming from the Visayas and Mindanao. An example is a pack of “Pili-Pino Mango and Pineapple Granola in Coconut Nectar” that came all the way from Cebu. I hope to see more of these products, distributed nationally, in the future.
Cacao ended up in many gift baskets that I received. Several places in Davao now plant a trinitario variety of cacao, which is exquisite. I usually get smaller tableya called “callets,” produced by Cacao de Davao. These are unsweetened, and the smaller size makes it easier to whip into tsokolate eh or into tsamporado (try oatmeal for a change!), with you controlling the amount of sugar or honey.
There’s only one place in Metro Manila where I’ve found the Cacao de Davao callets, and this is Sugarleaf on Wilson Street in San Juan. Sugarleaf has other organic products and—not organic but still good—all kinds of cookies from Pampanga including one that has the imprint of San Nicolas, the precursor of Santa Claus. You might want to explore the option of driving out early in the morning to Pampanga and spending a leisurely day there with Kapampangan gourmet food, and then picking up all your holiday pastries there. Do look around as well for dumang, which is a special variety of pinipig that you mix into your tsokolate.
Books, artisanal products
Here’s one more way to avoid the insanity of Christmas shopping. Go early to one of the bookstores. The range of locally published books has expanded and you’re sure to find something for everyone—children of all ages, your LGBT nephew or niece, your born-again cousin, your Tita Aktibista, your Lolo or Lola wanting to do yoga—on your Christmas list.
Give us time in UP. I’m hoping that by next year we can have a gift shop where you can pick up many of the best local stuff. For now, we’ve had to limit ourselves to our own faculty and staff: We produced our own planner with some of the best artwork in the university, and a new take on the Kapampangan San Nicolas, now with the UP seal, and the Oblation.
My point? Make your own gifts, whether cooked, cut, whatever. Then label them “artisanal,” which simply means handmade, homemade. That’s local, at its best.
P.S. An appeal from a veterinarian: Please, please, do not give dogs and other animals as gifts unless you’re sure they’ll be loved and cared for. They’re pets, not presents.
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