The holidays bring book club grab bags, invitations to latke parties and long-lost cousins stopping by for a cup of glogg.

There are impossibly patient teachers, taffeta-clad hostesses and devoted dog-walkers to consider. Plus, you must be prepared for the dreaded sneaky gifts from kindly neighbors, annoying work colleagues and your duplicitous bestie who nodded vehemently in November when you proclaimed, “No gifts this year!” 

You may want to begin building an arsenal of thoughtfully selected items to lob at gift-bearing guests in case of emergency. We’ve combed through some local shops to bring you the best budget-friendly ideas, so that the next time someone fires a pine-scented candle across your bow, you can be ready.

Cultivate Urban Rainforest and Gallery
704 Main St.

If the holidays have you feeling withered and droopy, pop over to Cultivate, where the inventory is green and growing and the air is pleasantly warm and humid. In addition to lush living plants, the shop offers a selection of nature-inspired gifts, artwork and accessories as well as informative classes in plant parenting designed to assist even nervous newbies.

Pixie plants, $4.99; patterned pots, $13.99. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For petite plant lovers. Verdant pixie plants can be mixed and matched with a selection of delightfully patterned diminutive pots. The combination is a perfect pick-me-up for drab window ledges, sterile workspaces or Elon Musk’s bedside table.

Air plants, $5. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For Uncle Bob or Cousin Itt. A true curiosity of nature, air plants survive without soil, making them a wildly versatile accessory. Display a few on a piece of bleached driftwood, scatter them across a moss-covered log or hang a cluster from the ceiling with a length of invisible fishing line. Twice weekly misting is recommended.

Earrings, $20. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For chic entomologists. Delicate gold-toned insect wing earrings are an homage to the pollinators who sustain us. Recommended for gardeners, nature enthusiasts and nieces with fluttery dispositions.

Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop
711 Main St.

An Evanston institution since 1970, this fun shop contains some of the world’s most original gifts, the majority designed by Mother Nature herself. In addition to glittering geodes, ancient fossils and sparkling gemstones, you’ll find Native American jewelry and crafts, intricate carvings and models and toys for budding naturalists. 

For illumination seekers. Mineral-rich Himalayan salt lamps are said to purify the air naturally by releasing negative ions, a process that purportedly reduces allergens and helps combat fatigue and headaches. Available in a rainbow of earth tones, each handcrafted lamp emits a warm glow and a sea-fresh scent intended to aid in relaxation and sleep.

Salt lamps, $19.50 and up. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For rock stars. Spread holiday cheer far and near by distributing good wish stones inscribed with helpful reminders to breathe, laugh, love and learn. These smooth rocks are especially nice when clustered in a small dish or tucked in a pocket as a talisman.

Good wish stones, $6.50. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For your wisest adviser. Hand-carved from jasper, miniature owls and other winsome creatures look smart on a shelf or grouped in a display cabinet. Give one as statement or select a few to create a memorable menagerie.

Jasper carvings, $5 Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Evanston Stitchworks
904-906 Sherman Ave.

A mecca for local knitters and sewists, this adorable shop features lovely hand-dyed yarns and fanciful fabrics as well as useful patterns and other tools of the trade. Even unskilled shoppers can enjoy the selection of handmade gifts, simple craft kits and one-of-a-kind accessories. Lessons in sewing, knitting, crocheting, quilting and spinning are available.

For knitters in the know. One skein of this luscious hand-dyed yarn is enough to knit a beanie to behold or to get a good start on an heirloom-quality afghan. Soft Uruguayan merino wool is delightful to work with and to wear.

Hand-dyed yarn skein, $25. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For holiday hostesses. It would be such a shame for you if your hostess burned her hands on a hot Dutch oven and couldn’t properly serve that delicious beef bourguignon! Better safe than sorry. These heavy-duty potholders, created from cheerful cotton fabrics, are as practical as they are pretty.

Potholders, $22. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For novice crafters. This simple kit contains everything you need to create five folk embroidered birds in rich tones of crimson, burnt orange, turquoise and dusty pink. Hang the flock from the branches of your tree or make your own avian mobile. Kits provide a relaxing solitary pursuit or fun project to enjoy with a young companion.

Felt ornament kits, $25 and up. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Marie Parie Boutique
508 Main St.

A visit to this tiny jewel box of a shop with its collection of French-inspired offerings is the next best thing to a stroll down the Champs Élysées. Enjoy the subtle fragrance of fine imported soaps and creams as you peruse an assortment of chic clothing, bags, gifts and accessories.

For llama lovers. Yes, these are a wee bit over budget, but who can resist that friendly fuzzy face? Producing a pair of cozy llama slipper-socks for your teenage daughter just might soften the blow of your failure to track down those sold-out Ugg ultra mini platforms. Non-skid rubber bottoms provide traction for slippery surfaces.

Slippers, $28. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For softies. An indulgence of the highest order, delicately scented French hand cream leaves parched skin feeling soft, smooth and rejuvenated. Blended with organic shea butter, Vitamin E and argan oil, creams are designed to absorb quickly and are perfectly sized to slip in a handbag or stocking.

La Chatelaine hand cream tubes, $10. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For the bare-wristed. Simple, easy-to-wear stretch bracelets are crafted from a variety of polished semiprecious gemstones including amethyst, quartz, lava rock and black agate. Choose your favorite to perform solo or stack them together for a shimmering show. 

Stretch bracelets, $22. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Minouchic Boutique
1900 Asbury Ave., Suite B

More colorful than an artist’s paintbox, this compact storefront is packed with new and vintage apparel, striking jewelry, accessories and works by local and Haitian artists. Owned by sisters Mary and Marie Lynn Toussaint, Minouchic is a rare assemblage of sartorial treats and features delightful surprises on every shelf.

For the bold and beautiful. When the weather outside is frightful, dial up the heat by donning a dramatic floor-length skirt drenched in sun-saturated hues. Available in an array of colors and patterns, these show-stopping creations are based on traditional African designs and impart a regal flair to those who wear them.

Assorted maxi skirts, $25. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For eclectic collectors. Local artist Rose-Marie Lamour produces whimsical papier mâché animal sculptures as well as vibrant abstract paintings rendered in acrylic. Equally at home on a nursery shelf or living room etagere, her critter collection includes both land and sea creatures.

Papier mâché works priced around $20. Credit: Rose-Marie Lamour

For gals on the go. Stash your essentials in this cheerful clutch handcrafted in Haiti. Embellished with bright wooden beads and buttons, the purse comes in two designs and includes a handy braided wrist strap to keep valuables secure.

Handmade clutch, $25. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Squeezebox Books and Music
743 Main St.

Dial down your dork meter with a visit to Squeezebox, Evanston’s hippest music and book emporium. Everything old is new again inside this kitschy shop where you’ll find vintage vinyl, new and used books and an assortment of funky gifts. 

For audiophiles. No modern format can match the warm reverberations and depth of sound offered by vintage vinyl. Sure, you could tap a screen and hit play, but isn’t it more fun to set the needle and wait for the crackle? Classic 45s by the Beatles, the Monkees and other favorite bands make great gifts for the music lovers in your life.

45s, $10 and up. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For the young at heart. Remember that giddy feeling of having a lazy Saturday afternoon, a new Mad Magazine and a couple of buddies in your wood-paneled basement? Recapture the magic with a selection of vintage copies, which still appeal to the 13-year-old in all of us and prove that booger jokes never really get old.

Vintage magazines, prices vary. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For puzzlers. Sometimes it seems as if your passion for puzzling is exceeded only by your obsession with Mr. Darcy. Finally, there’s a way to channel both emotions properly. Complete one of these 1,000-piece sets, and then find the famous characters who inhabit the pages of your favorite books by Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. 

Victorian puzzles, $21.99. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Ten Thousand Villages
915 Chicago Ave.

You can feel good about shopping at Ten Thousand Villages, where merchandise is carefully sourced to ensure artisans a fair, living wage and all products are created with the planet in mind. Look for warm woolen goods, gleaming ornaments, distinctive jewelry and a wide selection of housewares.

For dogwalkers or Arctic explorers. Delightfully warm and soft, alpaca wool socks from Peru are a perennial favorite among folks who routinely venture outside in chilly temperatures. Darn-worthy socks are lanolin- and itch-free and designed to transport cold toes through many consecutive winters. 

Socks, $21.99. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For your honey. You can help give someone a second chance in life when you purchase Beelove honey and skincare supplies, produced by talented individuals with a past criminal conviction. Silky rich moisturizing creams, botanical lip balms, foaming cleansers and scrubs contain natural ingredients to nourish and protect winter-ravaged skin.

Skincare products, $5 and up. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For snackers. Hand-painted dipping bowls offer a beautiful presentation for salsas, sauces and snacks. Fill with nuts and olives to brighten a charcuterie board or soy sauce to enhance a sushi platter. Made in Tunisia, the brilliantly colored bowls are dishwasher and oven safe.

Dipping bowls, $12.99. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

The Wine Goddess
702 Main St.

Julia Child famously advised, “As you get older, you shouldn’t waste time drinking bad wine.” Who are we to argue? You’ll be safe when you visit The Wine Goddess, where there is a masterfully curated selection of bottles to suit every palate and budget as well as an assortment of playful wine-themed gifts.

For bubbly friends. A bottle of prosecco can magically transform any gathering, even a visit with your in-laws, into a festive holiday celebration. This elegant sipper has a clear bouquet with citrus scents and is a staff pick for its joyous perlage and fine balance. Best of all, it won’t break the bank. Maybe buy two. 

Sorelle Bronca Brut, $21. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For excessively parched partygoers. Why wait in a tiresome bar line to get a refill on your rosé? Here’s a stylish bangle that offers a subtle way to quench your thirst at a crowded holiday mixer. Fill it with the beverage of your choice and mingle freely, sipping at will.

Bracelet flask, $11.99. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

For Liberace devotees. We’re pretty sure you might have an empty wine bottle or two lying around, but now you don’t have to worry about smuggling them into the recycling bin. This clever candelabra transforms your dry vessel into a dramatic Ravinia-ready centerpiece or a topper for the baby grand. Add your own tapers and sequined dinner jacket.

Wine bottle candelabra, $24. Credit: Nancy McLaughlin

Nancy McLaughlin

Nancy McLaughlin is an Evanston-based freelance writer who has a fascination for the everyday events that shape our community in extraordinary ways. She covers human interest stories for the RoundTable.

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  1. One added fact about Ten Thousand Villages: The pleasant person who greets or assists a shopper is likely to be a volunteer (or one of the few staffers). We enjoyed doing that for years, helping hold down the nonprofit’s costs and leave a bit more for its international service role.