If you’re running out of time to find that special gift for that special someone, this could be the year when the thing to give is not a thing at all.
As Christmas bears down upon us, here are a few ideas for practical gifts that can make life easier and more enjoyable for your loved ones, along with some that will help them help someone less fortunate — and they don’t take up any space.
Nothing makes a body feel more special than a relaxing massage, a rejuvenating facial, a stylish haircut or a fresh manicure or pedicure.
That’s why a gift of pampering is ideal, said Mia Z, an assistant at A Finished Appearance Salon and Day Spa in New Kensington.
“Gift certificates are our biggest seller,” she said. “A lot of women get their hair or nails done every week or two, so it’s a maintenance thing.”
For others, it’s an anticipated occasional treat.
For couples, visiting a salon or spa together can make for a carefree day and a cherished memory.
At A Finished Appearance, Mia said, the best-seller is the $100 cash gift certificate that includes a $15 bonus.
“And it never expires,” she added.
We all know someone who lives alone and thinks cooking for one is too much trouble, a couple with a baby and no time for meal prep, or a hard-working young professional surviving on coffee in the morning and takeout at night.
Don’t they all deserve a good, home-cooked meal?
Meal delivery services abound these days, and there are ways to nourish a loved one while supporting the local economy.
Made in Pittsburgh, a website that showcases local food, art, events and innovation, has a list of Pittsburgh-based meal delivery services. Vegetarians and meat-lovers alike will find palatable plates, with many of the services also committed to sourcing local ingredients.
Among options is Bleu Box, which promises delivery within a 50-mile radius of the city.
Those with a creative bent might appreciate the gift of an art class.
“We’ve definitely had people sign up a friend or a family member for a class,” said Michael Tusay, Latrobe Art Center executive director. “Typically, they sign themselves up, too, so they can take it together.”
The center has classes lined up for February and March. Topics will include oil and watercolor painting, mixed media and possibly book-making, though the schedule has yet to be finalized.
“We usually take January off because people don’t like to travel out here in the bad weather,” Tusay said.
Greensburg Art Center offers gift certificates that the recipient can use to pay for a class or make purchases from the artist market.
Classes will start again in mid-to-late February, member Rosemary Sovyak said. On the schedule will be oil and watercolor painting, printmaking, introduction to mosaics and portraiture, a class that was taught for the first time in the fall.
Help around the house
It takes a lot of work to keep the house clean and the yard looking presentable. Not everyone has the time, physical ability or interest in keeping up with housework inside or the planting, mowing, weeding, trimming and raking outside.
“I’ve had two families this year get (cleaning service) for their parents. They’re older, and they’ve just fallen behind on things,” said Darla Cuppy of Vandergrift, who cleans and paints for individuals and rental properties. “One family told me it was the best gift they ever got.”
“I just had a lady call me about doing her dad’s yard,” said Josh Bright, owner of Bright Lawn Care in Latrobe. “She didn’t know what to get him and thought maybe she could get him this and have the whole family split the bill.”
Bright also suggested another option for a seasonally appropriate gift — someone to clear the driveway and walks when snow fallz.
Imagine opening a card on Christmas morning that says, “Congratulations, you are going to (your dream vacation destination)!”
Vacation Station Travel in Greensburg can arrange that kind of surprise.
“It’s usually a husband coming in at the last minute and saying, ‘I want to get my wife a cruise, but I don’t know where or when,’ or ‘My wife has been talking about doing Paris,’ ” said owner Michael Philopena. “We’ll make up a sample itinerary for him to give her on Christmas and then finalize the plans later.”
On the flip side, a wife might surprise her husband with a long weekend at a golf resort, Philopena said.
“It’s all about splurging and pampering,” he said.
“Travel gifts make memories, and people don’t want to return those,” said Colleen Peterson, owner of Port of Call Travel in Greensburg.
Disney trips are popular for gift-giving, as are gift certificates that can be applied to future travel, she said.
European river cruises and spa packages also are popular right now, Philopena said, and travel to Mexico and the Dominican Republic remained “relatively easy throughout the pandemic.”
“A lot of (bookings) have been relatively last-minute, something put together in two or three weeks,” Philopena said. “There are a lot of plans being made for 2022, but everybody’s booking and just holding their breath.”
It’s great to visit a museum or take in a show at one of the area’s theaters and performance venues. Why not ensure that a loved one has continued access to arts and cultural happenings by supporting the sponsoring organization?
Not only does membership provide financial support to a favorite institution, but it also comes with perks.
All members of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg enjoy discounts to events and programs as well as purchases in the museum shop and Cafe Marchand. They also get invited to special members-only programs.
The higher the membership level, the better the perks — including members-only previews of temporary exhibits, curator-led tours and reciprocal benefits at other museums nationwide.
Frequent visitors to events in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District might enjoy membership in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
There are various membership levels, starting at $25, with benefits including access to special pre-sales for select performances, discounts at participating Cultural District restaurants and invitations to exclusive member events such as show load-ins, cast parties and lunch-and-learn programs.
Circles level members have access to a special lounge in the Benedum Center.
Sometimes, the most satisfying gift you receive is the one that helps someone else.
Donations and ticket sales at the Casino Theater in Vandergrift keep “the focal point of the town” open and offering quality entertainment, treasurer Janice Oberdorf said.
The theater board is raising funds for a fire escape that will serve the theater and neighboring Vandergrift Public Library. Donors’ names will be inscribed on a plaque near the structure.
Your giftee also could be honored with a nameplate on a seat in the theater, Oberdorf said. Cost is $250 for a first-floor seat or $200 for the second floor.
Donors also can send in “whatever they like to be used for whatever is needed,” Oberdorf said.
“We’re 100% volunteer, so you can give the gift of volunteering,” she added. “You don’t even need to have a particular skill; you can take tickets.”
“We get honorariums and memoriams throughout the year, but especially at Christmastime,” said Jennifer Miller, CEO of Westmoreland Food Bank. “A lot of times, people will tell their family, ‘We don’t need anything, so just make a donation in our name.’ ”
On average, every $1 donated to the food bank buys about $10 worth of food, she said, so a little can go a long way. The food bank makes purchases far enough in advance that it hasn’t been affected by recent supply chain disruptions, Miller said.
Animal lovers might prefer a donation to a shelter or rescue group. Those concerned with the fate of the Earth or its inhabitants might opt to support an environmental nonprofit or human rights organization.
For help determining whether a charity uses donations responsibly, the Federal Trade Commission recommends checking a website such as BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch or GuideStar to see where donations go.