Let’s face it; the holidays get hectic — that cocktail party at the neighbors’, your kiddo’s school play, end-of-year deadlines at work, and of course, the beloved (but sometimes dreaded) family gathering. Ticking items off your gift list can feel like it offers some slight bit of control.

  But it’s all too easy to cram everything in by ordering online or spending a whirlwind afternoon driving to and from the closest mall. What if, instead, we all set aside a day to meander, explore and find just the right gifts?

  “It’s not just the product or service people are looking for, but the experience,” says Jen Risley, marketing director for the Monadnock Food Co-op.

  When it comes to holiday gift-giving, her recommendation is: “Slow down and invite a friend to shop with you. Introduce each other to your favorite local places, and relax afterward at a local restaurant or brewery.”

  Then, not only will you have found something merry for every person on your list, but you’ll also have created a new holiday memory that’s not about rushing, stressing or even spending big.

  For instance, the Monadnock Food Co-op has interesting finds around every corner — from beeswax candles to craft brews to holiday plants— all produced locally.

  Orange shelf tags at the Co-op denote everything local, and the staff is quite well-versed in what is sourced locally, as well. In early November, the Co-op even hosts a “Stocking Stuff Party” with free tastings, raffles and activities for families. While you’re there, grab a bite at the deli and catch up with friends.

  “You always seem to run into folks you know,” Risley says.

Continue onto Main Street

Take a stroll up the street in Keene and find inspired work from nearly 300 local artists at the Hannah Grimes Marketplace.

  “Shopping at the Marketplace during the holiday season is truly magical!” describes Molly Taflas, marketplace manager.

  The store is constantly buzzing with customers soaking in the cheery vibes.

  The great thing is, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the right gift, and something locally-made can often add more meaning. Double-stuffed wool mittens made from recycled sweaters are a popular pick in the wintry months, as well as great Yankee swap items, such as pottery garlic graters and delicious olive oils.

  The Marketplace also specializes in gift baskets with varying themes, such as food, wellness, or Granite State souvenirs.

  “We love working with customers to put them together,” Taflas says.

  Every purchase not only helps to keep Main Street vibrant and viable but it also directly supports the artists.

  “The more dollars spent at your friend’s and neighbor’s businesses, the more dollars recirculate in our local economy — bringing more jobs and economic growth in 2020,” Risley notes.

Take a scenic drive to neighboring towns

Buying local is something Karen Keurulainen, owner of Morning Star Maple, is passionate about.

  “We have been in our Dublin location for 20 years, and I have seen so many shops close down … since we opened,” she says.

  While she understands the pull of price and convenience, she emphasizes what a significant toll shopping at online and chain stores takes on small business owners. She’s so grateful for Morning Star Maple’s loyal customers who have given their support over the years.

  “They can come in and taste my products, ask questions, see where the products are made and … get the customer service you will never get at the big-box stores” Keurulainen says.

  Her shop’s mainstay is maple: maple syrup, maple candy, maple cream, and granulated maple sugar. There’s also maple granola, peanut brittle, cotton candy and coated nuts. If New Hampshire’s signature sweet is one of your favorites, this place is a must. There’s plenty of other local goodies to pick from as well, such as honey, jam, soaps, lotions, pottery, herb mixes, teas, coffee and even catnip (for your furry friends).

  “The atmosphere in the shop during the holidays is very festive,” Keurulainen says. The middle room where syrup is made each spring becomes gift basket central. “We usually have 60-plus baskets to choose from at any one time,” she adds.

  The store is decorated from beam-to-beam for the season, and while you browse, decadent smells of maple and spices make their way through the air from the kitchen.

Shop at a farm

If you’re looking for more deliciousness, there’s also the annual Thanksgiving Farm Fare at Stonewall Farm in Keene, which will take place on Friday, Nov. 22, from 4-7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. this year.

  Items range from handmade soaps to macaroons, fresh, hand-harvested cranberries, and local meat and produce that might not be available in local stores.

  Stonewall Farm’s Executive Director Julie Davenson notes, “Many of the vendors make special products just for the event itself.”

  This year, the Fare will feature cocktail demonstrations Friday evening so shoppers can learn how to make specialty drinks and also purchase one while shopping. All-day Saturday, visitors can take advantage of exclusive cooking demonstrations with the likes of Jordan Scott from Machina Arts, Patrick Searle from My Mother’s Kitchen, and even a young, local chef, Raffi Podneisinski, who will be accompanied by Chef Wes Babcock from Burdick’s Restaurant.

  On both days, the atmosphere is festive and lively.

  “It is a place where the entire community gathers to celebrate our harvest and abundance of all that is local from farms, food producers and artisan crafters,” Davenson says.

  Shoppers get to meet and directly ask the farmer or food producer questions. They also walk away, knowing exactly who made their holiday meal or gift possible.

  Davenson explains that this kind of “interaction is fundamental to building a strong local economy and also to building community.”

Break out your plaid

Across the region, ‘tis the season for buying local, with Plaid Friday (instead of Black Friday) and Cider Monday (instead of Cyber Monday) drawing crowds of shoppers for a cheerful day out.

  In Peterborough, the Toadstool Bookshop is a hub for these fun spins on traditionally traumatic shopping days out at the large-scale stores. (Toadstool also has shops in Keene and Milford, New Hampshire.)

  You could spend an entire day delving into reads for every person on your shopping list (and let’s be honest, for yourself too!). Still, if you step outside, you’ll also find a cornucopia of local wares at any of the nearby Peterborough shops.

  Taste artisanal chocolates, olive oils and spices, shop vintage and antique items and even pick up some bright blooms in spite of the cold.

  A gift certificate to your favorite local eatery would make a great present, too.

  Whatever gift ideas you’ve been scribbling down on your list this year, make “local” your mantra and enjoy a more relaxed and meaningful holiday shopping season right here in the Monadnock Region. You don’t have to travel or look far to find something special.

Caroline Tremblay writes from Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire.