14 Unique Christmas Gifts That Support Alumni Businesses

The Christmas season is upon us yet again, and holiday shopping is in full swing. If you are looking for unique and thoughtful gift ideas, The Bell has compiled a list of options for everyone on your list—with the added benefit of supporting alumni businesses.

For newlyweds, empty nesters and art collectors

If you and/or your loved ones are reaching a special milestone this year (say an anniversary or moving out of a house you’ve lived in for a long time), why not give the gift of a commissioned painting by fine artist Michelle Arnold Paine ’99? As a self-described lover of sacred spaces, Paine creates heirloom-quality paintings to commemorate special places. She’s painted churches where couples have gotten married, homes, and other buildings and landscapes that hold precious memories. View Paine’s current gallery of custom paintings.

Custom painting of Saint Matthew's Cathedral Interior in Washington D.C.
Custom painting of Saint Matthew’s Cathedral Interior in Washington D.C.

For the avid readers and aesthete’s

There is a lot we can recommend in terms of award-winning children’s and young adult literature. For starters, two-time Newbery Honor winner Gary Schmidt’s ’79 newest book, Just Like That, is a perfect gift for the middle-grade readers on your list. Set in 1968, the story follows a young girl as she navigates the loss of a close friend while adjusting to life at her new boarding school. With themes of grief, love, friendship and hope woven through each page, Just Like That is a touching read for tweens and young teens (ages 11–14)—but reviewers say this heart-warming story is just as enjoyable for adults.

Book cover for Gary Schmidt novel Just Like That

Fans of YA, science fiction and the Netflix Original Series Stranger Things can enjoy Skywatchers, the latest installment from National Book Award finalist Carrie Arcos ’95. The story is set during the Cold War and follows a group of high school students as they volunteer to keep an eye out for Russian missiles and discover a UFO instead. You’ll definitely want to read it before the movie comes out. The pandemic may have thrown a wrench in production, but the story has been optioned by The Gotham Group (known for producing the Maze Runner series) and will be directed by Thor Freudenthal (known for Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

The book cover of Carrie Arcos novel titled Skywatchers

The final book—which may be familiar to those of you who came to Homecoming this year—is Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lipsby Melanie Hyo-In Han ’16. Born in Korea and raised in several East African countries, Han’s poetry follows her journey of understanding what it means to belong as a person without one distinct cultural identity. Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips is a poignant read sure to inspire thoughtful reflection.

Picture of Melanie Hyo-In Han next to the book cover of her new book of poetry titled Sandpaper Tongue Parchment Lips

For those who like their poetry set to music

Buy singles and EPs from Boston-area singer, songwriter and musician Shanell Alyssa Percy ’14. Her music explores “the intersections of art and social action,” draws from the Black gospel tradition and includes elements of neo-soul, R&B and folk. In 2019, Shanell Alyssa made WBUR’s list of top 21 Tiny Desk Contest entries from Massachusetts. Listen to her music now on Amazon, Apple Music and Spotify. And watch her new music video “Race to Dawn” on YouTube.

The cover art for Shanell Alyssa’s single “Race to Dawn”

For the board gamers and those who like a little friendly competition

Co-owner of The Castle Board Game Café Kevin Grant ’09 recommends:

“If you think fast and talk even faster, you’re sure to enjoy Anomia,” says Grant. This game is all about recalling random information under pressure. Will you be the first to remember a famous address or a zoo animal? You’ll have to play to find out. Each game takes about 30 minutes. Freudian slips may occur.

Lovers of classic card games will enjoy Illimat’s modern twist on old favorites like Hearts, Bridge and Gin. This is a card game that was originally designed as a prop for a photoshoot with The Decemberists that later became a real game. It’s perfect for small spaces and people with shorter attention spans (the whole game can be completed in under an hour). Theoretical risks include: getting frostbite and something called Harmonic Convergence.

Barenpark is kind of like Zoo Tycoon, except this time only bears are allowed (yes, even koalas, though they technically aren’t in the bear family). In this slower-paced game, you can design the bear park of your dreams and make sure your visitors are well fed and near a public bathroom. If that isn’t realistic enough for you, just wait until you hear about the building permits you’ll need to expand your zoo! It’s a great game for families with kids (ages 8 and up).

All of these games can be purchased online or at The Castle Board Game Café storefront in Beverly, MA!

For the parents trying to keep up with growth spurts

The idea that one dress or onesie can fit an infant or toddler through several growth spurts sounds too good to be true, but it exists thanks to Leslie Musser ’12 and her husband, Eric, founders of Kinder Capsule. Their line of adjustable children’s clothing is suitable for children between the ages of six to 24 months. Part of their proceeds support an organization called Operation Underground Railroad, which has rescued over 3,000 victims of child trafficking and has assisted in the arrests of more than 1,600 traffickers worldwide.

For green thumbs and wannabe homesteaders

If your loved one has some property or a yard of their own and wants to use it for something good, like growing firewood, having an orchard or creating outdoor social spaces, call up Abby ’10 and Johnny ’08 Ytzen-Handel at Modern Homestead to book a permaculture design consultation. They can help your friend or relative turn their bit of land into a 21st-century Eden that mimics and gives back to natural ecosystems.

Abby ’10 and Johnny ’08 Ytzen-Handel and their three children in one of the backyard spaces they’ve designed

For those who want to celebrate their multicultural upbringing through fashion

For fashion lovers, clothing is an outward way to express yourself—your culture, personality and individuality. Inspired by her multicultural upbringing, Damilola Junaid ‘14 started Talojẹ́ (a Yoruba phrase that means “Who are you?”), a fashion brand that celebrates an individual’s freedom to embrace their evolution and authentic expression of their identity, despite outside voices. Taking inspiration from her Nigerian roots and love of Bollywood and Indian culture (amongst others), her unique pieces are handmade in Nigeria using styles and fabrics from cultures all around the world. Plus, when you buy from Talojẹ́, you know that your purchase directly supports ethical clothing manufacturing and labor practices. 

Damilola Junaid modeling the Kerry Half-blazer Dress

For paleo and keto diet devotees

For the most part, followers of keto and paleo diets cook food from scratch, which is fun, but also a little hard to keep up with. Give your relative or friend a cooking break by purchasing some gourmet bone broth tonics from Fond Bone Broth, founded by self-proclaimed #brothbabe Alysa Seeland ’11. Tonics come in all kinds of flavors and with ingredients like fennel, shiitake, beets, turmeric, rosemary, serrano and butternut squash.

For the person in your life with a sore throat (and hot sauce)

Cough drops, like socks, can seem like a lame gift idea at the offset, but wait. Fire Drops, organic cayenne pepper cough drops, are more like a spicy caramel with a numbing agent than a deplorable cough syrup masquerading as candy. If that doesn’t convince you, then just take a look at the ingredients (yep, there’s butter!). Plus, a percentage of the proceeds go to Homes of Hope, which provides homes to people who are unstably housed. Thank you for making cold season delicious, Fire Drops co-founder Brett Johnson ’15!

For those with skinned knees and a free spirit

If you have a friend or family member that is into handcrafted shortboards, longboards and cruisers, look no further than Maple Built, co-founded by Schuyler Andersen ’14 and his older brother Will. Their nonprofit provides woodworking apprenticeships and jobs to at-risk young men living in and around Nashville, TN. While you’re there, you might as well order something for yourself, whether you’re into butcher block countertops or wall mosaics.

The Sunrise Cruiser