Home for the Holidays

By Jeff Schnaufer | CTW Features

Taking pride in a state or hometown is part of American culture. We wear T-shirts touting the local sports teams, sip coffee from mugs bearing the logo of a college campus and collect plates painted with the state flag.

So why not give the gift of local pride during the holiday season?

“People take great pride in their communities and hometowns. People are looking for unique, one-of-a-kind gifts that hold meaning and purpose both for themselves and to give to others,” says Jessie Nixon, a spokeswoman for The Cat’s Meow Village, Wooster, Ohio, which makes wooden keepsakes of regional icons and landmarks, including historic trails, natural wonders and even state flags ($10 – $80).

“Sharing what is special about their state helps tie families together,” says Heather Hughes, publisher of Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, Mich., which offers books that highlight local themes and stories. Its popular Discover America State by State series features a book per state, including “L is for Last Frontier: An Alaska Alphabet,” and “G is for Golden: A California Alphabet” ($17.95).

Cat’s Meow and Sleeping Bear Press are just two of the legions of companies that offer regionally themed gifts that transcend traditional T-shirts and ballcaps, from handmade pillows embroidered with the Great Lakes to blown glass Christmas ornaments of the Brooklyn Bridge.

While they may not be produced locally, gifts that commemorate a local landmark, event or point of interest are enduring bestsellers as holiday gifts. They are affordable, easy to ship and, best of all, they are sure to tug at the heartstrings.

Locals, not just tourists, are big customers of locally themed Christmas ornaments at Susan’s Christmas Shop in Santa Fe, N.M.

“A lot of people just love New Mexico, and this is one of the ways to show the love and pride, by putting it on the Christmas tree,” she says. A series of tree ornaments that that feature historical points of interest is a perennial hit. Topp Weber says she sold 450 Palace of the Governors ornaments,many to local customers.

The emotional attachment associated with a place or event is the key appeal of the ornaments, says Kay Gilbraith, Landmark Creations. Gilbraith’s company makes the Palace of the Governors ornament and dozens of other custom blown-glass keepsakes celebrating landmarks and historical sites across the country, including Boston’s Trinity Church, Chicago’s Sears Tower and Atlanta’s Fox Theatre (around $45). The emotional attachment people associate with a specific place or event is the key appeal of a local gift, she says. Her company’s ornments “remind people of happy journeys or events in their life,” Gilbraith says.

Buying regionally themed gifts also can benefit local communities. A few companies help support local communities by giving back some of their profits to help preserve community institutions.

“It appeals to the local customer to help their community,” says Gilbraith. Landmark has created ornaments to help historical societies preserve local sites in New Mexico and California.

Locally themed gifts often have special appeal to recipients who are on the move, or who have settled far away from their roots. Expatriates and those moving away from home for the first time are frequent recipients of the Catstudio line of embroidered pillows and accessories that bear nostalgic, maps of states, cities and regions ($12 – $149). “A lot of people love their state,” says Terrell Swan, owner of the Petaluma, Calif.-based company. People love to give the whimsical items as gifts, and buy for themselves, to commemorate a range of emotional milestones: to recall the state where they were born, went to school, got engaged or got married.

The Texas pillow is a popular seller in Texas gift shops, but also sells well to “Texans who live in Tennessee or in New York,” Swan says. “And a lot of people buy them for kids going on to college.”

The chance to pass along a bit of family history has turned several of Sleeping Bear Press state-themed titles into regional classics. “Grandparents love to send books to their grandchildren from their state, or the state when their parents grew up. It is important to give children a sense of place,” says publisher Heather Hughes. “Our books help make people more aware of the unique places, people and natural world of each state.”

Just how well loved are these tomes?

“The Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story”has been a big hit in Louisiana, where it was nominated to be the official state Cajun Christmas book.

© CTW Features

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