Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry — and to find that perfect, one-of-a-kind gift that invites glances of envy from gift-givers to your left and to your right. 


On the practical side, without brightly-lit Christmas trees, gifts languish in secretive, oft-forgotten hiding spots or become jostled or damaged in closets and out-of-the-way areas of the home. But just as importantly, there is something about the Christmas tree as a home for gifts and tokens of love that we share with others that adds a comforting sense of completion to the ritual of gift-giving. Those who swear by the real deal will tell you that nothing beats the smell of a newly cut, organically green towering Fir or Noble, and that the smell they imbue the room with is infinitely more pleasurable than that of the finest incense, scented candle or diffuser. And different varieties can have distinct aromas as unique as they are intoxicating.


“The Grand Fir has a citrus smell, but the Douglas has a sweet smell. The Noble has a stronger scent of pine — even more so than the pine tree,” said Mikey Topalain, owner of Santa & Mikey’s Fresh Christmas Trees, 259 Sierra Madre Villa Ave., Pasadena.


“The earthy smell of the sweetly fragrant needles that inevitably end up littering the floor around the trees is a welcome reminder of home, hearth and the spirit of giving and family appreciation,” said Topalain.


In my home as a child, our Christmas tree was more than a symbol of that impending special day; it was a reminder of the relatives and other loved ones who may have lived too far away to communicate regularly, but would always send a gift come Christmas. The brightly wrapped boxes and ribboned baskets and packages beckoned to me with so many possibilities that I often caught myself looking for excuses to be near the tree. It was also the precursor to all holiday decorating in my home. If my mom purchased a Christmas tree, it was a sure sign she planned to go all out festooning the home with the tinsel, strings of lights and decorative collectibles trotted out most years from that mysterious box kept in the garage. 


But the inviting scene of that fragrant, towering tree was not without its downside. The pine needles, so charming the first few days before Christmas, were constantly underfoot, tracked all over the home, stuck to the bottoms of our feet and even found in our clothing and bed sheets. Vacuuming and sweeping them up was an arduous task requiring constant vigilance and once dried out, the trees themselves can quickly become a fire hazard, killing dozens per year when positioned too close to heaters or other flammable objects. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “Each year, fire departments respond to an average of 210 structure fires caused by Christmas trees.” 


The history of the Christmas tree is a fascinating, evolving one. As our society changes, so, too, do the choice of ornamentation and type of tree change in popularity. Prior to the 18th century, trees were typically decorated with food items. When one considers our improved economy, the incredible advances in technology, and the number of companies competing for the average holiday shopper’s attention, this season presents an almost overwhelming number of choices for gift-giving. 


But fear not; one needn’t trod all over town from shop to shop day in and out, looking for the consummate gift for a discriminating loved one. According to the National Retail Federation’s (nrf.com) website, “Retail sales are expected to rise 3.7 percent and consumers plan to spend an average of $805 on holiday merchandise, similar to the $802 they spent last year.” 


This seems to be a boon for most of us, as the federation’s survey suggests we’re spending this holiday cash on each other, and not simply on treating ourselves.


Pasadena and its blend of eclectic and sophisticated shops make holiday buying more of a treat than a trial, and for some is the perfect place to snag that high-demand or obscure gift for a cherished friend or family member. 


340 E Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 568-1410 | brookstone.com

Tony Merchain, assistant manager of Brookstone, a popular store that caters to the discriminating buyer and specializes in unique gifts and electronic items, says that BB8, the newest “Star Wars character and app-controlled droid, has been a hit with their clientele and they’ve recently had trouble keeping the product on the shelves. For the gadget enthusiast, it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular seller. As Tony describes it, the BB8 model “connects through Bluetooth and your smart phone or laptop. Users can replay video messages so that they appear to be projected through your tablet or other device.” 

Lula Mae

100 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Old Pasadena 

(626) 304-9996 | lulamae.com 

Lula Mae is a local favorite and treasured resource for that perfect quirky or unusual gift. Shopping at Lula Mae is an experience in itself. You’re guaranteed to lay eyes on once-in-a-lifetime finds that will please gift-giver and recipient with equal delight. Journaling and the art of committing one’s thoughts and expressions to paper have made a comeback, and Lula Mae is an excellent source for attractive and stylish journals for men and women. The “Stack Book” is a top-seller at this unique gift shop. Perfect for the thoughtful writer and those who appreciate art in even everyday items, the Stack Book is coverless, with an exposed spine, red stitching and deckled pages, and includes hundreds of cream-colored, high-quality stock and colorful pages designed with a painted-wash by artist Linda Geary. Lula Mae’s also boasts an impressive collection of candles and body products, such as scrubs, diffusers, mists, crèmes and washes.

Vroman’s Bookstore

695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

(626) 449-5320 | vromansbookstore.com

Their website boasts of Vroman’s legacy as “the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California,” and it’s easy to see why there is such pride in this establishment, particularly considering the recent and continuing spate of bookstore closures over the past decade. In addition to being a much-loved nexus for a variety of titles, from classical to popular, as well as an important resource to the community with their various book signings and outreach programs, they also feature an ever-evolving inventory that embraces new trends and topics while still maintaining a savvy respect for those timeless gifts that never go out of style. 

Forever Gifts

639 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena

(626) 460-8255 | forevergifts.com

This clever store is a breath of fresh air and fantastic concept to boot. Forever Gifts specializes in personalized gifts and jewelry for any occasion. The possibilities seem endless when you consider that they offer personalized items such as wedding jewelry, mugs, key chains, cigar boxes, lighters, money clips, tags for that perfect pooch or feline in your life — even engraved poker chip boxes. Gifts abound for just about every special occasion, including anniversaries, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, even housewarmings. Quality materials and workmanship are evident on every item they sell. Be sure to check their website regularly in the Daily Specials section.