Clear out the old gifts for the new
Make some space for these top-tip presents by taking older items to the charity shops, says Constance Harris
I have a rule about Christmas and it is related to feng shui and flow. But mainly it is prompted by the deluge of stuff that comes into our home on Christmas day due to my child's birthday falling on the same day.
My rule is that we make space for new treats by clearing out some of the old.
It's a nice way of staying in the flow of life, and ensuring that someone else can benefit from your abundance when you make your drop at local charity shops.
I read a lovely short story by Samantha Bailie, in the current Christmas issue of the Big Issue, about human kindness in Belfast during the depression-ravaged Thirties. Sadly, the landscape her granny recounted to her was all too similar to the stories being told last week by the head of the St Vincent de Paul Society, about life for many families right now.
Even if you feel you don't have cash to spare, charity shops are in need of things to sell to generate funds, so your old stuff is valued by them. And if you are treating yourself to a new quilted coat, duvet or sleeping bag, the Big Issue offices, as part of their "Street Cosy" campaign, are willing to take warm outerwear and bedding for the homeless who show up at their door all the time. The Big Issue address is The Basement, 30 Gardiner Place, Dublin 1.
Christmas is the season of giving and it is that act of thinking about others with such loving intention that generates the wonderful goodwill we all feel at this time of year. That is the true value of Christmas -- loving appreciation.
Presents are symbols of that love. If they aren't, why are you buying them?
I tend to go one of two routes when shopping. I either give useful gifts, or lighthearted ones. This year, anything sheepskin, or warm, or involving spikes in the soles, is making my list. Well, all the fashion mavens around me keep asking me about the best footwear to avoid falling in ice and snow.
If our outdoor-adventure shops, such as 53 Degrees North, Millets or the Great Outdoors, have any left, I recommend Spikys. Great stocking fillers priced between €15 to €25, they are the small, bandy-like things you can put on over your shoes that get some grip in the snow. However, they are as rare now as hen's teeth.
Failing those, if you are feeling flush, you could always fork out for a pair of Olang women's Ziller Tex OC black boots, which have built-in studs, and can be "turned on or off". They are priced at €177.42 from www.lovethoseshoes.com.
Ugg boots are fabulous to wear in the biting cold, but their soles are lethal on icy surfaces -- well, they were designed as house shoes. But as competitor brands, such as Emu, show, there are many other lovely sheepskin-lined things to be had -- from luxe insoles, to ear muffs, to mitts, as well as footwear. Available nationwide.
Being Irish, we often forget to check out our own crafts shops -- seeing them as tourist places, rather than fabulous little gem joints for finding Irish goods. I love shops such as Cleo on Kildare Street -- a truly special and original place. I also popped into the House of Ireland last week and was blown away by Jimmy Hourihan's very on-trend capes, as well as Carraig Donn's knitwear. And Magee of Donegal truly do produce their fabrics and employ 120 people in the area, so a purchase of one of their gorgeous throws (€80 to €85), or sexy knits (€65 to €85), is supporting jobs. For a stockist near you, or to buy online, see www. mageeireland.com.
This time of year, there are lots of pop-up markets with original work by Irish craftsmen and women, and artists, so do keep an eye on local notice boards for info on those. A nice one in Dublin today is Rough Diamond in the Lyndsay Gallery, Monkstown, featuring De Bruir's fabulous leather goods (popular with guys), Susannagh Grogan's hand-printed silk scarves, and John Shevlin's fashionable millinery. Not everything is expensive, but quality is a given. For more details, phone Jade Travers on 086-252-0796.
For the perfect coffee-table book for the fashionista in your life, try Orla Kiely's beautifully produced book Pattern, published by Conran Octopus and priced €26.99. It traces her life, and her inspirations and influences, and is a lovely read with gorgeous illustrations, Visit www.orlakiely.com for more details. Another great book for fashionistas is Pho20graphy by Barry McCall, in aid of the ISPCC, price €80 (see www.ispcc.ie).
For a trendy phone, Nokia C3 is the perfect one for the young person in your life who doesn't quite require a BlackBerry, but would like something similar. Without all the features of a BlackBerry needed for business, it's simpler to use and with a better price point, €99. Not to mention it comes in hot pink.
Traditionally at Christmas, lingerie is a key purchase by men for women and that will never change. But women are increasingly buying for themselves. This season sees lingerie being very womanly and dramatic, in a Fifties kind of way -- think big briefs (which men don't like), corset-type all-in-ones and slips, the return of the suspender belt, and bras that make your boobs look really spectacular.
If your lady is a lingerie snob, then you can only go to somewhere like Susan Hunter, Brown Thomas and high-end lingerie shops of that ilk. But if you are on a budget, the high street has a lot to offer. For nightwear, La Senza is great right now for silk ensembles around the €50 to €60 point.
At a similar price, Debenhams has a variety of looks, as they have so many individual designers working with them. I love Floozie, which has a kind of Betsey Johnson vibe, Star by Julien Macdonald, which is very vampy, and J by Jasper Conran, which is elegant.
Lingerie-wise, I am very impressed by what Dunnes Stores and Tesco have achieved. Tesco is working with Ultimo and has a fabulous exclusive range. But their own F&F range is impressive, with great fabric-and-fit bras and briefs. They go up to double G in some styles.
Dunnes, too, has gone down the Fifties route and there is much to be found to lift a gal's vampy little boudoir heart on Christmas day which won't bust your wallet. Also, Clerys do great nightwear by Monsoon and Calvin Klein.
Lastly, I want to mention gifts that do good beyond Bothar. Designer Helen Steele has produced the ultimate fashion-maven's piece which she never knew she needed -- leather cuffs. Exclusive to Harvey Nichols Dundrum, at €150, they are limited editions, one-of-a-kind, and all of the money goes to Crumlin's Children's Hospital. Also, remember the ever cheerful (and warm), felted wool accessories and slippers by Made in Mongolia (www.madeinmongolia.net), the charity which supports mothers and children in Mongolia by giving them work and self-worth. What better gift can we give than that?
Merry Christmas everyone. Lots of love from me to you.