I was in Portland last week and couldn’t believe the number of people I saw clogging the streets and sidewalks of that city’s Old Port. From what I could tell, most were shopping for holiday gifts.

You’d never see anything like that Down East, where most people have had all their shopping done for months now.

How do I know?

Well, according to local custom, most everyone in our town begins their Christmas shopping around Memorial weekend, when yard sales begin to bloom on almost every other Down East lawn, and most every yard sale worth stopping at has all kinds of bargain-priced stuff that anyone would be tickled to get. Why pay near-full price when you can get an almost-like-new item for pennies on the dollar at a yard sale?

Last May I got into the Christmas spirit and started my gift list. While I did, that my wife whipped up several batches of whoopie pies for the relatives. Then I set off on some serious yard sale gift-buying. Right off, I came across one of those clever combination vegetable peeler-hair peeler rigs that I’d seen in a late-night infomercial. Let me tell you, that was just perfect for my bearded cousin Ira, a vegetarian.

Yard sales are also ideal places to find other unique gifts, like barely used exercise equipment for your tubby relatives; eight-track tapes (remember them?) for the musically inclined; empty, yet highly collectible Avon bottles for the investment-minded; and slightly used Clappers, which are great as gifts for anyone, but can also be used to turn your Christmas lights on and off with the clap of your hands, or a good pistol shot.

Folks Down East also like to make gifts for family members. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a dozen or so whoopie pies. You can whip up a batch anytime of the year, since your average whoopie pie has a shelf life of a decade or two. Wrap those delicacies up in a festive box from the Dollar Store and you’re good to go.

A frozen vat of corn chowder also will make someone on your list jump for joy. Who wouldn’t relish having this tasty Maine winter dish on hand when they’re just too busy to cook? I myself am pleased to receive practical gifts that I wouldn’t otherwise purchase, and you can’t get more practical than a frozen vat of corn chowder.

If you don’t have time to bake or cook but still like the idea of food gifts, how about a case of Moxie? It’s the official soft drink of the state of Maine. Nothing says good taste like a bottle of that stuff. Or, for your close friends who have been known to tip a few from time to time, how about a gallon of the state of Maine’s unofficial adult beverage – Allen’s coffee brandy. And, I’m not one for shameless promotion, but for more gift ideas you might want to check out a book titled: “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar.” Come to think of it you might want to give one of these books as a gift.

John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine, including “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A User’s Guide to Useless Information.” Contact him at [email protected]

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