Consult your five senses, and if you trust your sixth sense you will select "feel good gifts" gifts that generate comfort. Satisfying an external sense may well fulfill a feeling of inner peace that is the hallmark of the holiday season.
Here are some gift ideas that appeal to one's sense of sight, sound, smell, touch or taste.
Visual and fragrant
Candles enjoy a significant role in religious ceremonies at this time of year. Christians light Advent candle wreaths in anticipation of Christmas, and Jews light candles in menorahs on each of the eight days of Hanukkah.
At home, candles were the chief source of nighttime light in days of yore. But with the dawn of gaslight and electricity, they often were stored away and brought out only to accent the dining table for special occasions and holiday gatherings -- or to provide emergency lighting during a power outage.
Not any more. Candles have made a blazing comeback. At the end of a grueling day, it's not unusual to unwind and relax by candlelight, often infused with the fragrances of flowers, herbs and spices.
Today candles come in a myriad of shapes, sizes, colors and scents. Look in your favorite department store, drugstore or candle shop and you will find aromatic varieties in lidded jars, ripple or squiggly shapes, traditional talls, fruit designs, flat layers that can be twisted and turned to create various patterns, and pillar types, including some that glow from within for their entire length to illuminate scenes imbedded on the surface. Some wider stand-alone pillars have three wicks to provide additional flickering effects and allow for more even burning of the candle.
OK. You've made your choice and had them gift-wrapped. Here are some candle tips to pass along to your de-"light"-ed recipient, courtesy of the Divali Candlelights Co. in Novi, Mich.:
Keep wicks trimmed to 1/4 inch to prevent smoking and overly large flames.
The first time you light a pillar candle, allow it to burn until the melted wax "pools" to the outer edge (about one hour for each inch in diameter of single-wick pillars). Extinguish flame and let wax cool before relighting. Pillars retain "memory" -- how far the wax pools during the first lighting is how far it will pool each time thereafter.
Remove fingerprints or scratches on candles by lightly buffing the surface with a nylon stocking. Like magic, the shine will be restored.
Divali Candlelights has a 20-page color catalog of unique and aromatic candles, including three that are especially appropriate for those who celebrate the mid-winter Chinese New Year. Each pillar-style candle is appliqued with a raised Chinese character that symbolizes Love, Peace or Happiness. A set of all three is $49, or they can be ordered individually at $18 apiece. Call toll-free at (888) 834-8254 for the free catalog, which also features unusual holders, lanterns and other candle accessories.
Sounds and aromas
Aromatherapy has gained in popularity, but the art has been practiced for centuries because of the benefits from certain scents found in nature. Sounds, too, are used to help relax, refresh and soothe in a stress-filled world.
A "tranquility spa" in HoMedics Body Basics line of home products combines aromas (for relaxation, invigoration, rejuvenation and inhalation) with a choice of six environmental sounds: spring rain, woodlands, summer nights, ocean waves, "white noise" (especially good for people with the ear disorder tinnitis) and mountain stream. Called Envira-Spa, the battery-operated apple shape system is small enough to set at the edge of a nightstand. It has a timer and comes with an AC adapter. Suggested retail is $59.99. HoMedics products are sold in area drugstores and department stores, the JCPenney catalog and at Service Merchandise and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
An aromatherapy system by Philips Electronics features an opaque pear shape glass shade that emits a soft light and encloses a cord-operated internal fan that diffuses aromas. Four scents in bead form are included: lavender to calm and refresh; ylang-ylang, sandalwood and clove to calm and relieve tension; rose garden to strengthen inner being and encourage patience and love, and mint to refresh and enhance concentration and memory. The AT500 Aromatherapy System has a suggested retail price of $45. Seven digital sounds are featured in Philips' ST400 Sound Selector with LED Alarm clock. You can drift off to sleep or wake up to environmental sounds, as well as wind chimes, cooing doves or song birds. Awakening to the sounds of bells is also an option. A headphone jack is included. Suggested retail is $60.
Is there an infant or toddler in the house? Philips' ST275 Sound Selector includes a lullaby, environmental sounds, wind chimes, "soft sound" to mask distracting noises and the gentle ticktock of a clock to help pacify, comfort and lull a child to sleep. It features an easy-to-read clock, sun-shaped night light and shut-off timer. Suggested retail is $55.
Philips products are sold at Kmart, Sears and Service Merchandise.
Bath and body products find a niche in this sensible category. There is a variety of choices among Circle of Beauty products sold exclusively at Sears stores nationwide. One particular line, "Living Pleasures," features gift sets that include scented soaps, shower and bath gels, lotions and splashes, as well as body buffers and fragranced candles and room mists.
For $19 you can purchase a festive gold or silver star-shaped basket of body lotion and splash in a choice of such flavors as Lilacs & Berries, Coffee & Blossoms, Berry Gardens or Island Nectars. Or choose a larger basket ($28.50) containing bath and shower gel, body splash and liquid talc from a selection of peach, melon, pear and blossoms scents.
Other bath and beauty products for women include Crabtree & Evelyn perfumed soaps, lotions and body powders sold primarily in gift shops, and Camille Beckman hand creams, lotions, soaps and shower gels that now are available in local drugstores, as well as in gift shops.
And be sure to check out the many bath and body products for men. There are entire counters in department stores devoted to men's grooming items.
For those who are not fragrance-oriented -- or may even be allergic to scents -- you might consider a touch therapy gift. Check for store specials on electric back and body massagers. Many feature variable heat and pulsating settings and are designed to conform to specific parts of the body. Magnet therapy also is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, due mainly to sports professionals who claim the wearable magnet disks relieve aches and pains. HoMedics magnet therapy items are available at Target stores.
An easy category for those who are aware of the tastes of people on their lists. But if you're in a quandary, here are some suggestions:
Candy: Go for the extravagance of Godiva chocolates in gold-tone packaging that one cannot bear to discard when empty ($31 for a one-pound box at Godiva Chocolatiers in Walden Galleria). Or, your choice can reflect a more subtle uniqueness. Marzipan, for example, is not a staple in every candy shop, but Watson's Candies on Transit Road in East Amherst has a selection that's sure to please a connoisseur of the molded almond paste. A 4-ounce, 9-piece set of tinted fruit shapes sells for $3.95 and a similar 2.6-ounce set of six is $2.95.
Liqueurs and brandies: They come in a variety of flavors -- Cointreau (orange), kirschwasser (cherry), Chambourd (raspberry), Frangelico (hazelnut), and fruit-flavored schnapps.
Cookies: Should you have time and energy left after all that holiday shopping, don an apron, dig out the favorite family recipes, and bake up a storm. A basket or tray of the home-baked varieties is sure to please anyone on your list. When it comes to such delicacies, even the most thoroughly modern cook will never be accused of being old-fashioned!