By Jake Davis
Image via flickr user Hobbit_71

Image via flickr user Hobbit_71

’Tis the season, friends: peppermint-infused franken-lattes stalk Starbucks and nauseating jingles clamor in supermarket aisles. Which means it’s time to show the people you love that you care materially, and not merely with dulcet proclamations. This year, give more than another useless bauble: give skills. Why skills? Because they can’t sit on a shelf gathering dust, and because they require you to think about what your friends and loved ones care about. People don’t just like to get stuff. In fact, they like to do stuff too.

I’m going to give a few examples of places that teach curious things to curious people. They’re all New York-based, but you can find venues like these — museums, skillshare places, foodie restaurants — just about anywhere. 

Bonsai growing
Bonsai strikes awe into anyone who has a thing for plants, but caring for one  seems fussy and difficult. It doesn’t have to be. Next spring, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is giving a course on growing bonsai. It’s pricey, but apartment-dwelling horticulturalists will joyously clear a spot on their sill for their new miniature ficus.

Beer tasting
Okay, beer tasting may not exactly be a skill, but it will definitely expand your horizons. Every Tuesday, Jimmy’s no. 43 explores some of the stranger, rarer, or just better bottles of suds, paired with a presentation from a beer rep or a brewer, which makes drinking like getting an education. The tastings begin again on January 8, giving your holiday hangover plenty of time to fade.

Cheese making
Fermenting things other than beer is probably the next ecohipster trend to blow up as big as homebrew. 3rd Ward (which has classes on just about everything) has a class on making cheese at home. This gift will obviously pay dividends in the form of milk-fat laden dinners.

Carrot (not finger) cutting
Brooklyn Kitchen has knife skills classes multiple times a month, both beginning and advanced levels. They’ll also show you how to do everything from bake a sourdough boule to fry wontons.

Still can't decide? Stuck outside of New York? Don't worry. It comes as no surprise that this town is filled with places catering to far-flung fixations (like stab-bindingOulipo-esque writing exercises, and bitters tasting  which I wrote about last week). If you or the person on your list lives elsewhere, consider Dabbler, a monthly newsletter detailing “one new hobby, every month.” Bonus: Dabbler doesn’t fill up in a couple of hours like Brainery classes.

Possibilities are limitless. Just use the Internet to get off the Internet. A final suggestion: if you want to give a gift to someone you know nothing about, you should a) tell this to your therapist, and b) buy that special someone a coffee and see what they’re all about.