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The art of “the perfect gift” eludes many of us, who opt more often than not for the quick and sure card, stuffed into a seasonal envelope. So what’s an erudite, cultured Westerner to do in the December present crunch, when the latest electronic toy has long been snatched up?

Think outside of the Xbox. Westerners will out-bling most other provinces this year, with shoppers in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba taking the retail lead across Canada, says TD Canada Trust. So go big and curry good karma by becoming a patron of the arts. Get your name on the “Bless you and all your progeny” contributor page of the local opera/theatre/symphony program. Trill to Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Feb. 3, 6 or 8, with the Edmonton Opera; groove with the Celtic Tenors and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Jan. 24; or have a laugh during Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad, Jan. 27-Feb. 7, at Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon.

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The perks of such gift giving include fawning during pre-gig meet-and-greets with the artists. “I wish that everyone would buy High Performance Rodeo tickets for stocking stuffers,” says Michael Green, curator of Calgary theatre company One Yellow Rabbit’s three-week international festival of the arts, Jan. 3-20, featuring almost two dozen pieces.

Enough about everyone else; how about an intimate image of oneself? No, not boudoir photography. Think CSI: Ottawa-based DNA 11 harvests a gene sample from a swab wiped on the inside of your mouth, then prints a digitally enhanced genetic image on a canvas, using colours specified by the donor. The resulting piece looks like abstract art: strands running down the page, bisected by fluorescent bars. They’re an investment, too–DNA portraits run between $390 and $790.

Gift-wrap a couple of tickets to a ritzy international festival, close to home. Sort of. The eighth annual Dawson City International Short Film Festival runs April 6-8 in the Yukon. A mere 536 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse, filmmakers from around the world make the trek to the city of approximately 2,000 people each year.

No matter where, “If I had a wish it would be that people would think of seeing a Canadian movie, and that people would realize what a great wealth of talent we have here,” says Terry McEvoy, filmmaker and programmer of Canadian content for the acclaimed Vancouver International Film Festival. “Most importantly, they tell our stories, whether it’s a documentary about a different land, or based in Canada; the films come from a Canadian perspective.”

Topping McEvoy’s list of must-see flicks is the documentary Mystic Ball. Winner of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s most popular Canadian feature award, Greg Hamilton’s film is about the ancient Burmese game of chin-lone, a non-competitive sport played in a team but not against any team. Next in line is actress Sarah Polley’s feature-film directorial debut, the lyrical and bittersweet Away From Her, based on a short story by Alice Munro about a couple separated by Alzheimer’s. If you must buy an electronic gadget, combat dust bunnies with the iRobot Roomba Scheduler Intelligent Vacuum, and win over your favourite clean freak, too. For just under $450, this little guy will vacuum the house in your absence, following pre-set schedules. The machine (which looks like a portable CD player) even plugs itself in for a recharge at the end of the day.

Or increase an outdoorsy computer geek’s odds of survival in the bush with the Victorinox Swiss Memory Knife. From the makers of the all-purpose Swiss Army Knife comes an updated model with a 64MB USB flash drive, as well as a blade, nail file, ballpoint pen, scissors and red LED light. If the laptop has to be used to start a fire, the removable flash drive will store vital info until a rescue crew is downloaded to the site.

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Finally, spread some salve on retail burnout at Ten Thousand Villages, the Mennonite Central Committee’s program that pioneered the concept of fair trade 60 years ago. Give a gift through their popular Living Gift Donation program. Your picky auntie just might be tickled you bought some poor family a pig in her name, or the 18-rabbit option might go over well.

Happy holidays. May your bills be small and your spirit tall.

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