The List I Keep in My Phone During the Holiday Season

By |Published On: November 28, 2023|

I met Jean back in September while I was manning the Rediscover State College booth with our team at Pop Up Ave. After a pandemic hiatus, our local urban flea style maker and vintage market was back in action and the atmosphere downtown was perfect. It was a sunny, sweater weather kind of fall day, the beer garden in MLK Plaza was packed, and the music mirrored everyone’s upbeat spirits.

We had a blast talking with everyone from State College natives to in-town-for-the-weekend visitors and Jean was one of the locals who stopped by to check out some of our shirts. Even though it was still early fall when we chatted, she told us about a really cool upcoming local event that happens every year in December that I’ve been excited to share with you – University Baptist and Brethren Church’s Alternative Christmas Fair. I had never heard of this event and it made me appreciate (again!) how often I find out about something interesting that’s happening around town only because I’m out doing something else interesting around town. It’s the “State College Secret Reward System” in action, where we all get treated to little bonus nuggets of local knowledge as a reward for getting out and investing in our community. I love this quality about living here and these experiences consistently add to the feeling that there is always someone new and wonderful to meet or something unexpected and intriguing to experience for the first time.

Even though the Alternative Christmas Fair was new to me, it’s clearly been much less of a secret to many others in our community. Now in its 41st year, the event has raised more than $900,000 to date for local, national, and international charities! Each year, 30 charities gather in the church’s Fellowship Hall (411 S. Burrowes St., downtown), a lunch is served, and community members can wander and learn about each organization. Then you can “check out” and donate to whichever organizations you choose, all in one go. An amazing idea, a convenient way to support lots of wonderful causes, and a great complement to traditional gift giving. (This year’s fair is happening on December 3, but on this Giving Tuesday, it’s also the perfect time to embrace the spirit of generosity and show some love to our favorite organizations now!)

While I’m thinking about the orgs I want to support, I’m also keeping the small businesses and local restaurants that I love the most in mind. Would I be devastated if Tait Farm’s Harvest Shop was no longer around to pick up adorable gifts, delicious fig and olive relish, and flowers? Yes. Would life be less beautiful without an Irving’s breakfast special and a coffee to brighten a Saturday morning? 100%. So I keep a note in my phone with a running list of go-to local favorites. When I need a host/hostess gift, we’re entertaining out of town guests, or I’m blanking on an idea for something more creative than an Amazon gift card, I have a list of ideas ready to go.

Top host/hostess gift spots of the moment? Kitchen Kaboodle, Tait Farm, Smith & Front, and all of the wonderful holiday markets happening this time of year!

Favorite restaurants to take out of town guests lately? India Pavilion, Tadashi, Gigi’s, and Hublersburg Inn.

And great local gift card gifting? Rothrock Coffee, Hotel State College (good at all of their restaurants, including Chumley’s, Allen Street Grill, and the Corner Room), and Simply Health Salt Spa.

If your Black Friday inbox looked anything like mine, you received countless invitations to shop with businesses from all over. I’m taking Jean’s invitation to check out the Alternative Christmas Fair as a reminder to refocus on all of the great things happening locally – and to find lots of ways to shop and share our favorite State College businesses this season.

Laura Mustio made her way to State College via Pittsburgh in 2015. Her writing celebrates our area’s hidden gems, treasured locals, and not-to-be-missed experiences.

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