Holidays are a time for gift giving, a tradition that can be traced to the very first Christmas, when three wise kings from the East bestowed tributes to the newborn Son of God.

Over time, the holiday season evolved, and gift-giving became more than a symbolic homage to the Three Wise Men, thanks to a beloved character who joined in on the celebration in the 19th century: Santa Claus. Yuletide’s main gift-giver travels the globe each Dec. 24 and leaves gifts under the tree — and in the stockings — of good girls and boys.

Today, gift exchange is as much a part of the holiday season as the Christmas tree itself.

According to the National Retail Federation — the world’s largest retail trade association —  consumers will spend an average $1,007.24 during the holiday season this year, up 4.1 percent from the $967.13 last year.

They will spend in three main categories — gifts at $637.67, items such as food, decorations, flowers and greeting cards at $215.04 and non-gift purchases made because deals are good at $154.53.This year, consumers received a gift: Christmas falls on a Monday, instead of a Sunday, which provides consumers an extra weekend day to complete their holiday shopping.

According to research, for every $100 spent in a locally owned store, $45 stays within the local economy, which helps creates jobs, supports infrastructure and services and stimulates economic development.

Many local businesses are open for extended hours and have special deals and promotions in the spirit of the holiday.

On the Shop Local front: There are many shopping options all along the Outer Banks region: Tanger Outlets and the Outer Banks Mall in Nags Head, the Dare Center in Kill Devil Hills, Scarborough Faire, Wee Winks Square and Loblolly Pine in Duck, and Timbuck II and Monteray Shores shopping Plazas in Corolla, and Manteo’s quaint downtown area with one-of-a-kind shops and the many unique galleries, jewelry stores, clothing boutiques and more on Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island are not to be missed.

It's tempting to buy from an online retailer, with many offering free shipping, but doing so does nothing to bolster the local economy: Research shows that holiday sales can account for between a third and nearly two-thirds of a retailer’s annual turnover.

A bad Christmas can mark disaster for a small business.

On top of that, online shopping denies consumers the chance to experience the singular joy that comes from entering a shop that has been decked out for the holidays, the aroma of pine or cinnamon and seasonal music in the air and being offered a cup of eggnog or hot apple cider by the owner.

Jennifer Stillwell says she wouldn’t consider buying gifts online, given the array of products available in local shops.

“Why would I give something generic that anyone can buy when I can pop into a shop like Lady Victorian and not only find great stuff but be treated like Princess Kate,” Stillwell says. “There’s nothing like interacting with staff at a local business that not only cares about the bottom line but also cares about its customers. Every time I walk into that store, even if I buy something inexpensive, I’m treated like I spent hundreds of dollars. You don’t get that on Amazon.”

John Ruth says he considers shopping local to be his responsibility as a good citizen, but he quickly adds there’s something intangible that’s equally as important that speaks to the sense of community.

“Everyone knows that shopping locally invigorates our community’s economy, but things of a more personal nature are stimulated, as well,” Ruth says. “One can easily experience that small village seasonal sensation by walking into decorated establishments where you know the owners and the employees will greet you and serve you on a sincere level.”

Kelly Mitchell agrees.

“I can’t say I haven’t shopped online from time-to-time or gone to Lynnhaven Mall, but I always check out local stores before I drive two hours just to spend my money,” Mitchell says. “Normally, I can find pretty cool stuff right here, and I like knowing that I’m doing my part to help local businesses. I love the Outer Banks, and it wouldn’t be what it is without local businesses.”


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