Twinkly lights. For something so simple, they are so enticing. Not to over-generalize, but I don’t think I have ever encountered anyone who doesn’t like them. They make rooms feel instantly more festive; they add such a romantic charm to downtown streets when spiraling around streetlamps and tree limbs.

Years ago, when assessing a new photography filter (you remember — the kind you put on a physical camera, not that thing from Instagram or wherever), I spent the afternoon at Max Square Park, simply photographing the decorative lights. Twinkly lights just feel so friendly — you want to leave them up all year because of their ambience, but don’t want to risk losing the magic.

Turns out, a quick Google search revealed twinkly lights trigger fond childhood memories that, in turn, flood the brain with dopamine. Guess the so-called magic isn’t quite “magic” after all.

What continues to stay magical year after year is the blossoming festivities throughout the valley as the last leaves fall and the first snowflakes are spotted. Our downtown and community businesses reveal glowing, beautiful displays as we start to make our gift lists and wish lists. Even the gently piping music changes into the ever-familiar “that time of year” Wham-tastic classics as we hear more of Mariah in six weeks than we need to in a lifetime (if you don’t know me well, just know that, yes, I am doing a slight eye roll as I hit repeat on the N’SYNC holiday album).

While I will admit, I’m pretty quick to volume-down on Mariah, I eagerly await the excited buzz of holiday bazaars and activities with the same anticipation as I have since I was a child. Exploring each table and booth before heading down to gaze in wonderment of what felt like never-ending displays of holiday splendor as I impatiently struggled to see every single detail of the sights ... I can feel my heart race a little just reminiscing. The lively chatter, the dainty scent of pine boughs and candles, the fresh baked goods — all of it is an inescapable memory of warmth.

Nowadays, my enthusiasm partly stems from catching up with longtime acquaintances whom I see less frequently. Tempting as telling Santa what I’d like still seems to be, I love hopping from shop to shop, looking for the giving trees, then conducting a scavenger hunt for what I would like to imagine is the quintessential goodie to help share the magic.

Last year, we lacked the bazaars and the interactions for which we come so dearly to look forward; hopefully, this year will shape up to be (safely) different as more and more of us slowly and cautiously start planning events and holiday gatherings. We shopped curbside and ordered takeout for months; this year, I am eager to share those forgone holiday parties at restaurants and around family tables over laughter and building future fond memories.

As you make your plans and start your shopping lists, remember to look local this holiday season. There are so many little small business gems in the Grande Ronde Valley — the treasures you find here are unlike what you’ll find anywhere else. Plus. the hunt, the exploration is half the fun.

Explore the valley for unique finds — grab a coffee and treat from Brother Bear Cafe, Le Bebe Cakes or the Liberty Cafe (or, something from all three — I’m not judging), then head to the Union Merc for some one-of-a-kind finds before traveling to the north end of the valley to All 4 You Salon & More in Elgin. Definitely grab lunch at the Summerville Tavern before stopping by Kauffman’s Market in Island City for delicate and charming home decor. Or, look for a fun Sasquatch knickknack or world-famous sausage from the Imbler Market, or browse the plethora of goodies from disc golf and birder supplies to craft beer at the Bobolink. You could fill many days discovering what we have locally.

One of the Chamber’s Ambassadors said it best: Why wait for two days (or more) for it to be delivered when you can have it now? Explore new local businesses or revisit the familiar places you shopped at when you were a kid — that doesn’t mean their displays aren’t a treasure trove of new adventures this season.

So, get out there, stir up some childhood nostalgia (even if it’s just for the dopamine) and hang a few strands of twinkly lights. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up a winner of the chamber’s annual county-wide Holiday Decorating Competition.

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Suzannah Moore-Hemann is the executive director of the Union County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Information Center.

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