Mickey Mouse, microbrew, etc…low-co$t Chanukah gifts

Let's not call them "stocking stuffers." At Afikomen Jewish Books & Art in Berkeley, they're called "Night 3" gifts. Not the main attraction, but a cute, cheap way to get through eight days of gift-giving (for parents who choose to do so). This Chanukah for the first time, Disney has licensed Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and others for a line of wooden cartoon dreidels. "They're moving quite well," says David Cooper, co-owner of the store. At $6, you can even afford to get Goofy.

Time in a Token

It's absolutely free — but you might end up roller-blading, playing dress-up or discovering the richly hued complexities of action-adventure movie plots. Give the gift of time, says Henry Shreibman, head of Brandeis-Hillel Day School. Make a Shreibman-patented "Time Token" — a kind of voucher promising half an hour of your time, or an hour, or however long you have to spare, and wrap one up for each child. "They suggest the activity," says Shreibman of the young recipients, "within reason."

Sneaky, Sneaky

The kids open a "Night 3"-style gift to find Jewish star and dreidel stickers, a rubber stamp and several blank cards. It's arts and crafts, it's low-budget and yes, it's a sneaky way to encourage kids to send homemade thank-you notes. The suggestion comes from Cindy Harband, owner of Paper Caper in Burlingame. Stickers range from 20 cents to $1, blank cards are sold by the pound and rubber stamps bearing common first names are $6. This year's stickers are "shiny, bright, colorful and prismatic." This might also describe Grandma's face when she gets her first thank-you note.

For Grownups

Here's a way to celebrate the Jews' quixotic courage against the Romans: Gather your own guts and give something sweet to someone you've been sweet on. According to Marsha Winer, who operates the matchmaking service Jewish Connection, "Candy is always a favorite" first gift between would-be sweethearts. Try a plastic dreidel filled with jellybeans and hard candy by Paskesz, available at most local Judaica stores for around $1.69. Or visit Willow Glen Kosher Market outside San Jose for a handful of 49-cent Israeli chocolate bars and a $7.99 bottle of Gan Eden Black Muscat wine. The label promises a "rose-petal aroma with spicy flavors" and a taste that goes "great with chocolate" (what doesn't?).

A Memory

"Even for elderly Jews who don't celebrate Christmas, this is the darkest time of year. There's a real push to be with family," says elder care consultant and psychotherapist Allan Grill. Take a lonely relative, friend or neighbor out to tea, he suggests. He also recommends buying latke mix (sold in many supermarkets for under $2) and spending an afternoon cooking holiday food with a homebound senior who has been feeling isolated. "It may be a memory that lasts a long time," Grill says.

Staff Favorite

It might be hard to tear one of these cuties away from the employees of bob & bob fine Jewish gifts, crafts and books in Palo Alto: The staff has grown especially fond of a brand-new species, the Chanukah bear. "He's so adorable; they have such cute faces, nice fur and a light blue sweater," says clerk Linda Lichtenstein. The $9 bears are "for anybody: children, people who collect bears. It's also nice to have at Bubbe's house when the kids come to visit."

The Inevitable

Okay, so here's the requisite readable gift — the rectangular package that sits until the last night. But wait! Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, educator at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, has some inspired selections for teens and young adults. The rabbi recommends "Souls on Fire" or any of Elie Wiesel's commonly overlooked non-Holocaust novels. "They are really powerful books," he says. Other ideas for that age group: anything by I.B. Singer or Bernard Malamud. Go to a secondhand bookstore, he says, "and you can pick them up for a song."

This Ain't Your Bubbe's Chicken Soup

Why is this beer different from all other beers? It's "He'brew, the Chosen Beer." Jeremy Cowen, a 27-year-old Stanford grad, will be distributing the first 100 cases of his new light brown ale this holiday season. "The concept was to make a Jewish celebration beer," says Cowen, who gave the beer a Middle Eastern tang by adding hints of pomegranate, and revealed his Jewish soul by deciding to donate 10 percent of the company's profits to charity. At about $3 a bottle, it's not a bad way to tell someone, "Don't pass out, Pass-over" — as it says on the label. To find the brew, call (415) 3-HEBREW or e-mail [email protected]