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Last minute gift ideas: What to give when you’re out of time

By Amanda J. McGrath,

Christmas is this weekend, we’re halfway through Hanukkah -- and you still haven’t managed to finish your holiday shopping. Here, last-minute gift ideas to help you cross those last few names off your list.

No time to shop? Really-last-minute options

Gift cards: Obvious? Yes. But you don’t really have time for creativity. Readily available at gas stations and drug stores and supermarkets, they’re the last-minute multitasker’s dream. Most major chains now feature a rack of gift cards good for a variety of restaurants, online retailers and clothing stores, along with the all-purpose, good-anywhere-credit-cards-are-accepted options. And if you can get to grandmother’s house without passing a CVS, 7-11 or Safeway, you have achieved the impossible. Still, be careful, advises The Post’s Michelle Singletary: Make sure the card you purchase hasn’t been tampered with, and check the receipt to confirm that the cashier activated the card.

Downloadable gifts: The beauty of digital gifts that the recipients can download to their own gadgets? No shipping required. iTunes, for example, allows you to buy music, videos and apps for others. Just select “Gift this” when you’re ready to check out and the recipient gets an e-mail from which he can download the purchase. Want to make it more personal? Give a modern mix tape by creating a playlist from your own iTunes music, clicking the arrow next to the playlist name and selecting “Give playlist.” The recipient gets an e-mail

For the readers on your list, books are just a click and an e-mail away: Amazon.com’s Kindle books and Barnes and Noble’s NOOK books can be purchased as digital gifts. And if it turns out they’ve already read that one? Your giftee can exchange it for site gift credit.

If you’re worried that opening an e-mail isn’t much fun as ripping the paper off of a present, Giftwhip.com lets you “wrap” any digital-gift e-mail in festive paper, with a countdown clock that determines when the present is revealed. And if you prefer something more tangible, most sites will let you print a copy of the e-mail notification.

Online subscriptions: Perfect for homebodies and internet addicts. A subscription to streaming video services like Netflix or Hulu Plus will keep a couch potato happy, and a GameFly subscription should satisfy any serious video gamer.

Charitable donations: Appreciated by do-gooders everywhere, and tax-deductible. Not sure which organization they care about most? At Charitygiftcertificates.org, you pony up the funds and the giftee chooses which charity gets them. Prefer something specific? OxFam America Unwrapped lets you buy gifts such as mosquito nets ($25), a goat ($50), a water pump ($135) and, um, manure ($12). Someone in need gets the goods, and your recipient gets a card and possibly some residual good karma.

Need to whip something up at home?

Twenty-five different cookie recipes for sweet treats worth giving. Because everyone loves cookies. (Except perhaps the gluten-intolerant — but we have them covered, too).

If you’ve got crafty talent (and supplies), check out the winners of this year’s Holiday Craft Contest for inspiration.

Just enough time for a quick shopping trip?

For the avid reader: The Washington Post’s picks for the best books of 2011

For the non-reader when your only option is a bookstore: Try one of these gorgeous photo books or a top-notch cookbook.

For the book-lover who really doesn’t need another book: Stylish bookends keep her collection organized.

For the preteen you wish would stop staring at a screen for five minutes: The Angry Birds card game is an old-school riff on the wildly popular app.

For the cinema snob: These DVDs will impress any film buff

For nostalgic television connoisseur: DVD box sets for fans of everything from “Little Rascals” to “The Bionic Woman”

For the concert-goer: The most comfortable earplugs our music critic can find.

For the co-worker who always eats lunch at her desk: This “silver” plastic cutlery will class up her lunch hour.

For the D.C. gourmand with a sweet tooth: Gorgeous chocolate bars in unusual flavors (try strawberry and pink peppercorn, or lavender pistachio)

For the kitchen newbie: He’s going to make a mess. A quirky-print apron will help.

For the overachieving preteen: Puzzles and media for the young math whiz, musician or budding artist, or a building toy our kid-testers called “epic.”

For the kid who needs action: A remote control car that can do flips, a game that lets you throw things at your friends.

For the domestic goddess: 20 gifts for the home — stylish and practical — all for under $50

For the gardener: Indulge his green thumb with a game of Gardenopoly or a functional rain suit that will make him look like a Teletubby.

For the cousin who can’t resist the lure of TMZ: The celebrity-obsessed will appreciate the autotuning fun of an “I Am T-Pain” microphone or the sweet smell of Justin Bieber’s fragrance.

For the college senior: Professional clothes and serious stationary will make the transition to the working world (job market willing) easier.

For the friend who always lets you borrow her notes: A digital note-taking pen will help her record what happens in class or meetings.

For the stylish political junkie: Try a Michelle Obama tote bag; or a Swarovski campaign pin by jeweler Ann Hand.

For the dinner party enthusiasts: A new wooden salad bowl , colorful tray or classic serving dish will help them present the meal.

For the traveler who’s currently broke: Let him live vicariously through Patricia Shultz’s “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”

NEED MORE IDEAS? Explore hundreds of other gift suggestions

More from Holiday Guide: Festive recipes they’ll love, holiday-ready homes and no-fuss party-planning Gift ideas: Kid-tested toys, critic-approved entertainment picks and more options for evey budget Gadget gifts: Which smartphones, tablets and tech toys to add to your list A stress-free holiday: Advice from the experts on dealing with family, travel and health this season. Celebrate in Washington: Find local holiday activities

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