Celebs and beloved Chicago notables share best Christmas gifts to give and get

Celebs and beloved Chicago notables share best Christmas gifts to give and get

I absolutely adore the holidays! I would leave my decor up year round if I could and, as a matter of fact, I do have a cabinet filled with antique Christmas stuff that stays up all year.

I’m always curious what other people think about the holidays so I asked a few of my favorite celebrities and Chicago notables to answer a couple of questions for me. 1) What is the best gift you’ve ever received?  2) What is your favorite gift to give? I was surprised and humbled by their thoughtful answers.

Taylor Kinney of "Chicago Fire."

Taylor Kinney of “Chicago Fire.”

Chicago Fire actor/hunk and all-around great guy Taylor Kinney loves to gift photographs. He says, “I enjoy shooting black and white photography on 35mm film. If I take a photo of someone and I like the way it turns out, I enjoy the process of printing it and framing it and giving it to them. That to me is worth more than something I can buy at a store.” I laughed when I read his response to the best gift he ever received. “It was the best and worst gift I’ve received. It was my first bike. When I was around 5 years-old, I asked Santa Claus for a motorcycle and he brought me something with training wheels. It was the worst because it didn’t have a motor. I lost faith in Santa. In the end, I loved the bike because I learned how to ride but I never asked Santa for a motorcycle ever again,” Taylor said. Love this!




Fashion designer Pamella Roland.

One of my very favorite fashion designers/friends is Pamella Roland, she of the uber-elegant evening wear. She has a home in Chicago but truly is a woman of the world. Celebrities clamor for her clothes as do I. It was no surprise that her favorite gift to receive was a Pamella Roland scarf. The best gift she ever received though was from her daughter Cassandra who hand-knitted her a scarf. She added, “But something special and a surprise was when I was in Paris with my daughter Sydney. She saw this trunk which was custom made by Louis Vuitton. It was called the Cindy Sherman, and it was a customized studio in a trunk created in 2014 that took about 10 months to make. It was quite something and I didn’t know where to put it but we found the perfect place in the closet of our Chicago home!” Just love her!



Chicago Tribune senior writer Rick Kogan.

One of my very favorite writers is Rick Kogan, who’s had a column in the Chicago Tribune, among other publications, for a very long time. He writes about Chicago in ways that make me weep. He doesn’t strike me as the sentimental type but his answer about the best gift he’s ever received made me think otherwise. “A kiss on the cheek and a silver dollar from a woman dressed as Mrs. Santa Clause at the bygone Tavern Club when I was 10, ” he said. His favorite gift to give are “books of all kinds.” He and his Kate Murray make such a beautiful pair. You should watch for his work in print, on the radio and TV…..EVERYWHERE!


Philanthropist Israel “Izzy” Idonije.

Someone who has made such an impact on Chicago’s philanthropic world, Israel “Izzy” Idonije, also responded to my questions. He recently debuted his FBRK Impact House, a philanthropy center where nonprofits can land for collaborations that will strengthen their collective impact and maximize their potential. His favorite gift he’s ever given was paying off his parents’ home mortgage and the most exciting gift he’s ever received, as a child, was a Sega video game console (that he still has!) Lol!



Giordano Dance Chicago artistic director, Nan Giordano.

I love the world of dance, especially here in Chicago. One of my favorite companies is Giordano Dance Chicago. Their hearts are as big as their talent, all led and hand-picked by founder/artistic director Nan Giordano. Her favorite gift to give is filling her son Keenan’s stocking with “many tiny treasures.” She said it’s been his favorite thing to open on Christmas Day ever since he was a small child! The best gift she’s ever received is learning on Christmas Eve in 1994 that she was pregnant. “Best gift ever,” she said. Love thissssss!!!



The Joffrey Ballet's artistic director, Ashley Wheater.

The Joffrey Ballet’s artistic director, Ashley Wheater.

Another favorite in the world of dance world is The Joffrey Ballet’s artistic director Ashley Wheater. He said, “I know it might seem like a cliché, but the greatest gift is love and friendship. My gift to give is supporting people who are in need.” The best gift he’s ever received? “Sharing the day with Brian, the love of my life.” Awwwww….:-)






Jonny Imerman, co-founder of Imerman Angels.

Jonny Imerman is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. After he had scary bout with testicular cancer, he and a group of friends founded the amazing nonprofit Imerman Angels, that provides 24/7 cancer mentoring support so “no one ever has to face the diagnosis alone.” He said, “My favorite gift is sharing my story and mentoring other young adults with testicular cancer. I would never wish anyone to have it. If someone does though, it’s one of the best feelings in the world for cancer survivors to share their story with the next person who has just started fighting the same disease. The friendships are so deep and powerful! On all sides! It’s our honor as survivors to share our ‘insider tips’ and knowledge to empower and inspire the next fighter in the battle,” he said. The best gift he’s ever received?  “One year not long ago, I got all my roots friends together for the holiday in Detroit, where I’m from and we spent some quality time together. I think the best gifts focus on human energy, not stuff. Just sayin,'” Jonny said.


Chef Art Smith and his mom Addie Mae.

One of my favorite chefs in the world is Art Smith. His rise to fame started with Oprah Winfrey who he cooked for and then eventually began appearing on many of her shows. The rest, as they say, is history since he and his husband Jesus Salgueiro now have many restaurants under their belts, not to mention, countless TV appearances around the globe, a beautiful family of four and a thriving nonprofit, Common Threads. His favorite gift to give? “The gift of food! Dinner that I cook or a big homemade cake!” His favorite gift received? “Oprah gave my mother Addie Mae and me a trip to Italy and Greece. I had broken up with my old boyfriend and she asked who I would like to take and I said, for such a generous gift, it deserves to be shared with the woman that gave me life.” Chef Art, this is a tear-jerker and oh-so sweet!


Debi Lilly, founder A Perfect Event.

If you’re looking for A Perfect Event, look no further than Chief Eventeur Debi Lilly! Besides being a master event planner, her eponymous brand can be found in the 2500 Safeway Albertsons stores in North America, to name just one of her many partners. Her favorite gift to give are ready-to-pop amaryllis or paperwhite flower bulbs. She said “they’re the perfect vibe for a Chicago winter.” Her husband Mike Springer is responsible for her favorite gift–a sketch of her beloved grandpa following his passing. She keeps it in her wallet to keep him close.


Lisa Fielding, WBBM Newsradio 780 host.

I have too many favorite media peeps to list them all here but one of my tops is Lisa Fielding, WBBM Newsradio 780 host. Her voice is so perfectly pitched that I could listen to her all day. And I’ve yet to hear her make a mistake as she covers all the top news stories of the day. She said her motto is “more experiences, less stuff.” I can relate to that. She said, “I’m a much better gift giver than a receiver. I love to give experiences, especially to my young nieces and nephews. I’ll rarely buy them toys. My godson loves the theater so I always take him to a show or a play. My niece loves sports so I get tickets to a Cubs or Bulls game. I personalize them to their interests. Those kind of gifts also guarantee quality time together beyond the holidays.” She added, “Due to my career, I spent most of my adult life away from family and friends each holiday so the best gift I could ever receive now is being nearer to those I love most!” Just love her!



Melissa Forman, host 93.9 Lite FM.

Another favorite media star/friend is Melissa Forman. I got to know her (and love her) when she was hosting WCIU’sYou & Me“, one of my favorite shows that I still miss. She has moved on to star on the radio as a host on 93.9 Lite FM. Melissa’s favorite gift and one that makes her feel loved is by friend/designer Margie Cedrone that she never takes off, a beautiful gold necklace with her initials. A favorite gift of hers to give are hats, especially those found here. She said, “This might be the softest thing that ever goes on your head. Literally like butter!” She liked their price point too, under $15! She said she’s  “ordered 100”! Lol!


sylvia-perez-1024x682WFLD-TV host of “Good Day Chicago,” Sylvia Perez, said her favorite gift she ever received brought tears to her eyes. Her daughters made her a plaque when she started her own company, Sylvia Perez Productions, that hangs in her office. Her favorite gift to give is something she makes herself, like baked goods, or a bottle of Coquito. She said, “It’s a traditional Christmas drink, a Puerto Rican coconut rum punch that reminds me of my heritage and the traditions that come with it. The rum will kick you in the butt but it will help make the holidays even more cheerful!”



Maria Pappas, Cook County Treasurer.

My favorite politico/friend is Maria Pappas. She’s doing such a kick-ass job in the Cook County Treasurer’s Office and receiving accolades from every community because of it. Her top gift for giving is organic oregano from a farm in Greece, where she’s from. Her best gift to give? “Advice for straightening out your life!” Lol! She can also add therapist to her long list of talents too!

I loved all of these thoughtful answers and had so many more people I wanted to include. The gift of the holidays means something different to everyone. My favorite gift? All of you….:-) so thank you.

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