As the holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods — merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor.

This year can be different. This year, Americans should give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans. There is no longer the excuse that, at gift-giving time, nothing can be found that is produced by Americans' hands.

Yes, there is. It is time to think outside the box, people.

Who says a gift needs to fit inside a shoe box, wrapped in Chinese-produced wrapping paper? Everyone — yes <i>everyone —</i> gets their hair cut. How about a gift certificate from your local American hair salon or barber?

Gym membership? It's appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health movement.

Who wouldn't appreciate getting their car detailed? Small American-owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate. Are you an extravagant giver who thinks nothing of plunking down the dollars on a Chinese made flat-screen? Perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or games at the local golf course.

There are a bazillion owner-run restaurants — all offering gift certificates. And if your intended isn't the fancy eatery sort, what about a half-dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint? Remember, this isn't about big national chains, this is about helping your hometown Americans, with their financial lives on the line, to keep their doors open.

How many people couldn't use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a shop owned and run by the American working guy?

Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom? Mom would love the services of a local cleaning lady for a day.

My computer needs a tune-up, and I know I can find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running.

OK, you were looking for something more personal? Local craftspeople spin their own wool and knit it into scarves. They make jewelry, pottery and beautiful wooden boxes.

And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theater? Musicians need love, too, so find a venue showcasing local bands.

Honestly, do you really need to buy another 10,000 Chinese lights for the house? When you buy a $5 string of lights, about 50 cents stays in the community. If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave your postal carrier, paper deliverer, trash guy or baby-sitter a nice big tip.

You see, Christmas is no longer about draining American pockets so that China can build another glittering city. Christmas is now about caring about us, encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away to follow their dreams. And when we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn't imagine. Remember, the job you save may be your own.

<i>Jim Bald is a resident of Healdsburg.</i>