Raleigh, N.C. — What do you get for the Tar Heel who has everything? How about everything Tar Heel, and no we’re not talking about light-blue paraphernalia from a certain post-secondary school in Chapel Hill.
Since 1941, state lawmakers have been designating official state emblems, beverages, dances, mammals and two kinds of berries to represent North Carolina. More than 40 items, critters and festivals can claim to officially represent our fair state.
Some our official symbols might be a bit abstract or hard to live with – we can’t in good conscience recommend keeping a grey squirrel as a pet – but there are more docile alternatives that can stand in for the wilder side of the ultimate North Carolina gift basket.
Gift Basket #1: Eat up
Not only does North Carolina have an official state beverage – milk – but the state has designated a variety of official state produce, which you can easily pick up at the nearest farmers market or grocery store.
The sweet potato is the official state vegetable. And while fresh scuppernong grapes can be hard to find this time of year, local producers turn out jams and wine made from North Carolina’s official state fruit. North Carolina also boasts an official red berry, the strawberry, and official blue berry. You guessed it, it's the blueberry.
The honey bee has also been adopted as the official state insect. Since apartment dwellers might not be able to keep a window-sill hive, a nice jar of honey might suffice.
We priced out this shopping trip at around $20, but your price will vary based on sizes, prices, availability and whether you go for wine or jam.
Give the gift of NC's chosen language
English is North Carolina’s official state language. Those looking for a quick and easy gift might consider a dictionary. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is available from Amazon for $13.77.
Want to go above and beyond? How about a nice note with proper spelling and punctuation?
Road trip #1: Festival edition
North Carolina has designated 12 different official festivals, most of them having to do with food – including two separate livermush festivals and two different watermelon festivals. The upside: most of these festivals are free. The down side: gas money.
Assuming 12 separate round trips from Raleigh, someone who attends every festival in the state will log more than 3,600 miles. Here’s your itinerary:
- MARCH: Folkmoot USA, the official international festival. Based in Waynesville, Folkmoot includes more than a week of events, many of which charge admission.
- APRIL: The Grifton Shad Festival.
- APRIL: The Herring Festival in Jamesville.
- MAY: Albemarle Potato Festival.
- JUNE: The Marion Livermush Festival is the official SPRING livermush festival. And yes, there is an official fall livermush festival.
- MID-JULY: The Fair Bluff Watermelon Festival, is the official celebration of all things watermelon in Southeastern NC.
- AUGUST: Hertford County Watermelon Festival, is the official Northeastern North Carolina Watermelon Festival.
- AUGUST: Sneads Ferry Shrimp Festival.
- SEPTEMBER: Ayden Collard Festival.
- OCTOBER: The Lexington Barbecue Festival is the official state barbecue festival. Please do NOT call it the official barbecue festival. Lawmakers did not want to pick sides in the age-old debate between which is better, tomato-tinged “Lexington” ‘cue sauce favored in the western part of the state, or “Eastern Barbecue” which is a vinegar based sauce.
- OCTOBER: The Shelby Livermush Festival is the official FALL livermush festival.
- OCTOBER: The Swansboro Mullet Festival. It celebrates the fish and fisherman rather than the haircut.
It’s hard to fix a price to this one. Folkmoot is the only event on the list that charges admission for some of its events. Set aside $60 for a pair to attend opening or closing night festivities. For the other 11 festivals, it would be travesty to leave without sampling the local delicacies, so a minimum of $20 per pair per festival is in order, or $220. As for transportation, you’ll want to budget enough for at least 15 tanks of gas, an oil change and some road snacks — $1,000. Total price: $1,280.
Spring for some bling
Our state mineral is gold, honoring the United States’ first gold rush, and our state stone is emerald. Gentlemen, be glad it’s not a diamond.
For those hoping for a slightly cheaper way out of this one, you could take your beloved down the Museum of Natural Sciences to see the biggest emerald dug out of the ground in North Carolina. You might also consider investing some of those savings into a pillow and sleeping bag for the doghouse.
Prices can vary on jewelry, but a minimum cost estimate here starts at $75 for some simple yellow gold and emerald earrings, although if you tried that museum thing last year, consider something with a little more sparkle.
Go cheaper with the state rock
The state rock is granite and the state shell is the Scotch bonnet. The romantics here at WRAL say you should sweep your beloved away on trips to the mountain the beach in order to search for these materials first hand. But there are already a couple of pricey road trips on our list.
So might we recommend etsy.com, that haven for hand crafters? Recent searches have turned up $10 scotch bonnet necklaces and $6 granite whiskey stones. Total cost: $16.
Gift basket #2: Plant something
The Fraser fir is the state’s official Christmas tree. And yes, one can be had at corner tree lots throughout the region this time of year. We suggest planting one so it can be enjoyed beyond the holiday season.
Once the garden tools are out, pick up a dogwood, the official state flower, along with a pine tree, the official state tree. A long-leaf pine would be ideal, but may be hard to track down. Also on our horticulture list: a Venus flytrap, the state’s official carnivorous plant, and the Carolina Lily, our official wildflower.
And while the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, North Carolina’s official state butterfly, isn’t a plant, it can be lured to your garden with milkweed and Japanese honeysuckle.
All told, you’ll spend about $82 on various plant specimens, but may want to set aside a bit more for shipping (on the flytrap) or for dirt, shovels and a pot for the flytrap. Call this an even $100.
Give to get with these living gifts
Among the harder to capture state symbols are North Carolina’s state bird (the cardinal), state reptile (eastern box turtle) and state horse (colonial Mustang). Again, the romantic in us wants to suggest a weekend of bird watching, hiking and exploring, but the pragmatist in us says it’s cold out and we’re already planning to spend much of the year on the road.
But ‘tis the season to be charitable. Those who subscribe to the N.C. Audubon Society's "Cardinal Club," a monthly contribution program, both support the society's work and receive a "singing cardinal plushy bird." A $5 minimum monthly contribution adds up to $60 a year.
A contribution to N.C. State’s turtle rescue team can stand in for living with a grumpy reptile. Call that another $60.
As for the state’s horse, a donation to the Corolla Wilde Horse Fund will help conserve and manage the wild herd, which will be around for a visit when you head down east for one of those food festivals. Total cost: $180.
Gifts to warm from head to ...
What does a real Scotsman wear under his kilt? We have no idea. But if you have one on your list, Carolina has adopted an official tartan. From what we can tell, these are some of the pricier items of clothing that one might own, so set aside $450.
And since it probably isn’t exactly a Christmas gift to ship one’s children off to military school, we suggest a nice sweatshirt from the Oak Ridge Military Academy, which is the state military academy.
Gifts that scamper and howl
We really wanted to recommend a hunting license and a cookbook for the state mammal, the gray squirrel. But given recent controversies over the annual possum drop, we have a more humane suggestion.
Get the kid in your life gray squirrel puppet. Amazon sells a pretty posh version for $25.
As for the state dog, the Plott Hound, a puppy from a reputable breeder will run about $250 according to our online searches. But we suggest finding out more about the breed by reading: The Story of the Plott Hound: Strike & Stay, published by The History Press, available for $16. Total cost: $41, much less than the cost (and mess) of an actual puppy.
Road trip #2: Racin’, fishin’, dancin’ and history
As you digest all that livermush, watermelon and mullet, get ready to hit the road again. There are some things on North Carolina’s list of official symbols that are best experienced firsthand:
- Shagging is the state’s official popular dance. The Raleigh Shag Club can hook you up with dance lessons for $40 per person per month.
- Clogging is the state’s official folk dance. It can be a bit hard to pick up, but there will be some high-energy displays at the NC State Clogging Challenge on Jan. 5 at at the Raleigh Marriott City Center. (Admission is free to those with a valid NC State University ID and children ages 5 and under. Admission is $8 for children and adults 6 and up. The competition will begin at 8:30 am and will conclude around 7:00 pm.)
- Of course you’re going on a road trip to celebrate the state’s official sport: Stock Car Racing. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Charlotte and admission is $19.95 for adults, $12.95 for children.
- The Shad Board is North Carolina’s “state historical boat.” To learn all about it, check out the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum in Manteo.
- The Seagrove area is the “state birthplace of traditional pottery.” Admission to the N.C. Pottery Center is $2 for adults. The museum is also a good place to find out about pottery producers in the area.
- The Thalian Association in Wilmington is the state’s official community theater. Tickets for their performance of Miracle on 34th Street are $25 a seat. http://www.thalian.org/
- The N.C. Aviation Hall of Fame is located in Asheboro. Admission for adults is $10.
As you’re traveling about the state, take advantage of your location to fish for North Carolina’s two official fish:
- Red Drum, aka Channel Bass, is popular with surf fishermen at the coast.
- The Southern Appalachian strain of brook trout is the official freshwater trout.
Coastal fishing licenses run $30 per year and licenses for fishing in certain inland waters run $5 a year. Gear, bait and patience are extra.
Wave the flag
North Carolina has given an official nod to two flags. One is the blue, red and white flag seen on flagpoles throughout the state. The other is the official “Honor and Remember Flag,” meant to recognize those who have died in the line of duty. North Carolina is one of 14 states to have adopted the honor and remember flag.
Those two flags plus a copy of N.C. General Statutes 144, which lays out our official state motto and salute to the flag, would make a very patriotic gift. Hand-sewn versions of the Honor and Remember flag cost $250. Add on $21 for a state flag, and the total cost is: $271.
How much for the total Tar Heel package?
So let’s say someone has been a very good little boy or girl and you want to get them everything on this list? As we’ve noted throughout, some of the prices vary and can depend on what version of something one buys. That said, our conservative tally, padding in some expenses for extra fuel costs, bait, unforeseen stops at Krispy Kreme, and an official state of North Carolina General Assembly Christmas ornament thrown in for good measure totals somewhere close $3,000.