Christmas Gifts with Meaning

With Christmas less than two weeks away, many people are starting to scramble to get that "perfect gift." It is stressful, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking. Some of the most recent google searches are "fun Christmas gifts," "great Christmas gift ideas," and "last minute Christmas ideas." Everyone feels the crunch this time of year.

In past blogs, I've talked a lot about belongings and time, their value and their meaning. We are truly a commercial culture, and when you look at earnings from top retailers at this time of year, you'll know what I mean. In the fourth quarter of 2018, Amazon brought in 60.5 BILLION dollars in sales (source here). Think about is DOUBLE the amount of The National Institutes of Health's annual budget, would pay for UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL for 3- and 4- year olds, or could make college free for about half of all full-time college students in the US. It is an amazing amount of money.

Whether you agree or not with how Amazon manages it's profit, you can certainly make decisions about your own money, and how you'd like to spend it. Add in your thoughts and feelings about "stuff," your values, and the people you are buying for, and maybe you can consider another alternative.

Give the gift of a meaningful experience, the gift of time well spent, making connections, memories, and experiences. This can be large or small, but it is certainly personal.

Every year, my husband and I make plans way in advance to take a family trip. When we have a few excess dollars, they get noodled away into a "vacation" envelope. Over time, this money starts to build, and near Christmas we have a pretty good idea of the kind of trip it will fund for a summer trip. We've taken trips to Sanibel Island, Florida, Denver, Colorado, and Duluth, Minnesota on a very small budget by planning in advance. We travel light, stay at VRBO's at a fraction of the cost of a hotel, cook our own meals, and drive. We research a bunch of free and inexpensive activities in advance, and plan for a lot of exploring time.

Once we know our destination, we make a bunch of clue cards and wrap them individually for Christmas. The kids have to decode them to find out where we will be going for our family trip that summer. The clue cards start out pretty difficult, and they are not able to use technology of any kind. For example, when we were going to Denver, one of our clue cards was that our destination was the location of the "Mile High" stadium. Our kids would write down their guesses, then go to the next card. Another card gave the latitude and longitude, then a historical fact about the city. The anticipation builds, and by the time the kids have discovered our destination, they are asking to go to the library to get books about it, and are going online to research activities.

I have a great memory of our drive to Sanibel Island. All three kids were in the second row of the Ford, jammed together with books, blankets, and crafts. They didn't have phones, and we only let them watch one movie on the portable DVD player. They got really creative, and used their bracelet thread and pipe cleaners to create zip lines all over the vehicle. They used paper clips to attach notes, and sent them to each other. When we stopped to get gas, they were webbed into the backseat. We laughed, had fun, talked about silly things as one does on long car rides, and it was wonderful.

When our kids were little, it seemed they were attending a birthday party every other weekend. We took a long look at the kinds of gifts we were buying, and made a great discovery. We'd take our invited child to the dollar store, and get the plastic popcorn bucket that was always there. Then, they'd fill it up with fun treats and snacks, like microwave popcorn, a beverage, and fun treats like cotton candy and circus peanuts. In the birthday card, we'd stick a promo code for a free movie rental from Redbox (here). Our child would write in the card that their gift was a family movie night. The items were mostly consumable, and hopefully it was an great experience for the birthday child and their family.

Even if a trip isn't in the cards for your family or loved ones, there are many other ways for you to give the gift of a meaningful experience. Here are some ideas:

*A gift card to

a movie theater

an entertainment center


*An invitation for:

a coffee date, your treat

a cocktail and appetizer date, your treat

popcorn and movie date (you get the idea)

a themed slumber party at your house

a scavenger hunt

a special crafting day

*A voucher

at a local craft shop or university for a class

for a cooking class

for a music lesson

*A membership for:

the zoo

an art museum

a children's museum

a local theater or orchestra

Some people may not want gifts. To show them you care, you can donate to a charity that is meaningful to them, in their name. This is just a small fraction of what is out there:

*Adopt a soldier or military family (here).

*Sponsor a child at World Vision (here).

*Serve at a Food Kitchen under their name.

*Contact your local foster child program to donate needed items.


*Your local animal shelter

*Toys for Tots

There are so many ways to give meaningful, thoughtful gifts to your loved ones. This year, consider giving the gift of time.