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Chuck the Tchotchkes & Create a New Tradition: Experience the Holidays this Season

December 06, 2019 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

It’s trumpeted everywhere that this is the season and time to be joyful. However, many of us have the opposite reaction. Thanks to a combination of consumerism, obligation and bad taste with a price tag of gifts and tips hanging over our heads, we sometimes feel more oppressed and overwhelmed than happy.

We shop till we drop. Then, the insecurities bubble to the surface: is the gift for our grandchildren the right one? Do they really need another video game or doll? Does Dad even wear ties any longer or should I get him this chic (cheap) one on sale? And does Mom really need more cookbooks and, if so, does she already have the newest Ina Garten? Does anybody really need more stuff, especially in an era of Marie Kondo telling us to get rid of things?

Bag the immersion blender, Instant Pot, all the latest kitchen tools, glass tchotchkes, framed photos, clothing to wear, toys, new sofa or video game. We have a solution. Rather than pile on with suggestions of what to buy off the shelf or online, we decided this year to go easy and focus on what could become tradition’s more freeing side.

Invest in experiences that provide exposure to new activities and greater personal fulfillment. Millennials are big on gifting this way; they’d rather go for a hike, camping, sightseeing than invest in china, silver and fancy stemware that we received decades ago and rarely use. And remember, experiences don’t have to be expensive or cost at all. Here are 17 we want to share… feel free to share yours with us, too.

  1. Give the gift of volunteering as a family. Serve meals in homeless shelters or deliver meals to homebound seniors during the holiday season. Giving back can be the best gift of all because it makes you feel so good.  
  2. Give the gift of time. Set up a day or two afternoons of fun activities that don’t have to cost money. Take a walk through the park and stop to admire your surroundings—those gorgeous decorated Christmas trees. Build a snowman—or woman. Go sledding. Learn about the different kinds of trees and foliage. Bring your crayons and a pad and sketch the scenery, take photos or shoot a video. Then gather round to view it later and serve popcorn or hot chocolate with marshmallows. 
  3. Offer free labor. Clean the house for your kids, build something in the backyard such as tree house, give back, shoulder and foot rubs, clean out a garage or attic, fix a car, help resurface a blacktop driveway, do someone’s nails or hair, mow a lawn, run errands for a loved one or friend.
  4. Teach a skill. Perhaps, you’re a musician, dancer, writer, handy woodworker, baker or painter. Teach rudimentary skills on the piano, drums or that flute you have stashed in the back of your closet. Show those steps you learned in tango or ballet class. Put on the music and go for it. It’s both fun and aerobic. Teaching others a skill you’re passionate about is a great experience and a way to spend time together.
  5. Offer free childcare. Say to your kids, go out and have a few hours to yourselves while I or we watch your children. I will do one Wednesday or Friday night a month so you can have a date night. Be extra kind and tuck $25 into their hands for a nicer meal.
  6. Give the gift of a class. Perhaps, your significant other or kids want to learn a new language. Sign them up for night or weekend classes at a nearby high school or college. How about ice skating or tennis indoors or raising orchids in a greenhouse or planting seeds and seeing next spring how to replant in the ground? There are so many activities to try and maybe master over time.
  7. Give the gift of an annual membership to a museum, a musical organization, a theater or ballet group. It will cost but also a portion most likely will be tax deductible. And you give it once, but it’s something that can be enjoyed the entire year. Sometimes the membership allows you to bring a friend or loved one along for free. And many more museums now have wonderful restaurants.
  8. Consider a subscription to a magazine the person would love. There are so many to choose among, from food to exercise, art, economics, gardening, science and so on. It’s a gift they’ll enjoy all year.
  9. Give the gift of walking …exploring on foot neighborhoods in your area or by car is a great way to learn about sights you both might have ignored. Go to new areas you don’t know well. Get a map, do some online research and find a place to get lunch. Take the kids or grandkids so they can learn more about your city. After, create a poem, write a story or draw a picture about what you saw together; everybody will have something different to show.
  10. Give the gift of reading. Choose a favorite play and assign different parts. Practice your role for an hour, then all come together to do a family reading. Videotape it, make copies for everyone involved and play it each holiday season when you get together.
  11. Give the gift of cooking together. Make holiday cookies, jams and cakes or prepare portions of a meal together; cooking with a friend is always more joyful. Perhaps, start a food of the month club for a friend or loved one and each time feature foods from a different culture or country. Print out or email the recipes.
  12. Give the gift of storytelling and recording it. If you have a family member who is ageing, get them to talk about the past. Tape it. Transcribe the stories and create a family book that you intersperse with photos or go online and have one of those personalized hard bound books made for family members, so everybody has their own copy.
  13. Give the gift of an evening watching together a TV series or movie such as “The Crown” or “A Place to Call Home.” Set the stage. Serve a proper English or Australian meal or tea and crumpets. Dress up. Wear tiaras and costume jewelry, a top hat and scarf cum cape. Speak in a faux English accent throughout the evening. No American pronunciations, please.
  14. Give the gift of tickets to a free concert such as a church’s rendition of Handel’s “Messiah” where audience members sing along.
  15. Give the gift of a delicious dinner out with the family. It’s a great time to be waited on and just sit and chat about what a wonderful holiday you’re having. And when you’re finished eating, someone else cleans up.
  16. Save up your pennies and dollars for a family vacation. Tell everyone in advance you’re not giving a gift that fits under the tree or menorah. Decide where everybody wants to go and plan it for down the road. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. Even a getaway at a nice B&B that you can drive to can offer a different sort of gift and an experience for all.
  17. Decide on a family charitable contribution. In advance tell each family member that you want to donate to a worthy cause together. Have each person come up with a charity and why it deserves the family’s dollars and effort if it’s a place where you can donate time. Vote and give a gift to those less fortunate. You’re passing on the importance to the next generation. What could be better?

This year turn your holiday gift giving into an experience that will create lasting memories.   



1 comment

  • Phyllis Evan

    Dec 06, 2019

    Great ideas


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