Holiday gift guide: Meaningful alternatives to traditional Christmas presents

Posted on December 8, 2015 at 6:00 am

Holiday gift guide: Meaningful alternatives to traditional Christmas presents By Kelsey Hudson | Spokane County Library District

By Kelsey Hudson

I am a big fan of Christmas. Listening to Christmas carols, decorating the tree with all my nerdy ornaments, indulging in some holiday baking, and getting to spend time with my family—there’s really no better time of the year. While one of my favorite things to do is find that perfect present, this year I was struck by an odd thought: Do we really need to give gifts for Christmas?

You see, my family has this odd tradition that we call the “Order Form Christmas.” It began about 10 years ago when we discovered that my dad has the absolute worst luck at ordering gifts on the Internet. Despite placing orders well ahead of Christmas, without a doubt, at least one gift, if not several, fails to arrive on time.

This particular phenomenon is so regular that we actually began embracing it. Instead of worrying, he prints the order form (proof that the gift is on its way) and then finds some creative way to wrap it or hide it around the house. Instead of being sad that we don’t have our gift right then, we get to spend time joking with my dad as we dig through a duct taped box or hunt around the house for the final scavenger hunt clue.

What I realized the other day, though, was that while I can distinctly remember every weird way I’ve found or opened an order form, I don’t actually remember most of the gifts that eventually arrived. It seems to me that the whole point of giving a gift is to make someone happy, and that can easily be done in other ways than traditional Christmas presents.

So rather than give another smelly lotion or gift card this year, perhaps it’s time to take a chance on a gift-free holiday. While I’m not entirely gift-free this year, here are some things I’m looking forward to giving to people instead of giving them traditional presents.

Give to others

Try donating time, money, or services in the names of your friends and family this year. While they may not need another candle, someone else may be in desperate need of warm clothes for winter, dog food for their no-kill shelter, or clean water for their village. And if you’re not sure what particular charity your friends support, sites like and Tisbet allow you to buy a gift card that the recipient can use to donate to the charity of their choice. Sitting down with kids to help pick where to donate their money can also be a fantastic way to help teach them about the spirit of giving.

Give an experience

Instead of exchanging gifts, make a plan to get together and do something fun. Take a special trip to go skiing, plan a holiday baking party, take out of town visitors on a tour of local attractions, or even go and paint your own pottery. Instead of being trampled by shopping carts, you could be building a snowman or decorating ugly sweaters together to wear all season long!

Give your time

Time can be a lot more valuable than things, especially around the holidays. Rather than spending all your time hunting down the perfect gift, give some of that time to your friends and family. You could stick around to help a friend clean up after their holiday party, finally teach your sister your canning tips and tricks, or even just give them some peace and quiet by taking their kids for an afternoon movie (a present for both the parents and kids).

Give up buying

Just because you don’t want to spend the time and money buying a present doesn’t mean that you can’t still give someone a gift. This is a great time to share a batch of your fantastic salsa with your neighbors, make a cute ornament to adorn a tree, or even indulge in a true white elephant exchange. To keep the exchange interesting, have everyone bring items on a theme. Games, books, and movies that you might not use as much anymore could be brand new for someone else.

And if all else fails, you could try for the classic Christmas card filled with a message about how much the recipient has meant to you this year, and how wonderful you hope their coming year will be. This way it will be more about the message, and less about how fantastic your shopping skills are.


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