The gift giving part of the holiday season sometimes gets a bad “wrap.” We are inundated with reminders of what is most important at this time of year: time with the people we love, warm embraces, carols, sharing meals together, and just slowing down to be with one another in a way that we often are not throughout the year.
Despite all of these messages, we still spend more money in December than almost any other time of year. The stores are stocked to the brim with gift ideas ranging from random mugs to specialty socks to coffee and beer sample kits.
The same old gifts year after year can get kind of boring. If holiday shopping is more of a bore than a pleasure, than its time to perk up the experience and get excited about gift giving again.
One fun way to do this is to choose a theme for holiday gift exchanges. A themed gift exchange can encourage creativity, challenge you to think outside of the box, and result in thoughtful and meaningful gifts.
To get started, you’ll want to enlist the interest of the people with whom you exchange gifts. When you talk to your family and friends to suggest themed gifts they may get more excited about the idea if you have a few examples to share. Here are some to get you started.
Consumable goods. The idea with this theme is to purchase gifts that will be consumed, or used up. This can include everyday products that might be hard for someone to buy (think recent college grad) to more high-end items that we do not necessarily buy for ourselves, but that are appreciated gifts. Almost anything you buy as a consumable good can be put in a basket, coordinating container, or a gift bag. Put a bow or a ribbon on it and you’ve got a thoughtful gift that the receiver will love.
* Shampoo, conditioner, and other hair products from the salon, or specialty products for his or her hair type. Curly shampoo for curly hair, etc.
* Ingredients to make a specific meal – don’t forget to include the recipe.
* Art supplies for a crafter, painter, writer, sculptor, etc. What do they use that you could purchase for them? A ream of paper for a writer can be a highly thoughtful, useful, and inexpensive gift.
* Monthly membership to wine, fruit, chocolate, etc. This can be a one-time gift or a membership to a monthly club that sends out an item a month for a defined period of time. All of these items also make a great one-time gift, too.
* Body products. Nail polish supplies. Face wash, moisturizers, and body balms. There is so much out there that leaves us feeling pampered that we don’t necessarily purchase for ourselves, but that make great gifts.
Experiences. The gift of an experience is one that can be treasured for years to come. When you give someone the gift of an experience, you are giving him or her permission to take time away from a daily routine and do something fun, and you have made it easier by doing some of the planning in advance. Tickets or brochures can be printed, put in a box, and wrapped with a bow. It might be the lightest box and the smallest package, but that usually means good things.
* Tickets to visit a museum or historical site. This could be in the recipient’s hometown or a city close by, or somewhere you know they are planning to visit in the near future.
* For a family, tickets to a water park or other amusement park. A quick Internet search will let you know if the recipient’s hometown has an indoor water park for places that have a long, cold winter.
* Reservations and a gift card to a fancy or special restaurant.
* A weekend away at a beautiful place or a spot that has meaningful memories. Valentine’s Day is not that long after the holiday season, making it a perfect time to plan a romantic getaway for a special couple on your list.
Homemade gifts. Thanks to the wonder of the web we can find instructions to make everything from homemade soap to homemade computers. This may be one of the most thoughtful ways to give gifts. This can also be one of the most overwhelming ways to give gifts! It’s not always easy to come up with an idea for something you can make, especially if you do not consider yourself to be a crafty person. However, if you engage in a homemade gift exchange you will be able to find ideas for homemade gifts regardless of your current skill level.
* A photo album, scrapbook, or digital photo book. This is a great way to both preserve memories and to let someone special know you love them. Whether you put together a scrapbook of photos from your sister’s baby shower or document your vacation to Disney World for your kids, this homemade gift will be one that is treasured for years to come.
* Homemade goodies. Pasta and sauce can be homemade and packaged to give. Bread makes a wonderful gift. Jams and jellies. The dry ingredients for cookies, brownies, or even soup in a mason jar. The sky is the limit with this homemade gift idea.
* A painting, quilt, sculpture, or other piece of original art. If you’re an artist, put your skills to use and make gifts for the people you love.
* A piece of furniture for the home or office. One year a parent made me a sandwich board for my classroom with dry erase boards on each side, wheels on the bottom, and a basket in the middle to hold markers and supplies. It was completely homemade, useful, and thoughtful.
Donations. Similar to an experience, when you decide to make a donation on someone’s behalf, you still have the option to gift-wrap a certificate or documentation of the contribution and leave it under the tree as a gift to open. Donations can be given to charities, favorite parks, research causes, churches, community organizations, etc.
Product specific. This could be fun if you have a group of people you exchange gifts with that has a shared interest. If everyone loves Tupperware, why not make it a Tupperware holiday? If all the members of your family have a big trip planned this year, everyone gets to give and receive travel themed gifts.
Once you choose a theme for your holiday gift giving the fun begins! Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to prepare your themed gifts, especially if you are making something from scratch. Above all, have fun with this!
Sara Marchessault is a writer and coach. Her work helps clients to more fully experience joy in their daily life. Sara has maintained a personal journaling practice for 25 years and is currently working on her first book on the topic of journal writing. These days her journals are getting lots of stories about playing with her kids and the awesome ups and downs of being a mom.