4 Alternatives to Traditional Gift-Giving


On principle, I refuse to get sucked into the Christmas mindset before Thanksgiving. However, I will let my mind wander to the winter holidays this week so that I can develop a game plan for the gratitude and food euphoria that come with family Thanksgiving celebrations. This is the perfect opportunity to short-circuit the impending retail frenzy.

We spend Thanksgiving counting our blessings. We share a meal and some happy times with the people we love. We list the things we are thankful for. We eat lots of pie. We reflect on how very lucky we are for the people and things we have in our lives. And then we spend the next 4 weeks in an orgy of consumerism. We hand catalogs to our children so that they can develop wish lists of toys that will further clutter their bedrooms and living areas. We rush around and curse other drivers over parking spaces and long lines in big box stores. We spend money that a lot of people don’t have to buy things that we don’t need. Why do we have such a huge mood swing on the day after Thanksgiving?

Let’s take advantage of the rational, grateful mindset at Thanksgiving this year and have a serious chat with our loved ones about holiday gifts. We can acknowledge together that we don’t need an avalanche of gifts and develop a plan for maximizing holiday fun and minimizing holiday spending and consumerism.

It’s tough to go cold turkey (you see what I did there?) with gifts, so let’s explore a few alternative plans so that everyone still gets the joy of giving and receiving this season.

  1. White Elephant.There are so many directions this one can take. For kids, you can arrange a toy swap or book exchange. If there is a wide range of ages for the toy swap, you might want to have an extra gift on hand for an older child. Adults can do a grab bag with a spending limit, a book swap, or a ridiculous gift Book swap!contest/exchange. We used to do the Crazy Christmas exchange with my dad’s side of the family – we kept our eyes peeled for hideous treasures at resale shops and garage sales throughout the year. So many precious mementos were exchanged in those years.
  2. Make and Take Project.  Reindeer foodSeveral years ago, a couple of family members who normally exchanged gifts decided to dial down the holiday clutter and have a different sort of Christmas party together. Our kids now gather each year to make pizzas, play games, and to do a craft together. Each kid still takes home a little something, but it’s something that they made at the party. We’ve made pinecone bird feeders, lots of ornaments, and reindeer food in years past. Ornaments or photo frames would be great projects for kids and adults.
  3. The Gift of Time. baking_dateGive a fun activity or a helpful service. These are such meaningful gifts. A gift of time provides an added bonus of getting to spend time together after the holidays.  You can give someone a certificate for window washing in the spring, a day of fishing next summer, an afternoon of baking or pasta rolling, or help with a scrapbooking project. Just don’t let the gift be a backhanded insult – “I will help you clean all of the hideous clothes out of your closet!”
  4. The “Handmade Only” Holiday. Bottlecap checkersThis is what we’re doing this year for the adults in my immediate family. My sister suggested it a few months ago, and my Dad immediately said, “Oh, I know EXACTLY what I’m going to make.” My dad is not really a crafty or DIY sort of guy, so I am intrigued. I cannot wait to see what he is making us. You can check out the Nifty Gifties of holidays past here on The Hippie for some easy ideas, and I will be posting a few new ones in the coming weeks. The DIY gifts do not have to be crafty, so if you are artistically challenged, fear not. Consider making a meal for someone’s freezer, baking cookies, assembling spice mixes, or creating a photo album.

The best way to take the focus away from gifts is to plan holiday celebrations that highlight  enjoying time together. In addition to handmade gift ideas this year, I will also be posting holiday party ideas over the next few weeks.

I wish you and your loved ones a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope that this year has brought many blessings into your lives and that this holiday season will be safe, healthy, and happy for you and yours. Thank you for spending time here on The Reluctant Hippie!

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