We (my dad, mom, and two younger brothers) had a family discussion about the value of giving to others, and made a unanimous decision to serve a family in need instead of spending money on each other. We pooled our money together, and purchased gifts and a Christmas feast for a family of five. On Christmas day, we joyfully delivered our offerings to the family. We kids didn’t receive as many gifts as usual that year, but of all the Christmases that have come and gone, that Christmas endures as the most memorable and meaningful for me.
The Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts is fun, but in our consumer society, it can quickly become overwhelming, obligatory and downright expensive. I believe in simple, clutter-free living, and I love to find alternatives to the usual holiday gift-fest. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy receiving and opening thoughtful presents from loved ones. But instead of accumulating more stuff, I would much rather have the love and friendship of the people in my life (and the occasional babysitting volunteer).
Below is a list of gift ideas to help you during the holiday season. Many of the items are inexpensive (or free!), homemade, simple and creative. Enjoy!
Consider forgoing a gift-exchange altogether, and celebrating the holidays in a different way.
- Rally your friends and family to help someone in need instead of buying you a gift. Ask loved ones to make a charitable donation to a meaningful cause. World Vision has a great child sponsorship program and gift catalog where you can give a gift in someone’s name. Last year my husband asked his family to do this, and they purchased a goat that provided a family with a sustainable source of nourishment and income. Similarly, GlobalGiving lets you give a gift card, and the recipient chooses where the donation is allocated.
- Take a group trip with family or friends to volunteer at a local homeless shelter or non-profit organization. Particularly during the holidays, there is a big need for volunteers. If your family lives in different locations, commit a particular day to serve “together” in your respective places.
- Homemade themed gift basket: Purchase a basket or container from a second-hand store, and fill it with fun or practical items that fit the recipient. For the film fan, include movie tickets, popcorn, and candy. Or for the coffee snob, fill it with quality whole bean coffee, a pair of mugs and biscotti.
- Photo frame: Purchase a nice frame, and insert a meaningful photo (of you and the recipient, a group of you, etc.). Every time I send my grandparents photos of our son, they are thrilled to no end.
- Homemade Christmas ornament: With this list of do-it-yourself instructions, you can make some cool Christmas tree ornaments. My favorite is this origami paper ball ornament made from used magazines.
- Baked goodies: Candy, cookies, scones, and bread make great gifts. The best ones are the baked items that can be stored in the freezer (i.e. banana bread), and enjoyed after the holiday junk-food rush. For your health-conscious friends, give a batch of granola (this Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios is amazing).
- Homemade sun jar: This nifty sun jar collects and stores sunlight, and can be used at night. Creative and functional! The cost of materials is about $20.
- The gift of time: Schedule a regular coffee, lunch or Skype (if you live in different places) date with a friend. Life becomes busy quickly, so setting aside some relational time is invaluable.
- Jar of homemade mix: Instant chai tea mix, hot cocoa mix or brownie mix are easy to make, and will last for months. Alternatively, make canned jam or preserves.
- Personal Service: What practical need can you fill? Offer piano lessons, a home-cooked meal, a car wash, babysitting or house cleaning. Create personalized, holiday-themed gift certificates at regiftable.com.
- Potted plant: For an environmentally-conscious gift, give a potted Christmas tree or other plant. Include instructions on plant care.
- Homemade beauty products: Bath salts, lip balm and other beauty products can be made at home for a very low cost. Simple recipes can be found here at mybeautyecipes.com.
Conscious Gift Wrapping
In today’s supposed “environmentally-friendly” culture, I am surprised that most of us (myself included) still use as much gift wrapping as we do. How many mountains of garbage are created just from the Christmas season? Too many, I am sure. Reduce gift wrapping waste, and reuse paper from around the house. Newspaper, old maps and posters, comics, or decorated brown paper bags can all be used as wrapping. Save and recycle ribbons and bows for future gifts. Check out Wrap Art‘s gallery of creative ways to use miscellaneous items as gift wrap.
Speaking of recycling gift wrap, my Chinese grandmother is known for saving and reusing little pieces of Scotch tape during the holidays. She saves the scrap tape on the edge of her dining room table. That is taking the frugal thing a little too far in my opinion, but hey, it might be worth considering.
Other Gift Options
- World of Good – Ethnically-sourced, Fair Trade, and eco-friendly gifts.
- Ten Thousand Villages – Fair Trade jewelry, home decor and other items made from artisans around the world.
- Instructables – Over 10,000 creative and resourceful do-it-yourself projects with step-by-step instructions.
- Pioneer Thinking – More craft and homemade project ideas.
What about you, reader? Do you have any creative and unique gift ideas? I would love to hear them!