Thursday, December 3, 2009

Stuff-less Holidays

Here come the holidays. Did they surprise you too? It’s time to eat too much, spend too much, and worry too much. Time to bathe our guilt in gifts. Heaven forbid we were to leave anyone out. Every year I say that this year will be different and every year I spend Christmas day hung-over from the exhaustion of the preparations. Each year I say we will cut back. We don’t need to give so many gifts, yet each year the kids are so inundated with gifts they can’t remember who gave them what. So, I’m saying here and now – this year is truly going to be different. I’m not going to say it will be completely different, but I’m shooting for a few real changes.

I started with the Christmas lists which began weeks ago. My youngest pours over every catalog that comes in the mail, even the gardening catalogs, with his sharpie marker poised. As he circles item after item, I gently remind him, “only five things.” That’s what we’ve decided. Their list can be only five things long. I want them to think of the five things they want the most, more than anything else. There’s just too much potential for disappointment and guilt in a list that fills all 26 lines on a sheet of notebook paper. So we’re sticking to the five most wanted. Still, it is fun to wish your way through a catalog.

When the other Santas in my children’s lives began calling, I encouraged them to think small. I’d like my kids to get experiences rather than “stuff”. Magazine subscriptions to really good magazines are a great idea. Then the present renews itself each month. Check out for some great kids’ magazines that are educational, cool, and advertising free. My kids love the magazines Odyssey, Ask, and Muse. My daughter loves the magazine New Moon. It has nothing to do with a certain vampire phenomenon, but is a magazine designed to empower and encourage girls ages pre-tween to early teens. It’s full of great stories that inspire girls to be all they can be and no advertisements.

The other gifts I’m dreaming up for my kids include experiences. Don’t tell my daughter, but her Nana is giving her a gift certificate for a manicure/pedicure and a home nail care kit. She will love this experience and the home nail care kit will be used for years to come. We’re trying to work out tickets to a really good museum like the Franklin Institute (Philadelphia) for my oldest. More ideas include tickets to the theater or movies or a professional soccer game, passes to the Ice Arena, art lessons, or a gift certificate for bowling.

What I don’t want is big, plastic stuff that will be forgotten the week after Christmas. We have more things than we know what to do with in this house, as evidenced by the constant condition of my living room. We don’t need any more things, but if things are needed, I’m encouraging them to include music, art supplies, and books on their lists.

I’m applying this same policy to my gift giving outside our family. All year long I’ve been saving the books I read. (I read a lot of books) I’m going to look in my stacks and select the books I think people on my list would enjoy and then wrap them up with a ribbon. Then I’ll select a charity that I think they would appreciate and make a donation in their name. The card on the books will explain that I think they are the kind of people who would appreciate used books and charitable contributions instead of more “stuff”. (Sorry to any of you who are reading this and will not be so surprised on Christmas morning!).

Another great idea for a gift is Heifer Project International ( ). Heifer Project is a non-profit organization that gives live animals to families in impoverished areas around the world. The only stipulation is that the family must give the first born offspring to another family in their community. Heifer distributes cows, pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and bees to name a few. There is a range of prices. A flock of chickens costs significantly less than a cow. We are going to give some chickens in a friend’s name and then bake sugar cookies in the shape of eggs (we couldn’t find a chicken cookie cutter) to accompany the card explaining the contribution and Heifer Project International. If we don’t have time to make cookies, we’ll look for something suitable at the candy stand at our farm market (they have every candy known to humankind, they must have a chicken!). When I was a teenager I volunteered on the Heifer Project Ranch in Arkansas. I saw first hand how much this organization does to empower people to help themselves and their communities.

Over the last few years I’ve been creating a cookbook for two dear friends. I gave them the binder with the first installment of recipes several years ago. The recipes were ones my family had discovered that year, complete with notes on what makes the recipe special and cooking tips we learned the hard way. Each year I give them new pages containing our latest culinary masterpieces for their recipe books. They love the personalized recipe selection.

Another simple present we make is bookmarks for the grandparents (who are all avid readers). I simply cut out a piece of cardstock and the kids help me select pictures of themselves to attach and then they add drawings and notes to the card. Next we laminate the bookmark with laminating sheets we bought at the office supply store, punch a hole through the top and tie on a ribbon. They are beautiful and the grands love having pictures of their grandkids handy to share with the people who sit next to them in doctor’s offices and on airplanes.

My most time consuming project is making calendars for the grandparents. I buy a blank calendar, add pictures and quotes to each month; then write in all the important dates and information (like just how old grandson number #2 is going to be this year or how many years my brother & sister in law have been married). They look forward to these masterpieces each year and even though it’s a lot of work, I relish the chance to look back over our year and remember what makes us a family.

This holiday I challenge you to get creative. Give a gift that is more lasting and meaningful than the latest toy/gift/gadget featured in the Sunday circulars. Feel free to copy my ideas, but I bet you have some great ones of your own. I’d invite you to post them here if you’re feeling generous. Remember copying is the sincerest form of flattery.

Christmas will mean more if you put less stuff and more of you in it.


  1. What a lovely post and a wonderful reminder! It's so hard not to get all caught up in the stuff of Christmas, but providing your children with experiences is so much more rewarding. My daughter really wants to learn to knit and I thought a couple of knitting lessons at our local knitting shop would be really fun for both of us. Oddly enough, it's the present I'm most excited about!


  2. I love giving "non-stuff" gifts. This year my family, who all own pets, are getting a card with a photo of the blankets I've knit for Animal Rescue and a note to say that I've also given a cash donation.

    Anyone else gets either something knitted or photo kaleidescopes that I make on scrapbooking days.

    Susan R.

    PS Thanks for the New Moon Magazine idea - I immediately ordered a subscription for my 12 yr old god daughter.