Two Christmases ago, Sarah and I gave almost everyone we know gifts that we made ourselves, from scratch. It was the single most fulfilling Christmas either one of us has had in a very long time.
The fulfillment didn’t come as a result of the savings, although our financial cost for that Christmas gift-giving season was quite low.
The fulfillment came from the fact that our gifts genuinely included a part of ourselves in it. The gifts weren’t tossed into our shopping cart in some overcrowded store. The gifts weren’t delivered to our home after a few clicks on an e-commerce site.
The gifts were made by our hands, with a commitment of our time and energy and (to some extent) skills. We put some of ourselves into the gifts, not just a bit of cash from our wallets.
The receivers found great value, too. We still see some of the decorative items we made on display in the homes of family and friends. We heard many great stories about how they enjoyed the meals we made for them or utilized things like the homemade vanilla extract in their cooking.
These items didn’t just go into the closet to be forgotten.
Since then, Sarah and I haven’t had as much time to produce such a wide array of handmade gifts as we had during the fall of 2010. With every single gift we’ve given since then, though, our thoughts have focused not just on checking someone off of our list, but on how the gift can really build a better bond with that person.
A good gift isn’t (usually) one you find on Black Friday. Instead, it has some other traits, ones that build up your relationship without tearing down your wallet.
Give a gift that you can immediately share in some fashion. If you give a person a board game, for example, pledge to play that game with them as soon as possible – even later that day, if you can. Go beyond that by taking the time to learn the rules of the game beforehand so you understand how it’s played and can teach it (Youtube helps with this). If you give a person a book, check out the same book from the library and form a little two-person book club for the book.
I should add that it’s in bad taste to consume any of the gift you’ve just given. If you give someone an edible item, bring along some more to share with them immediately upon opening. For example, when Sarah and I gave out homemade beer as a gift, we often brought along some additional bottles of already-chilled beer so we could crack open a cold bottle with the recipient as soon as the gift was received.
Give a gift that involves spending time together. If your spouse enjoys playing board games, simply pledge a weekly game night with your spouse for the next year. If your cousin enjoys such games, offer to host a big game day at your house where you play all of the games and also provide snacks and meals.
Whatever a person’s interest is, you can find something related to it that would cause you to spend additional time with the recipient, whether it’s piano lessons, tickets to a concert, or something else entirely.
Give a gift that fulfills a need or desire. If your grandmother loves telling old family stories, pledge to spend one Saturday afternoon a month with your grandmother creating a family history book together, with your grandmother providing the oral history and you providing the dictation and organization. (This is something I dearly wish I had done with my grandmother.) If you have a relative or friend that needs a task done that is difficult for them but that you can do easily, give that task as a gift.
In both cases, it costs you virtually nothing to give the gift (other than a bit of your future time), whereas it can have tremendous value for the recipient.
What’s the common thread with these ideas? It’s about shared experiences, not stuff. It’s about building a relationship, not emptying a to-do list. It’s about spending time and experience with people who you care enough about to wish to give a gift to.
In short, it’s the spirit of the season. It’s about filling the spirit without emptying the wallet.