I have this Christmas time dream that I will be able to buy a gift for every person I know. The reality is my money runs out long before my list of friends. I can get something nice for my closest family, something small for a few more relatives and close friends … and every year the list of people my generous brain comes up with still has a long way to go. I am learning to put my brain to work coming up with free experience gifts – basically an activity I can do with someone. I don't want to let the year go by without letting them know how much I love and appreciate them.
I start by creating special invitations (sometimes I send them by email) or a homemade gift certificate. With this I like to include a short note letting this person know why I like them and how much they mean to me. Friends have told me they keep these notes and treasure what I said about them! If the activity is going to be before Christmas, I try to get the time set up right away since things get so busy for most people. If it is a gift certificate I am giving on Christmas day, I like to schedule our activity for sometime in January, when things have calmed down a little and winter boredom needs to be exterminated.
If you are like me, with more friends than money or if you simply want to keep your Christmas less focused on material things, try some of these fun experience gifts this year. I know you will enjoy the memories you make with the people you love!
- Set up a crafting time for one or more children you know. Make a manger or winter scene out of homemade playdough or clay. Make your own Christmas cards to send to people. Collect pine branches and pinecones and make wreaths. Make and decorate stockings cut out of felt or fabric or even old clothes. Go through your house collecting items you no longer want and help the children turn these into presents to give. My boys are like me – always wanting to give to more people than they can buy for. They love it when I help them make gifts. You can even make Christmas gifts for their pets. You may want to check out some idea books from the library ahead of time or you can find extremely creative family craft ideas at http://www.familyfun.com for every season.
- Hold a holiday decorating party with an old friend, a new neighbor family, an elderly person living in a retirement center or anyone you want to share a fun time with. You can decorate one or both of your homes. Haul out all the Christmas decorations you have and together come up with fresh new ways to use them. If you don't have anything to start with, come up with your own decorations. Make garlands out of loops of colored paper or popcorn. Cut out snowflakes and put them in the windows. Wrap a couple of empty boxes and tie them with big bows. Other decorating items I like are: indoor Christmas lights, sheet music of Christmas carols, evergreen branches, mittens hung on a string, old Christmas cards and photos from past holiday gatherings.
- Invite someone to go for a Christmas drive to see the lights. Find out ahead of time where the best neighborhoods are for Christmas lights and decorations. Bring along some treats to snack on and tune into a station with carols to enjoy as you drive. If you want to have even more fun, create a few awards for the Most Elegant, Funniest, and Biggest displays. Stop and present them to the (surprised!) Owners.
- A night or two before Christmas, have a gift wrapping party. Set up a paper station, bow station and tag station. Go to work like an assembly line, but don't forget break time!
- Take some young people (or young at heart) for an adventurous sledding trip. Prepare hot chocolate or cider in thermoses and head off for some big hills. When the sledders get tired, start some competition with a snowman contest.
- As your Christmas gift to someone, give your time to a cause that is important to them. Visit a nursing home and present some of the residents with homemade Christmas cards. Help sort and make food baskets for a food pantry. Work in a Christmas wrap booth that benefits a charity. Volunteer as food servers at shelters that provide a Christmas dinner. This gift will not only bless the person you do it for, but also others who you don't even know yet and God, the one who cares most for the needy.
- Find out what free holiday performances or events are going on in your area such as a Handel's Messiah concert, school performance, living nativity, etc. Pick up your friend and enjoy some cultural entertainment.
- Organize a baking day with a one or two others, choosing recipes you already have ingredients for so that all the others have to do is show up and start mixing up a good time. You can put together plates or tins of treats to give to friends and neighbors or elderly people who can't manage holiday baking any more.
- This Christmas experience gift is for children, adults or whole families – just tailor your choices according to your group. Go to the library and check out a variety of Christmas stories. I especially like to get ones that tell about the Christmas traditions from other cultures. Invite everyone to join you at your home, a historical landmark specially decorated for the holidays (you may need prior approval) or even an outdoor setting if it is not too cold. Seat everyone as they arrive and pass around snacks and punch or hot drinks. Read the Christmas stories aloud together, taking turns, if you want. Make sure to "do the voices", as we used to tell my grandma!
A Special Note: As I was writing this, I realized that when you invite children for one of these events, you may also be giving a gift to the parents – some free time to get things done or just relax and enjoy the holidays. That's what I call a two-for-one special!
Whoever you give to, be sure to keep your activity simple and fun so that you are not too stressed out. Enjoy creating a great Christmas experience gift!