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Alternative ideas for holiday gift-giving

A few days ago I read a question someone posted in an e-zine. This family is considering beginning some new traditions as an alternative to gift giving for the holiday. They have what they need and even what they want in many cases.

It's not that they are unable to afford buying gifts; they are striving to move beyond all the hype. They want to have special family time that will be meaningful to all.

In our consumer-oriented, spending-driven society, this question is refreshing. I couldn't help sending a quick suggestion and shared my two cents.

"Instead of giving gifts, you can write each other letters/cards/poems to say what you appreciate about the other person, what the person has done that means something to you, what you are thankful for for that person, etc. When your family gets together for the special family time, you can read each others' writing. It will surely warm your heart and create a wonderful memory."

Later, the more I thought about the question, the more ideas I came up with.

Tell family stories. When family gets together, instead of just having food and watching TV, share some family stories. Give elderly people an opportunity to tell younger people what their lives were like in the good old days.

Share how you met each other, got married, why you picked a certain name for your child. Tell a few funny stories about yourself or Uncle Joe. Everyone loves a good laugh.

If your family members live geographically near one another, you can give each other gift certificates for home-cooked meals or free services.

For elderly people, certificates for home-cooked meals or baked goods and some company are great gifts.

Most elderly people don't need more stuff, but they surely will appreciate occasional visits from relatives and friends who will bring them a home cooked meal or some treats and stay for a nice chat.

Certificates for doing some small house projects, for mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow, for taking them to appointments, etc. are thoughtful, too.

For young parents, certificates for babysitting or home cooked meals are nice gifts to give them a break occasionally.

For kids, certificates for outings will be fun. You can take them out to watch a movie, visit a zoo or a museum, have a picnic, or just do something fun together. A gift certificate is a promise for future goods or services. It gives the recipient something to look forward to.

So instead of giving and receiving gifts all on the same Christmas day, being overwhelmed by all the stuff at once, some not useful or needed or wanted, this idea makes the gift giving and receiving an ongoing process throughout the year.

Instead of giving everyone in the family a gift, you can draw one or two names and bring a handmade gift for the individual(s). This idea requires you to be a little more creative than if you would just buy a gift from the store.

Make a personalized calendar for the family with everyone's photos and birthdays. You can create your own calendars on your computer or at stores.

Last year, my office did a "white elephant" gift exchange. This is a party game usually played during the holiday season. Here is how it works:

Each person brings one wrapped gift to the party. You can specify the type or price of gift ahead of time. For example, you can have something less than $10 or a gently used but no longer needed item from home, etc.

Initially, all of the wrapped gifts are placed together. Typically, the gifts are not labeled whom they are from, nor do they list a recipient.

Everyone draws a number. The first person chooses a gift from the gift pile, opens the gift for all to see, and keeps it for the time being. The next person can either choose to take an unopened gift from the gift pile or steal a gift from any previous gift-opener. If an unopened gift is selected, the gift must be unwrapped, too.

If at any time a person's gift is stolen, that person can immediately unwrap a new gift or steal another person's gift. This process repeats until a person chooses to unwrap a new gift (as opposed to stealing a gift), at which point play proceeds to the next person.

After all turns have been taken, the first person has the option of taking one more turn since this person had the disadvantage of not knowing what any of the now-opened presents were at the beginning of game.

I hope you will try some of these alternative gift ideas. Do something different this year. And you might have the most memorable Christmas as the result.