Five years ago, my family instituted a new tradition. No more gifts — at least, not in the traditional sense.
We all had too much stuff. It was stressful trying to find the perfect gift for every single family member. And it was getting expensive.
So, we decided to try something new: Re-gifting. With a Secret Santa spin. Each person was only assigned only one person. And one pet — because everyone in the family has a four-legged friend.
Initially, I was a bit reluctant. What would Christmas be like without lots of gifts piled under the tree? And the first year, I quickly discovered the answer. So. Much. Better.
Instead of rushing around trying to find gifts the two days before Christmas, we got to spend quality time together as a family. My grandmother and I made homemade peanut butter cups. My mom and I went on a long run together. My dad and I watched his favorite Christmas movie — It’s a Wonderful Life.
And on the big day, we all still enjoyed time together while opening our gifts. There were just fewer of them. And the experience was so much better.
Here are some highlights over the years:
(Photo Credit: Heather Hund)
That time my husband received a giant re-gifted cat blanket. The photo above says it all.
The handmade gifts. My parents make ceramics, and it’s always really cool to get something handmade from them. Like a set of stacking bowls. Or wine glasses. They are artistic and beautiful — and made with love.
One year, my dad gave me his old Led Zeppelin record that he bought in high school. I love Led Zeppelin. So it was awesome.
Five years later, we are still continuing the tradition.
5 Ideas for a New Kind of Giving
It could work lots of different ways. There are several ideas below — and I’ll start with how our family does it.
We take a Secret Santa approach — where you are matched with just one person and one pet. My sister has kindly taken on the role of determining who each person is matched with each year, both human and pet.
Here are our rules, taken directly from this year’s email: "For your ONE person: Re-gift or make something (no standards specified whatsoever, with the expectation that it can be funny, worthless, etc. but should retail at a very low price — nothing fancy!). For your ONE pet: One gift under $10." You don’t have to follow our approach. You could do all kinds of things instead — while keeping the Secret Santa spin (or not secret — but being assigned to just one person simplifies things a lot)."
Here are some other ideas:
1. Charity Edition
You choose a charity — and donate in honor of the people you love. We did this one year. You could try Kiva — where you give loans to people starting businesses around the globe, like in Ecuador or Uganda. Or find a charity through Charity Navigator. Or challenge each other to give locally — a couple of my favorites in the Bay Area are Glide and Homeless Prenatal Program.
2. Foodie Edition
Make or buy something edible — with a $10 limit. One year I made my grandmother peppermint bark. And another year, I bought my dad $10 worth of his favorite candy — Lemon Heads.
3. Handmade Edition
You could buy from Etsy, or make it even more interesting by challenging each person to find a new or local artist or artisan. Right now, I’m loving art by a local Bay Area artist, Heather Day.
4. Experience Edition
Instead of buying ‘things,’ you could gift experiences instead — and you could even choose to enjoy them together. Perhaps a camping trip. or a concert, or maybe one of the new AirBnB experiences. Or maybe something totally free — like a city walk.
You can adopt a family together — and match each person in your family to a person in your adopted family. What better way to share holiday love than to buy clothes or toys for a family who needs them.
Try something different this year. Ask your family or friends to try one of the approaches above. By focusing less on stuff and more on our time together, our holidays have become so much more meaningful — and I wish the same for you.