Give Your Gifts the Thought That Really Counts

Cathy Zimmer

Let’s face it. We are in the spin cycle of gift giving. We’ve given Grandma her 27th sweater, and we just can’t bear to look at another pair of gloves for Uncle Larry. We’re out of ideas, and our gift giving feels empty and thoughtless. We rush around at the last minute, buying, buying, buying, just so we can have something to hand off at the family gathering or holiday party. Then, on the day after Christmas, the retail industry tells us we have 364 more days to shop, and the madness starts all over again. We’re totally out of control, and it shows in the quality of gifts we give.

Let’s just stop, breathe, and think about this for a minute. What is the purpose of a gift? Ideally, a gift tells a family member or friend that you know and understand them. You listen when they talk. You know their interests. A gift says “I get you.”  So, how can we take back control of our gift giving and make it something we feel good about again?

 Turns out a lot of people have been thinking about this question and have come up with some pretty great answers. Here are a few ideas to consider.

 Gift Giving Games

Gift giving games are typically more about the game and spending time with each other than they are about the gifts. These games are ideal for families that like to have a little fun and are also a little competitive. They are also perfect for large families who need to be frugal or families who just don’t believe in spending lavishly at the holidays. There are several fun versions.

Polyanna: For this game, all participants put their names in a hat, and each person picks a name. The name you pick is the only person you buy a gift for. This means you can focus solely on that person and take time to select precisely the right gift instead of diluting your attention and trying to buy gifts for everyone. This game is perfect for big families that are trying to keep costs down.

White Elephant: This game does not require you to buy anything. Instead, each person chooses something odd, unwanted, or downright tacky from around their home as a humorous gift. At the exchange, all gifts are placed in a pile, and each person chooses the gift he or she would like to open. Each person then picks a number from a hat. The person who picks number one gets to be the first to select any of the gifts available, including one someone else already chose, and open that gift. The game continues in numerical order until all gifts are opened. This game is typically for families that enjoy joking around and have a good sense of humor.

Yankee Swap: Yankee Swap generally follows the same rules as White Elephant, except the item you choose as your gift is something useful as opposed to something weird. Feel free to alter the rules to fit your family.

Personal Gifts

Remember when you were little and you made gifts for mom and dad or grandma and grandpa? Remember how much they loved those gifts? That “Aww, you made this?” feeling doesn’t need to end at childhood. People enjoy receiving homemade gifts, so why do we stop giving them after we get older?

You don’t have to be artistic to make something memorable. You can bake bread or share your summer sauce adorned with a nice holiday ribbon. You can give personal coupons for yard work or babysitting. Ultimately, you’re giving the gift of your time and care, which is meaningful in whatever form it takes.

Feel Good Gifts

One thing people often wrestle with is the short-lived, disposable nature of material gifts, like the doll that gets played with for ten minutes and then gets tossed aside. The reaction to this unfulfilled feeling is that more and more people are choosing to give experiences as gifts instead. Go on a family hike. Visit a local museum. Tour a winery. Often there are many experiences right in our own backyards that are just waiting to be discovered, and you’re much more likely to remember the time you spent together doing things than you are to remember just the things.

Another trend is to give to a cause on behalf of the recipient that both the you and the recipient can feel good about. With so many causes, it’s fairly easy to find one that suits the personality or interests of just about anyone. Here are two ideas for the animal lovers in your life to get you thinking.

Heifer International: This organization allows you to purchase animals for impoverished communities around the world to help build sustainable food sources and generate income. You can buy a goat, a heifer, a water buffalo, or other animal for a community in need.  What could be better than giving the gift of a goat?

World Wildlife Federation: The WWF offers symbolic adoptions of a wide variety of wild animals. The money helps protect certain species of animals and their habitats. Got a nephew who loves wombats? Adopt a wombat. Got an aunt who loves the slow loris? Adopt a slow loris. You’ll receive an adoption certificate and stuffed animal for your donation, so you can give and have something to give, too.

Gift giving shouldn’t feel like a stressful chore. It’s time we block out all of that materialistic, consumer-driven hype and get back to what really matters—family and friends. It truly is the thought that counts.