Ah, the perfect gift. It’s the  gold star in our holiday shopping crown. Just imagine the look in their eyes when they open that beautifully-wrapped package. You’ll be the queen of gift-giving! You’ll be the ultimate shopper! You’ll be . . . exhausted.

A thoughtful gift is super special—but often the holidays can be filled with taking time we don’t have to buy things we can’t afford for people who don’t need those things in the first place. So what if we took a different view of gift-giving and instead of adding more stuff to our already overcrowded homes, we inspired our loved ones to agree to share:

1.  The Gift of Happy Memories.
Shared experiences bring people closer, so go do something together; the memories will last much longer than this year’s must-have gadget. Go big or small based on your preference and/or budget:  get group tickets to a concert or play, take a cruise or vacation, build a gingerbread house with the whole family, go on an outing to see holiday lights followed by hot chocolate and treats . . . aim to make it something the whole group can enjoy.


2. The Gift of Imagination.
Give everyone a virtual budget—say, $1 million per person—then write a card or letter to each person describing the gift you would have bought them with your pretend cash. At gift exchange time, go around the room and have everyone read out loud what the others gave them. Bonus: you can wrap this one and the cards/letters will make sweet keepsakes.

3.   The Gift of Participation.
Instead of a gift exchange at your get-together, have everyone bring a “talent” to share. Take that word talent loosely: participants can sing a song, tell a joke, share a story, balance a spoon on their nose, stand on their head . . . whatever they have to bring to the table. (Although we recommend not standing on your head at the table—though it could make for a great story later!) Everyone can participate, regardless of age or skill. Whatever they offer, it will be great. Or not—and sometimes epically not great is even better.


4.  The Gift of Attention.
Put the devices away and actually look at each other while you’re sharing the same space. Ask questions and listen to the answers. If your event is multi-generational, have younger family members interview older ones. (Check out StoryCorps for examples of what that might sound like.) If you’ve got a big crowd coming and you know them well enough, make up a game that gets people talking to each other to find out which one used to live in Japan, who collects dolphins, or whatever obscure fact sets each person apart.


5.  The Gift of Giving.
In lieu of gifts for each other, make a difference for someone else: buy clean water, clothing, or medical care for families in the U.S. or across the globe. BELONG Renewal Partner World Vision has some great selections in their Gift Catalog; check out Angel trees and other options—local, national, and international—to find one that strikes a chord with your crowd. If you’d like to be even more “hands-on” go as a group to volunteer at a shelter or charity.

Have you done any of these? How’d it go? Do you have another idea to add to the list? Please share in the comments if you do.