Three years ago my sister Leda (pictured above) approached the family with an idea for how to handle holiday gift giving that was hilarious, heartfelt and cost-free. Although Leda is a big-time New York lawyer, she is fundamentally a very down-to-earth family woman. As such, she’s always coming up with wonderful creative ways to get the family together and not just hang out, but have really meaningful experiences.
My core Christmas group is Leda, her husband Jason, my mom and my two little nieces Sienna and Emilia. If we’re lucky my little brother and Jason’s brother might swing by too. On this particular Christmas, Leda proposed a different way than usual to give gifts: She declared that we would only give each other things from our own homes.
Basically, we were each to go through our homes and pick out some of our own stuff to gift each other. We could pass on special things we no longer needed, but that might be of use to one another. Because we were letting that stuff go, we got the added gift of purging some of our possessions instead of just piling on more during the holidays.
Plus, it didn’t cost a dime and meant we didn’t have to go shopping, which completely removed the stress of holiday gift giving.
When Leda first proposed this idea it seemed cute and we were all game. But I could not have predicted how truly fun and heartwarming it would turn out to be. As I prepared for Christmas day I moved thoughtfully through my apartment contemplating books, clothing, tchotchkes, household items… looking at all of them with new eyes.
Would Jason like this frying pan? Maybe Leda wants this umbrella? I bet my mom could use this toothpaste, toddler Sienna could certainly appreciate this little stuffed horse…
By Christmas Eve I had made stacks of things for each family member on the floor, all ready to be wrapped. I got such a kick out of wrapping up silly items like a handful of teabags for Jason. Or half a sleeve of bobby pins for my sister. Also it was fun to know I was giving a beautiful peacock-print shawl to my mom (I had two of them) and other nice things for each family member.
As we opened our gifts on Christmas day we kept wanting to see each other open every single present. It was just so funny to find out what we all gave each other, and how we intuitively passed on things the others truly needed.
Leda gave my mom a cashmere sweater my mom had been eying for years. My mom gave me her second bathrobe without even knowing how badly I’d been wanting a bathrobe. I gave Jason a rug runner I wasn’t using without knowing there was one portion of their hallway that needed rug covering to help insulate footstep sounds for the apartment below. My sister gave me a couple pieces of their glass tupperware that I’d been coveting.
Gift after gift brought surprise and delight. By the time we were done, my face hurt from smiling and my body ached from laughing. It was just so satisfying. And each gift really did keep giving. Because the items I brought home were so infused with the energy of my loved ones.
The following year Leda had another excellent idea: Just give food. Can you imagine the possibilities? It cost very little compared to some of the big ticket items we might have gotten each other, but was all consumable (no waste), and everyone can use a load of groceries!
I came home with fancy black beans, truffle oil, potatoes, dark chocolate… I made my sister a whole batch of butternut squash soup and wrapped it up. My mom made Jason a loaf of bread. Again, it was heartfelt and hilarious.
This year the theme is “all natural”. I’m not sure quite what this will look like, but I hope my mom gives me clippings from some of her plants to replant. Perhaps I’ll make my nieces a faerie house from sticks in the park… the possibilities are seriously low cost, high fun, and endless…
Does this give you any ideas for the holidays that might involve less spending, waste and stress with a higher fun factor? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below…
Photo: Skrikanta H.