In the age of digital wishlists, global shipping and everything on-demand, has your holiday gift-giving become more transactional than meaningful?
Perhaps the kids (or adults) in your life already have rooms overflowing with everything they could possibly need.
America is no stranger to the desire for stuff. In 2021, in the month of November alone, U.S. consumers spent $109.8 billion online, up 11.9 percent compared to 2020. And I get it—what is better than opening up a gift and seeing the flashiest new gadget?
But from my vantage point, it will be weeks, if not days, before this once-most-desired item ends up tucked in the closet or gathering dust in a basement.
To combat our increasing mountains of stuff, in the last few years, I have tried to think about gift-giving more broadly than the giving of “stuff.” In doing so, I have found that as you move away from thinking about gifts in terms of things, you move toward giving thoughtful and “creatively-you” presents—conveying more meaning than just picking something off someone’s Amazon wishlist.
Giving experiences doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, all it takes is a little intentionality and a bit of bravery to think outside the box. Last year, for example, I sent my niece and nephew all around our house searching for clues that led them to (a mostly secondhand) box of holiday “treasure” that they talked about for weeks.
Creating and giving experiences are two great ways to re-infuse meaning into your gift-giving.
For little ones in particular, you can extend the shelf life of any gift by giving an activity.
Holiday game day: Instead of presents as the main event this year, try planning a way to get your loved ones laughing together, perhaps with a competitive edge.
Split into teams (or compete individually) in a holiday Olympics with games like paper airplane-throwing contest, indoor bowling and a living room pillowcase race. Or thrift a collection of vintage costumes, stage props and decorations to host a holiday karaoke night.
How to give it: The best part of gift-giving is the big reveal, so think through how you want to welcome your group to whatever shared event your preparing. For example, keep your plans a surprise until your guests arrive, and share an official invitation or present the first clue, tucked into an envelope, when you are all together.
Craft kit: Create a “kit of parts” for a craft project, and spend some time creating together. For example, build a holiday nature-walk kit by including a few toilet paper tubes—for a set of binoculars, of course—and an assortment of small cardboard boxes to construct nature-display case for treasures found along the way.
For something more indoors, repurpose an old egg carton, a few worn holiday socks and some decorations to create a cast of holiday puppets and put on a show for any unsuspecting guests!
How to give it: A craft kit is a great surprise for the end of a scavenger hunt, but it’s easy enough to wrap the supplies in a decorative gift box to make it feel special. Make sure you provide a picture or example of what the kit will make as inspiration.
Embrace the gift certificate: Buying a gift certificate for a local experience is a great gesture, but planning meaningful time to explore the local area together as part of your gift will brighten the dark days of winter with conversation and shared experiences.
How to give it: Purchase any needed admission tickets in advance, if possible, and tuck them in an envelope with a little note. If you’re clever, this can be a riddle, but a few simple words telling them why you want to take them out, when it is happening, and anything they should know, will do just fine.
Looking for some ideas to start with? Here’s a list of some local experiences that might do the trick:
Take your loved one on a half-day tour of the Pocono Mountains with an old-fashioned train ride. Winter-themed tours, wine nights and kid-friendly fun can be booked at thestourbridgeline.net. Find the train at 812 Main St., Honesdale, PA.
Grey Towers National Historic Site
Book a tour of the ancestral home and gardens of Gifford Pinchot, first director of the United States Forest Service, for your favorite nature-lover. Weekend tours and seasonal events are offered via their website, and those events include a reading of “A Christmas Carol” Friday, December 2 to Sunday, December 4.
Find Grey Towers at 122 Old Owego Tpk. in Milford, PA. Visit greytowers.org.
Apple Day Spa
Book a sinus-relief facial massage or a luxury lie-down pedicure for a little winter relief for your collective faces and toes.
The spa is located at 152 Grandview Ave in Honesdale, or visit appledayspa.com.
Utopia Day Spa
Indulge together in some Reiki energy healing or in a hot stone massage to warm inside and out. The spa is located at 2557 Rte. 6 in Hawley, PA. Learn more at utopi
Plan a full day of wellness by starting with a morning yoga class, followed by a chakra healing sound bath.
The Chi Hive is located at 22 Main St. in Narrowsburg. Learn more at www.thechi
Bodhi Tree Art Studio
The studio offers both kids’ classes, like “Create Your Own Monster,” and beginner adult classes. Those include classes like the basics of acrylic painting, and help a loved one pick up a new creative hobby.
Bodhi Tree is located at 214 6th St., Ste. B in Honesdale. Learn more at bodhitree
The Art Factory
For the more mature artist, book a class in printmaking with the masters, or simply plan a day out to tour the gallery and artist store.
The Art Factory is located at 736 Texas Palmyra Hwy. in White Mills, PA. Learn more at theartfactoryofwhitemills.com/classes.
Skytown Adventure Lodge
Get your adventure-lovers’ blood moving with some outdoor fun. Skytown offers snow tubing, ice skating, skiing and snowboarding all winter long.
It’s located at 1 Skytop Dr #2, in Skytop, PA. Learn more at skytop.com/activities.
Elite Martial Arts
For those in your life who are bouncing off the walls with energy, check out both adult and kids offerings in karate, yoga and kickboxing.
Elite Martial Arts is located at 8 Riverside Dr. in White Mills, PA. Learn more at www.emaikarate.com/home.
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