When my husband and I asked our children what they most enjoy about the holidays and what would make this Christmas even better, we were a little bit surprised by their responses. It’s the wish lists and the toy catalogs and the presents that seem to garner most of their day-to-day holiday chatter, but their answers to this question were unrelated to all of that. They are most looking forward to the festivities that allow us to spend time with family and friends, and they would like more of that.

One of their favorite traditions is a “white elephant” gift exchange we have each year in my family. It always produces hilarious results. No money is spent on these gifts. And even more interesting is the fact that this exchange is only for the adults, and we do this after the little kids have already unwrapped all their gifts. To me, that just proves the point that what they really want, what they’re really excited about, are the experiences. The time together. The memory-making. The relationships.

It’s important to my husband and me to nurture this in our girls. I don’t expect them to tear up their wish lists anytime soon and declare a non-consumerist holiday, but I do have ideas. For starters, one of their gifts from us this year is going to be a booklet with coupons they can cash in for experiences with mom and dad. These include things like going out for hot chocolate together, letting them plan a family game night, having me come eat lunch with them at school, and play time together. (I found this fun printable to use.)

Christmas coupons copyright simplify101

I’m also asking them to think of things they would like to do with their grandparents, aunts and uncles. That way, when asked for gift ideas, I can offer up suggestions of experiences my children would enjoy with them.

I like this idea so very much for a number of reasons. 1) Experiences are clutter-free! I won’t be nagging anyone to put away their Date with Dad or Ice Cream Excursion. 2) It’s far less consumer-driven than most of today’s holiday gifts. 3) Though there will be costs associated with some of their coupons, several are free. Plus, the spending gets spread out a bit, which helps our December budget! 4) It reinforces the idea that gifts are not always things.

Here are a few experience gift ideas for children:

  • Take a lesson together (art, cooking, fencing, karate).
  • Go on an educational fieldtrip to the zoo, museum, historical sight, science center.
  • Make a movie or dinner date.
  • Offer to teach them how to do something you do well (knit, bake, sew).

For the adults on your list:

  • Make a movie or dinner date.
  • Rather than just a gift card to their favorite store, plan a shopping spree with them.
  • Take a class together (art, cooking, dancing, rock-climbing).
  • Consider the recipients’ hobbies and interests, and consider an excursion based on those. Wine tasting? Photo safari? Bird watching? Garden tour?

The possibilities are nearly endless. I think the key here is to choose something your recipient would enjoy. It shows you know something about the person and that you are interested in being part of their world. Plus, it gives you the time and space to nurture your relationship and make memories together. Now that is a gift!

Happy Holidays!