The holidays get me a little overwhelmed. There is so much stuff in the world and so many people I love, and matching the stuff with the people while trying to keep to a budget seems impossible some days.
So over time I have developed have two basic rules for gifts. I try to find people something they would not buy for themselves, and attempt to buy the highest quality of whatever it is that I can afford.
This generally winds up looking like small luxuries for everyone, a high quality notebook, a whimsical tree ornament made by a local artist, really good chocolate. Most people don’t buy themselves top-of-the-line anything, and we have so much stuff already that a small indulgence is savored while an inexpensive larger gift is used and tossed quickly. $20 pair of wool socks will last for years, and $20 acrylic sweater will not.
With those guidelines in mind, here are a few ideas:
Gorgeous paper products: Handmade note cards, a quality notebook, unique paper decorations, embossed stationary, etc.
How many times a day do we rummage through the house for a birthday card, or a thank you card, or something to write a grocery list on? Imagine being the person to stop your friend from frenzied rummaging by gifting her a lovely stack of cards or a trim notebook she can keep in her purse.
Artisan soaps and lotions: Lavender-honey soap, real beeswax lip balm, creamy lotions, specialty salves.
Local farmers markets and specialty sores are full of wonderful, high quality items most people would not indulge in on their own. At the holidays, you can indulge for them. One year a friend brought me a little pot of salve to save my hands from the ravages of gym climbing. I use it regularly and think of her every time.
Cozy knits: excellent socks, a cashmere scarf, an alpaca knit hat, snuggly mittens.
These are all items for which you don’t need to know a person’s size, and one can always use multiples. Observe your friends, figure out which colors they are drawn to, and buy accordingly.
Kitchen linens: Dish towels, hot pads, oven mitts, aprons.
Any one who cooks burns through these essentials pretty quickly. You probably have no idea if a person on your list needs a spatula, but you can be relatively sure there is a ratty kitchen towel ready to retire in a drawer somewhere.
Memories: framed pictures, photo albums, personalized calendars, a framed poster from a favorite concert or event
Framing one shot of a special memory from the year, or putting a few pictures together in a book from Snapfish or in and old-fashioned scrap book is always a thoughtful gift, particularly for far-away friends and family.
Not-in-your-home made foods: Endless options
The idea of lovingly baking for others at the holidays fills me with dread. I want to be the sort of woman who cozies in for the day cooking for others but… when? There is literally one free day between now and Christmas on which I could bake, and chances are I will fill up those hours pretty quickly. Fortunately, there are hand-made tortillas, tamales, beautiful breads, sausages, special cheeses, and who knows what other wonderful things to eat for sale in this town.
Give an experience: A month’s membership to a climbing gym, a reservation at a summer camp, a trail ride, lunch at a favorite spot, a punch pass to Barre 3, concert tickets, theater tickets, a camping trip.
Large or small, these are our family’s favorite gifts to give and to get. For the last two years my children have given their grandparents a trip to the movies. We block out time, get popcorn and sodas, and all go together. My mother often gives each of her grandchildren a special lunch out, something their stingy parents never do.
Have a go-to gift: Readers choice
Honestly it’s better to give someone something they love every year, rather than trying to come up with something new they will feel they have to keep or use out of obligation. In December, my husband and I pack up baskets of whatever we’ve canned, pickled or preserved, throw in a few homemade soaps from the farmers market and we have gifts for family. One friend of mine always receives a bottle of vodka. My mom and a good friend of hers have taken each other out for lunch and then to a book store for their birthdays for years.
A note on presentation: Responsible wrapping
Let’s not pretend that we don’t love a gorgeously wrapped gift. Beautiful wrapping is like clothing for your presents. But I also don’t want to pretend that using paper and ribbons once for the purpose of clothing a gift isn’t a little wasteful and silly.
I’ve always saved quality ribbons. The day after Christmas I roll up left over ribbon, and put it back in the ribbon box to wait another year. A few years ago I bought a huge roll of recycled craft paper. Now we wrap our gifts in the brown paper, and reuse it for all our craft paper needs through out the year. I also pick up baskets at St. Vinnie’s and Goodwill throughout the year, so by the holidays I have a pile of them to pop pickled things into and send out the door to friends. If I’m feeling particularly crafty I’ll run outside and cut off a sprig of literally anything and attach it to the basket. It is easy and beautiful.
I hope this list is helpful and takes a little angst out of your shopping and sneaks in a little joy. Do you have great gift ideas? Please post them in the comments below!
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