It’s that time of the year again: massive sales, holiday music blaring from every speaker, and crushing waves of shoppers looking for hot deals on the latest gadgets and fashions. Most of us gleefully plunge into this same ritual year after year, and even those of us who manage to avoid the “Black Friday” feeding frenzy start to assign dollar values to our friends and family. We’ve all done it: the girlfriend, she’s worth a C-note, give or take, the guys at the office won’t see any dead Presidents bigger than Jackson, and Mom and Dad are worth a nice dinner each at that pricey Italian place on the strip. Even though we kid ourselves, this kind of thinking eventually boils down to love = $$$.
But think about it. Aren’t these people in your life unique and irreplaceable? Surely there’s a better way to show your love and appreciation than by giving them stuff built by the bargeload in some Chinese factory. In that spirit, we’ve got some gift ideas that will show your loved ones how much you care about them, instead of how much you think they’re worth. (Oh, and did I mention they’re free?)
A Handwritten Letter
It’s time to break out a pen (with real ink? Or perhaps even a quill?) and those old handwriting workbooks from elementary school, because nothing says “I love you” more than a good, old-fashioned pen-and-paper letter that says so. When someone opens a letter written by hand, they know they’re not reading some quick E-mail dashed out on the fly, but instead they’re reading something unique that took time, thought, and love to craft. Don’t worry if your penmanship and grammar aren’t the best without Microsoft there to help out, all those wilted p’s and funny-looking q’s are part of the charm. Tip: this is especially great for anyone from the pre-E-mail generation.
Not to play down the handwritten letter, but if you believe “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then you can give that special someone an up-to-date picture of you looking happy and of course, beautiful. Pictures can be tucked into the sides of mirrors or propped up on a mantle, so your friends or loved-ones can enjoy your presence all year long. Strictly speaking, these aren’t always free, but if you go to the right place (like www.snapfish.com) they can be close enough. Tip: double down and stick a glossy of your smiling mug in with a handwritten letter.
A Handmade Gift
Like a letter, a handmade gift is completely unique and shows your giftee they are worth a little extra time and thought. Don’t worry if your name isn’t “Martha” and you can’t build the Taj Mahal out of popsicle sticks. Visit a craft store or check out www.craftsitedirectory.com to get some ideas about how to turn common household items into something creative and meaningful. Christmas ornaments are a timely gift that anyone with a bent paperclip and some creativity can put together. Got a golfer in the house? Take some golf tees and a ball, glue, and some fabric from those old plaid pajamas to make a cherished family ornament they can enjoy (or laugh with you about) for years to come. Here’s another thought; begin a scrapbook so you can share your precious memories for years to come. Tip: Take a look at your skills and hobbies; if you have just started knitting then knit them something. Even if it looks like a mangled windsock, they’ll love it.
Make it funny, make it romantic, or make it playful; whether you’re an immortal bard or hang with the “roses are red” crowd, a poem is a great gift that people you love can cherish to forever. Do a riff on “The Night before Christmas” that rhymes every line, or have a freestyle poetry jam using a toy microphone; whatever you have to say, say it. If you’re handy with the guitar, or even the accordion, go one step further and put it to music to write a song for your VIP. And how about recording it, and giving your loved one an original song written just for them? Tip: Nothing is less personal than “Times New Roman” so either hand-write your poem or use a font that looks like handwritten script; presentation is important!
A Piece of Artwork
Here’s something you may have forgotten since the last time one of your four-fingered, potato-headed self-portraits made it on to the family fridge: parents and grandparents love it when you draw and paint. If you’re a regular Rembrandt this gift idea is a no-brainer for anyone on your list. Mix up some burnt sienna and get painting. For those who still draw four-fingered potato heads, try drawing or painting with simple colors and patterns instead of trying to recreate Grandpa’s favorite Labrador retriever with your Crayolas. Tip: to avoid dropping your hard-earned dough on expensive supplies, use whatever you have on-hand to craft your masterpiece.
We’re not talking community service here; we’re talking about pitching in and lending a hand to the people around you. There are always yards to be raked, snow to be shoveled, or food to be cooked. Do it as a surprise, or simply make a coupon or I.O.U. which grants the lucky recipient one act (or more if you’re really generous) of service. It may require more elbow grease than swiping your Visa down the side of a keypad, but you might be surprised how much better you feel. Tip: the perfect gift for that person who says “Oh, don’t get me anything; I have too much stuff already.”
Plan a Day
I know it seems quaint nowadays, but whether it’s tossing the pigskin with dear ole’ dad or going to see a play with mom at the local college, the simple act of spending “quality” time together (especially with older relatives you don’t see very often) can be a great holiday gift. Pack a picnic with a couple thermoses full of hot soup and apple cider/coffee/tea along with some toasted sandwiches, then bundle up and find a spot to enjoy the great outdoors. Go online to find plenty of cheap-to-free activities in your community that you can share with someone. Tip: trying to save gas? Just go for a walk around the neighborhood, or, heck, don’t leave the house at all. Stay inside and chat, watch a movie, or read books together.
I can’t recommend tying a bow around your mouth and checking everyone off your list, but nothing says “I love you” like the most universal form of affection known to mankind. The humble kiss (cheeks for relatives, mouth for significant others, please) is unlimited, eco-friendly, fair-trade, organic, and exclusive to only those people you really care about. Tip: know your audience! Grandpa might not appreciate a tickle on the cheek from his college-aged grandson’s goatee.