Tips for Creative Giving

Home & Family, Living Green, Seasonal, Traditions
on December 9, 2001

Finding just the right holiday gift for loved ones may be simpler than you think. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t even have to be tangible.

The best gifts are those that simply have meaning for both the giver and the receiver. Perhaps these ideas will help spark some creative giving of your own.

Garden in a jar

Find an elegantly shaped bottle or old canning jar and fill it with a variety of seeds, such as beans, layered for size, color, and texture, from bottom to top. These can be beautiful to look at, and if the recipient ever tires of that, the insides can be planted to see what comes up.

Equally handsome and useful are bottles of herbal vinegar or olive oil that you make yourself. Clear glass bottles with stoppers can be found at craft, kitchen, or antique shops, and fresh herbs are stocked by most supermarkets. Use whatever herb (or combination) looks the best and suits your taste.

A Cup of Christmas Tea
by Tom Hegg, illustrated by Warren Hanson

This slim volume—a poem, actually—is a simple, heartwarming story of how one man’s reluctant visit to an elderly, infirm aunt’s house unexpectedly renews his holiday spirit and brings him joy.

Her invitation to stop by for a cup of Christmas tea was met with fears that it would be too depressing. But when he arrived at her home, he found the Nativity and ornaments from his boyhood. He also found a great-aunt whose eyes sparkled and who, in spite of the effects of a mild stroke, was passionately interested in everything he did.

A Cup of Christmas Tea, now in its 20th year, has sold more than 1.3 million copies and has inspired many to visit their aging family and friends. As the traditional ’Twas the Night Before Christmas is read in countless homes, this poem also deserves a permanent place on Christmas Eve.

Tickets to a sports event or show

Treat someone to an event they most likely never would indulge in, such as professional or regional athletics, a NASCAR race, a community theater performance, or a concert.

Better yet, offer to use the second ticket yourself and give your loved one an invaluable gift: your company.

It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart

This ageless classic, directed by Frank Capra, has evolved into a Christmas tradition in the 55 years since its release. Who can resist the storyline? An ambitious man who spends so much time helping others that life seems to pass him by. Despondent over his failing business, he wishes he had never been born. He gets his wish, and, through the eyes of a guardian angel, he sees what the world would be like had he not been born.

It’s a Wonderful Life on home video is a great way to get into the spirit—during the holidays or any other time.

Photo album or video montage

Take those old family photos stuffed in shoeboxes or stored way back in the closet and create a meaningful gift of memories.

Organize them any way that suits you, but consider a “this is your life” theme, showing the recipient’s life in pictures from the early years until now.

Many video companies also can take a series of photographs and set them to music and graphics of your choosing. Make the music mean something. For example, if your sister walked down the aisle to Pachelbel’s Canon, use that music as a backdrop to a video montage of her and her family.

Framed photographs

Look through your stacks of photographs from the last year, looking for wonderful shots of your family and friends. Take the best and have them enlarged and framed. These are personal, economical, and will be some of the most appreciated gifts ever.

For next year’s gift-giving, look for opportunities throughout the coming year—family reunions, special events—to take extra-special photographs of elderly relatives, family pets, or special moments in your loved ones’ lives.

Magazine subscriptions

Magazine subscriptions are like getting a new gift in the mail each month. Plus, you needn’t worry about fit, color, or style. Most are reasonably priced and cover hundreds of subjects from archaeology to zoos.


Consider the recipient’s lifestyle and interests before choosing a cookbook. Your grandson, who owns just one saucepan and a frying pan, probably wouldn’t be interested in a gourmet book. Your vegetarian niece most likely would prefer a non-meat cookbook. Cookbooks of foreign lands can be especially fun.

Novice chefs or those who prefer the basics may appreciate the classic guides, Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, Joy of Cooking, or Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Those who delight in desserts but are afraid to try them may want the new Fearless Baking by Elinor Klivans which promises to “turn any ‘bake-a-phobic’ into a ‘bake-a-holic.’”

Create a family cookbook by gathering treasured family recipes and copying them into a nice binder or journal. Or print them on recipe cards and buy a pretty recipe box.

Stationery and stamps

Older friends or family members, who can be a challenge to buy for, usually don’t need another set of handkerchiefs or picture puzzles. What they would like is a little convenience.

Choose appropriate stationery and include a book or two of stamps, saving them a little cash and a trip to the post office. They will appreciate such thoughtfulness.

Family genealogy

Most any family would love a genealogy. These can take time and determination, but the results are wondrous—especially if the pages include not only names, but old photos or descriptions of what life was like at various times in the family past.

The brother of one man in our office journeyed to Norway to bring back a watercolor painting of the 19th-century family farm, prints of which he gave to the extended family at Christmas, along with the genealogy. Ask at a bookstore for help, or try a search on the Internet.

Family trivia game

These are as much fun to make up as they are to give. At any family gathering, pass around pencils and paper and have family members think up facts from the past that may stump others. These may include old telephone numbers, street addresses, teacher names, pet names, old flames from high school, favorite games as kids, embarrassing moments, and so forth. Once you begin it’s hard to stop. Be sure to write down the results and expand the trivia history next time.

Hotel room and dinner

What couple wouldn’t appreciate a little time with just each other? And the chance to escape their daily routine? Give them that valued time with gift certificates to a nice hotel or resort and favorite restaurant.

If they have children, add the offer to baby-sit to your gift, so their night away is worry-free.

Mailbox renewal

When you know good friends will be away for a few hours, go paint their mailbox in a way they’d like. Or replace a worn-out and dented old mailbox with a new one and slap a nice red ribbon on the side.

Your time

Nothing can be bought or made that compares with simply spending time with someone. Reject the holiday rush and, instead, spend that time in meaningful ways with those you love most. Take a winter walk with your spouse; encourage stories of “the good old days” from elderly friends or relatives; do something fun with your children. Those memories will last far longer than most presents.

The love and care you take with your loved ones means everything, costs nothing, and always will be treasured.