The custom of buying a brand-new gift for each person on your list can be excessive, especially if you celebrate with extended family, friends, community groups and coworkers. Try one of these ideas for reducing the number of material gifts while keeping the spirit of a gift swap.
A White Elephant Party is a fun way to share gifts without going overboard. Each person brings one wrapped, secondhand item in good condition to the party, and all the gifts are arranged anonymously on a table. Everyone draws numbers to see who gets to pick first. The person with the lowest number chooses a gift from the table and unwraps it. The second person can either choose another unwrapped gift or “steal” the first person’s gift. If a person’s gift is “stolen,” they get to choose another gift from the table. Continue opening and “stealing” each other’s presents until all are opened. Some people will love their gifts, some may not, but everyone gets to enjoy the game.
A secret gift exchange (sometimes known as Secret Santa) is all about having the personalized experience of giving and receiving without the excess and expense of giving to every person in the group. Organize everyone in advance through a website like Elfster or in person by putting all the participants’ names in a hat and having each person draw a name. The name you draw is the person to whom you’ll be secretly giving a gift. The gift-giving can take place at a holiday party or through the mail, and with or without a reveal at the end when everyone finds out who their gift came from.
Designate a dollar limit on gifts in advance. The lower the limit, the more creative the gift ideas get, especially if humor is the goal. You’ll be surprised by how much laughter you can evoke by spending a dollar or two at a yard sale.
Celebrations shouldn’t be measured by how many packages weigh down the gift table, whether the pile of presents is bigger than the tree, or if you have something to open on every night of Hanukkah. By embracing quality over quantity, the excitement of gifts can last long after the paper has been torn off.
The commercialized holiday culture encourages everyone to focus on buying stuff for our kids and ourselves. But many traditions instruct us that true joy and purpose come from focusing on the needs of others and embracing family traditions.
Consider having themed family get-togethers while working on a charity project together, making homemade presents or baked goods for others, playing games and decorating, rather than gift giving. Putting on holiday plays or talent shows and caroling are great ways to get the kids involved! For celebrations like birthday parties, minimize the hassle of cleaning up by encouraging guests to give alternative gifts like pet food or supplies for your local animal shelter’s wish list or supporting your favorite charity.
Check out the gift guide for ideas on meaningful, alternative gifts. You can also use the SoKind registry to explore and create alternative gift wish lists. Encourage the whole family to create wish lists to make sure everyone receives gifts they actually want.
Family gift giving is steeped in customs and nostalgia, and bringing new ideas into the mix causes some to feel anxious, confused and have hurt feelings. To help with the transition to alternative gifts, frame it positively (changing traditions, not ending traditions all together), be flexible, allowing traditions to change over time as circumstances change, and make sure to communicate respectfully with those most involved. If you need help getting started, try proposing it this way:
“This year, I really want to make sure that I’m giving gifts you actually want. I don’t just want to add clutter to your lives. I heard about this online service called SoKind that lets families make unique, memorable holiday wish lists. Here’s a sample holiday wish list—wouldn’t it be fun if our families created something like it this year?”