Getting creative with your giving (and a giveaway)

In spite of the fact that we know Christmas isn’t about gifts, we still give. There are so many good ways to give charitably. To find ways to help those who need help, those who are alone, those who are struggling. But if you’re like most of us, you’ll still give gifts to your family and close friends. When I do this, it’s not because I don’t do the charitable things. I do those, too. But giving thoughtful gifts is one of my favorite ways to show the people in my life that I love them. I thought I’d share some ideas in case you’re staring at your computer screen, feeling the need to do some online shopping, but feeling fresh out of ideas.

It helps me to create a mental theme. The recipients don’t need to know what it is, but it helps give me a framework for my ideas.

One year I focused on names. I spent hours scouring ebay and etsy looking for something interesting related to a person’s name. Some really good finds included: Antique sheet music (song title “Dance of the Katydids,” after my daughter Katie’s nickname). Antique bill of sale (framed) for a shoe and boot company that shared my brother-in-law’s last name. A book called Miss O’Dell for my mom (Ann O’Dell), and a framed matchbook from the 50s from the HOTEL ODELL. My Dad and sister got sets of glasses with logos from O’Dell’s Brewing Company. My son Bobby got a Bob the Fish shirt. My husband is a huge Stephen King fan. I found a beer label with a scene from the book The Shining, set at the Stanley Hotel, and framed it for him. Places like Cafe Press and Zazzle have graphics for nearly any name, topic, quote or hobby. My sister had a double wine bottle tote customized with the names of a couple, one on each side (he liked red wine, she liked white) so they could take wine with them to friends’ houses for dinner. My mother in law loves to quilt, so I ordered quilting-themed address labels for her. I ordered a small silver charm for my niece, whose nickname is Muffin. The gifts were all simple and pretty inexpensive, but they were fun to give (and I hope fun to get!).

Book-themed gifts. My friend Lisa, a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice (and all things Jane Austen), is the proud owner of a Jane Austen action figure. A mug with a quote from Mr. Darcy. A poster with the text from the book in the shape of the picture. Fan lit books. Note cards. Or you can give actual books to people, of course. As I’ve gotten to know some published authors, I’ve started getting books signed to my friends or family members to give as gifts. You can do this at book signings and author lunches, writing conferences, or if the author is accessible, they might even sign it and mail it back to you. If you want to take it a step further, add small gifts related to the book topic. I just bought Kelsey Timmerman’s book, Where Am I Eating?, for a friend, along with a food item mentioned in the book. I’m giving kitchen utensils along with a White House Chef series book written by my friend Julie Hyzy.

You can give experiences. Movie tickets, college or professional basketball game tickets, concerts and plays. Gift certificates to art or music lessons or craft classes. A massage or facial. You could give gift cards to restaurants, or better yet, set a time to take your friend(s) to dinner, your treat, and enjoy the time together. If your friend goes to a coffee shop every morning, consider a gift card for the cost of five cups of coffee — one week of mornings, your treat. Plan an outing at the art museum and take your friend to lunch. Schedule a wine tasting. One year my friends took me to an amazing antique market to browse and a funky coffee shop for dessert. If the person you’re buying for is going to be traveling soon, you can buy guidebooks and language phrasebooks. Cookbooks or music from the area they’re going to. Travel-sized accessories, a backpack, or maybe a photo album, memory card or gift certificate to print photos at a local store. It doesn’t have to be a large or expensive gift, just something to try to enhance the experience for that person.

Money’s always good. But I get tired of just buying gift cards all the time. If you do give money in this form, buy the cards strategically. For a family friend in college, search Google to find restaurants near the dorm. See which places deliver. Give gift cards for pizza delivery, late-night cookie delivery places, and a roll of quarters for laundry. If I’m buying a gift for a reader, I might buy a Barnes & Noble gift card (or Amazon for a Kindle user) along with a bookmark or Starbucks card. Buy a nail polish or inexpensive accessory from a clothing store to wrap up with a gift card from places like H&M or American Eagle. If your friend or relative is in the middle of a home improvement project, consider cash tucked inside a Kitchen Ideas magazine. Or tuck it in a little box with a Christmas tree ornament of a ladder, hammer, or can of paint. These are all little things, but they show that you put some thought into the gift. If you give to a charity in someone’s name, consider what organizations might be important to them. If you donate to an overseas missions organization, consider an ornament or small handcrafted item from that region to accompany the note about the donation. My mom used to donate animals through Heifer International as gifts, and she would buy a small stuffed sheep or goat or cow so she’d have something to wrap.

Give of yourself. Deliver a meal. Volunteer to shovel a sidewalk. Write a letter for your friend about the funniest things that have happened when you were together, and thanking her for the friendship. Frame a 5×7″ photo you took on vacation to give as a memento — it can just be something pretty, or it might be a pub sign with your friend’s name, or a picture of something you know they love. Make art — any kind of art or craft. Write a poem or a song. Knit a scarf. Sew a pillow. Make candy or cookies. Give someone your tried-and-true favorite things (movies, books, chocolates, cosmetics, office supplies). Or my favorite gift to give — a small prayer journal in which I’ve written down my prayers for that person. Both times I’ve done it, I’ve prayed every day for a month, whatever is on my heart for that person — her needs, her family, her health, her finances, her faith, her career, her relationships. The book becomes a tangible way to give something as abstract as prayer.

Addie Zierman published a post called 7 Gift Ideas for the One Who is Struggling, and there are several really thoughtful and meaningful suggestions there. Take a minute to read it, if you can.

And now it’s time to hear from you. What are some unusual or fun ideas you have for gifts? I love hearing other people’s ideas.

GIVEAWAY: Monday — and every Monday throughout the month of December — I will draw a name from my list of blog subscribers for one of these items. Anyone who follows my blog is eligible, whether you were my first follower or you signed up five minutes before the drawing. I hope you’ll encourage friends and family to enter. They’re just some little things I like, a small way to share my appreciation for all of you who read what I write. Thanks!

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