Easy on the Material Goods: An Alternative Christmas Gift Giving Guide


Easy on the Material Goods: An Alternative Christmas Gift Giving Guide | Duluth Moms Blog

Wow, the holiday season really snuck up on me this year #thingsmomssayeveryyear. This time of year can be a bit busy and stressful, but I have to say, I’m really looking forward to it. Having young children in the house brings some special magic to the Christmas season, their excitement about the lights and decorations and Santa is truly contagious. This might be the year that we get a picture of the twins with smiling faces with Santa rather than fear or dead eyes, although if I’m being honest I truly love the imperfect Santa photos. I have one framed from every year and I display them as part of our Christmas decor. 

Easy on the Material Goods: An Alternative Christmas Gift Giving Guide | Duluth Moms Blog

Minimalist Traditions from My Childhood

It’s our 5th Christmas a family of four and we’re still figuring out what our holiday traditions are exactly, but one thing is certain, we’ll continue to give gifts to each other and to our family and friends that follow the minimalist principles we live by. Our minimalist lifestyle is a blog post for another day, but when it comes to Christmas, this means that the majority of gifts we give are not material things but instead they are either experiences or foods/beverages. 

My mom is actually the visionary behind this tradition. Every Christmas throughout my childhood she was tasked with giving gifts to arguably the most challenge giftee there ever was: my grandpa. He didn’t enjoy receiving gifts as he swore he never needed anything and he didn’t like how Christmas was changing from a family-centered holiday to one rife with overconsumption of material goods.

My mom, understanding where he was coming from, began to wrap up his favorite treats as gifts rather than buying him clothes or things that he didn’t feel he needed. His gift always included jars of pickled herring, ginger snaps, smoked oysters and sardines, nuts and dried fruits, and lingonberry jam. He would unwrap each item with slow precision to preserve the wrapping paper so it could be used again.

I would die a slow death waiting for him to open the gift and exclaim his appreciation for 5 minutes before it was my turn to open again but as an adult, memories of him opening his gifts are some of my absolute favorites from childhood.

As a child I received toys and clothes, yes, but more often my gifts were sporting equipment, a season ski pass, tickets to a theater production, and sweets. The older I got, the more and more we exchanged consumable and experience gifts to the point where I’m pretty sure that’s all we’ve given each other for the past five years or so. We recognized that my grandpa was right all along, we got more enjoyment out of the foods and experiences than we would from a material gift like a sweater.

Carrying it Over to the Next Generation

What I also love about consumable and experience gifts is that they really get used and they are not a thing that will end up collecting dust, broken, or at the end of its life, in a landfill. Last Christmas we skipped the usual sweater (which we noticed he never wore anyway) and bought my father-in-law a year of Netflix. He absolutely loved it and has binged watched an incredible number of series over the past year. It was such a hit, we’ll be giving him the same thing again this year. What we did was just upgrade our own account to multiscreen and logged in on his TV. He has his own profile that keeps track of what show and episode he is on. 

For my nieces and my daughter last year, I took them to a kid-friendly afternoon tea at a hotel. We got all dressed up and I even curled their hair, we drank tea and milkshakes and ate sandwiches and scones. It was a really fun outing for us and I plan to do something similar for them this year. The cost was a bit over $13 per child which was far less than I would have spent on toys and it was quality time spent together which is really special. I still wanted them to have a gift to open on Christmas so I typed up an invitation to our afternoon tea, printed it out and taped it inside a box which they then opened. 

Easy on the Material Goods: An Alternative Christmas Gift Giving Guide | Duluth Moms Blog

Here is my suggestion: If you’re going to give an experience gift, make sure it is scheduled prior to giving the gift. If there is no specific date scheduled it would be too easy to put it off and never end up following through on this. So if you’re going to take your niece and nephew to the movies, arrange the date and time with their parents and maybe even secure the tickets prior to giving the gift. 

Consumable and experience gift ideas: A subscription for a service that the giftee likes such as Netflix, Amazon Music, Spotify, iCloud storage (a little boring, but useful), Hulu, beer of the month club, or wine or cheese, or an even an App for their phone. You can find instructions online on how to gift an app in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. 

Experience gifts: Gift certificate to the movie theater or an outing to the movies, tickets to an event like Paw Patrol or a concert or a theater production either in Duluth or Minneapolis, passes to the water park, or an outing to a canvas painting class, pottery painting studio or shooting range, an outing to Vertical Endeavors (or maybe they have a punch card for 5 climbs or something). A gift certificate for a massage or a facial, manicure, pedicure. 

Lessons and classes: Dance classes (For Christmas last year my dad paid for Claire to take ballet classes and she loved it! They way we do this is he transfers the money to our bank account as we both use the same bank, and I make the purchase). Another idea is a session of swimming lessons, or ice skating lessons, skiing lessons, gymnastics classes, a session of Saturday morning soccer, or equipment for any of these activities. 

Gift certificate for gas or a car wash for your favorite teen. A Gift card to a restaurant.

Annual passes: Aquarium, Zoo, Children’s Museum, Spirit Mountain, Little Neechers Play Space, Chester Bowl or Trampoline Park. Season tickets to the Duluth Playhouse, or a Great MN Ski Pass for cross country skiing on all the public trails nearby.

Foods and beverages that make good gifts: Smoked salmon, nuts, chutneys and jams, a top shelf liquor, a nice bottle of wine, real maple syrup, honey from a local farm, fudge, olive oil, truffle oil, Bloody Mary making kit, balsamic vinegar, cookies, coconut oil, spices, truffles, cured meats, stinky cheeses, crackers. 


  1. OMG, This is the best article about gift giving from Kristina Leonard. The memories of her grandpa, my father, are so true – he wanted no gifts, but slowly unwrapped his oysters and blue cheese and other items while we all waited, and waited for our turn then thanked us with gusto over his much appreciated consumable gifts. The memories are long and deep and it makes me miss my mom and dad even more during this special Spiritual time of year.

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