No Christmas Gifts?! Giving Experiences Instead of Stuff!

No Gifts for Christmas?!

Why we did it

Last Christmas we decided to shake things up a bit and NOT give gifts! What!?!  No gifts?  What the heck would we do on Christmas morning?!  It was a little scary going out on that limb, but the results were well worth it!  We decided that instead of giving gifts we would be giving experiences to each other!

So, typically our Christmas looks something like this.  We exchange names among everyone who will be around for Christmas.  The exchange may or may not be a little rigged, but it would be for good reasons if it were! Not saying that it is, though!  Then, we tell the person that has our name what we want for Christmas and they get that gift.  Then on Christmas morning, we exchange and open our gifts, knowing exactly what we’re getting – because it’s what we asked for.  Now there’s nothing really wrong with this scenario, but it’s not particularly meaningful.  And, last year we realized that we really don’t need anything.  None of us!  We are fortunate to be able to say we have what we need and then some!

Giving Experiences

Giving Experiences

So, here’s what we did.  We went ahead and exchanged names.  It included me, my husband and our two kids, my brother, younger sister and older sister and her two sons and husband.  Also included were my mom and aunt.

Instead of giving gifts, we exchanged experiences!  And, we were completely responsible for figuring out our adventure with our person.  So each person would participate in two separate experiences (one that they were the giver and the other the recipient).  The ages in our family ranged from 12 to 79!  The only criteria was that it was an appropriate experience for your person, and to try and stay within a budget.

Christmas morning, instead of exchanging gifts, we exchanged our experiences.  We went around the room and said whose name we had and what our experience together was going to be.  And, while we didn’t have the traditional mound of gifts and wrapping paper, we did have the fun of talking about who we were going to spend time with and what we were going to be doing.  And, because some folks would be heading back home soon, the experiences had to be completed within a couple of days!

Giving Experiences


From Presents to Presence!

The results of our Giving Experiences Experiment were Exceptional!  Everyone had a great time, and precious memories were made!  Did we miss the gifts?  I don’t think so!  Personally, I didn’t and from what I heard, even from my kids, the experiences were better than a gift would have been!  The the gift of time far outweighed just another thing to drag home!

A few of the highlights:

Changing Relationships

My brother had my son’s name for the swap.  The two of them hadn’t hung out one-on-one ever.  So, this was kind of a big deal.  His gift to my son was a ride on his Harley, lunch at our local sushi restaurant and then an afternoon at the reptile center.

First off, the riding on a Harley was cool!  What 12 year old wouldn’t want to do that!!  Next, sushi ~ sushi is his favorite food!  So, for his uncle to take him out for his favorite food was a pretty awesome thing.  And, lastly, what boy doesn’t like a reptile center?!  I wouldn’t have taken my son there because well, I don’t like snakes – AT ALL!  So, for them to be able to hang out, touch snakes and talk sushi – it made for a very memorable, awesome day!  They now have fun memories that just the two of them share!  I love that!!

Fun & Interesting Memories

My kids had both of my sisters names for their experiences together.  They decided to go together on the experience and bought Groupons for kayaking.  Neither of them had been kayaking before, but they knew their aunts both enjoy being outdoors.  They paid for it themselves and were pretty excited about it!  They all went out on New Year’s Day, and had a great time together.  As an added bonus for the experience, they were interviewed by our local paper and were on the front page of the local section the next day!  How’s that for an experience 🙂

Giving Experiences

Spending the morning kayaking with Family!

Quality Time Together

I had my aunt’s name for the exchange.  We don’t get to spend much time together as just the two of us, so it was a fun day!  I took her to lunch at her favorite restaurant and then I gave her a gift card to Barnes & Noble, so we wandered around the bookstore together for a couple of hours.  Our idea of a good time 🙂

Because life is so busy, probably even more so during the holiday season, it’s important to make intentional decisions to spend time (and quality time) with those who matter!  It’s always a choice of where we spend both our time and our resources, so choose wisely!

Learn how to give the give of time ~ give your Presence instead of Presents!Click To Tweet

Want To Try Giving Experiences?!

Here’s a few ideas for giving experiences, in case you would like to try something like this:

  • If Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate) seems too big, go for a birthday instead.  We have been giving experiences for birthdays for several years now.  One year we bought 4-day passes to Disney.  We each got one day that was “our day.”  We got to  choose which park and the meal for our day and we all had a great day!
  • Host a cookie decorating day (with family or friends).  Make sure to choose who you want to spend time with.  But, make sure you don’t stress yourself out over the details.  This is supposed to be fun, quality time together.  If you spend it stressed out – it’s NOT working!
  • Change up a family get-together and make it a Murder Mystery Party!  We did this on Christmas Eve one year, and it was hysterical!  We still talk about it, and it was 20 years ago!!

Now, just to be clear, we don’t have a problem with gifts and we do give our kids gifts.  But, the goal, I think, is to shift the focus off of gifts and onto the people we are spending time with.  However you do that and whatever works for you and your family, is what is right!  Your right will probably look different than my right!  But, again, we always have a choice of where (and with whom) we spend our time and our resources ~ Choose Wisely!

Quality Time

Cookie Decorating with Friends!


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Giving Experiences


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Giving Experiences

  1. OhMyGoodness, I love this idea – especially because our big family get-together Christmas has turned into such a gift mess this year. It feels like we have an entry fee for Christmas! Pinned!

  2. Yes! My family has done this every year for the past 4 and it has made us all so much closer. Last year we went on the Polar Express in Flagstaff, AZ instead of buying presents and it was so worth it! I wrote a post about giving too, I’m glad this is picking up steam. 🙂


  3. this sounds like such a great idea! gifts can get messy, I think as I grow older I prefer more experiences instead of things!

  4. These is great post but i think this thing wont work in my family. But these is wonderful ideas.

  5. Honestly, I think it’s an amazing idea! No material gift can ever replace experiences or memories! That’s the best gift ever, especially for kids!

  6. I love this idea, my family are not that close (in the sense that we spend one on one time with each other), this gifting experiences is a great way to spend quality time together.