During the holiday season, many are compelled to participate in a cycle of relentless mall-hopping and late night online-scrolling. Those tasks put a severe strain on both health and finances. Before you pull your hair out, trying not to suffocate amidst a sea of shoppers, take a look at these alternatives to traditional Christmas presents.


Don't think of food as a table filled with platters holding a variety of sweet and savory options. Think small. Is there a particular dish that means a lot to someone in your life? Food is impactful and cost-efficient. Baking your partner's favorite dessert from scratch is more meaningful and well thought out than a pricy golf set. Perhaps, having a cook-off with neighbors might spark some joy in a dreary household. Holding an impromptu friendmas gathering before everyone flies off to see family is a genuine way to show generosity, rather than painfully striving to out-gift each other.

Edibles nourish our bodies and lift our spirits in so many ways. Food is built into societal norms as a reason for gathering, as well as an expression of recognition, affection and unity. Moms heal and comfort their sick children with chicken noodle soup. Co-workers toast champagne in recognition of someone's recent promotion. Sharing a decadent chocolate soufflé on a first date is enough to ignite a romantic spark.

From childhood, our senses are conditioned to associate elaborately garnished pastries served during gatherings with a cause for celebration. Evidence shows that mankind has gathered in groups to partake in communal meals for 500,000 years (NatGeo article). Food plays a big part as an incentive to form communities but it also enhances relationships among members of a particular pack.

Eating is a multi-sensory experience. Precious memories echo clearly in our thoughts as if they just happened yesterday because of the tastes, smells, sights and sounds. Eye-catching intricate cake piping, the sweet aftertaste of hot chocolate still tickling your tastebuds, each play are part in enriching a memory, as well as  in strengthening human bonds (Huffington Post article).


Do you know a Potterhead who deserves a ride on the Hogwarts Express? You might enjoy it as much as they will. Experiences last longer in our memories. Things break, wear out, go out of style and eventually stop working. Collecting stuff or adding to other people's pile merely contributes to the stresses of everyday life. You'll be surprised at how much fun you can have getting in a snowball fight with friends or taking someone special to a fireworks show. Experiences have an immeasurable long-term effect on us. We forget that the holidays is all about procuring life's joyful moments.

Shared experiences are powerful binding forces that sprout out life-long connections and strengthen existing ones. This is best illustrated by studies done on soldiers deployed for battle (ZME Science article). Nearly half of those surveyed (45%) claim to feel closer to their military brothers than their biological families. This illustrates how going through an uncommon journey with someone establishes enduring ties and reinforces human connections.

Orchestrating an event or activity with someone is a lot of fun and doesn't have to be tedious or pricy. Coordinating a Harry Potter movie marathon doesn't cost much but it generates a whole lot of enjoyment. Find out whose live-streaming subscription has the films. Bring a few bags of microwave popcorn. Just like that, you're ready to relive the magic.

If you were to rummage through your closet of holiday memories, the ones that stand out involve events and activities rather than material acquisitions. Most people will remember a multitude of embarrassing moments from a road trip embarked on decades ago. Few will recall the color of the dress they got for Christmas last year. As we all age, intangibles grow in value while physical gifts tend to wane in importance.


This is possibly the most overlooked and undervalued commodity of all. Author Joshua Fields Millburn, shares his biggest regret in his documentary, The Minimalists. He spent his early adult life climbing the corporate ladder while neglecting loved ones along the way. A single voicemail from his mom changed it all. She was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and had a short time left to live. Millburn became a minimalist upon realizing that time should be spent with people and not on amassing wealth and accolades. Do you have a relative or friend that you haven't spoken to this busy Christmas season? Give them a call and ask how they are doing.

Don't waste the holidays in malls or parking lots. Spend time with the people you care about. It doesn't have to be extravagant or expensive. Snuggling in bed or having a chat by the fireplace costs nothing but the memories they create are priceless.

Photos by Henry Be, Dmitry Sovyak and Simon Matzinger

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