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“Do you remember what you got for your birthday last year?” I asked my son, hoping to could gauge what to get him this year, but I got a blank stare from him instead. After a long pause he said, “Toys.” Uh huh. What toys? Silence. He had no idea. And neither did I. Clearly we were both really touched by the gift exchange the year before, because neither of us remembered.
Several years ago we made a huge change in how we gave Christmas gifts. Cutting way back on the quantity and going way up on the quality made a huge difference in our family.
A few years later we decided to change the way we do all gift giving in our family. We decided to move to fewer things and more experiences, and we aren’t the only ones who value time together doing things we enjoy over something we can unwrap. Toys break, but no one can take your experiences from you. This article is one of many that supports this idea.
We started with the triplets’ 7th birthday. We took them about 4 hours away to a national park to go hiking and exploring. It was amazing. We had a blast. Four years later they still talk about that trip. Do your kids talk about the toy you got them 4 years ago?
The next Christmas we took the family on a ski vacation, and in the need and wear categories, they got ski stuff for our trip that was scheduled for mid-January, a smaller toy for their want, and a book. This was a huge hit. The kids loved it, and we’ve done a Christmas ski trip just about every Christmas since.
Since we have six kids, we decided that the cost of birthday trips could get out of hand quickly, so we came up with a plan. We have 3 fall birthdays (the triplets), and 3 spring birthdays (the 3 youngest). Anyone who wants to go alone gets 24 hours locally. We go to dinner and stay at a hotel. The next day we go and take advantage of some fun local attractions, and the birthday kid gets 24 hours of alone time with mom and dad.
If the 3 spring birthdays or the 3 fall birthdays join forces, they get to go for 4 days, and we leave town. The triplets have always joined forces. We offer 3 suggestions, and they have to convene and agree on a location. They have gone on 2 hiking/outdoor adventure trips, Disneyland, San Francisco, and Harry Potter World Orlando. We tend to alternate big trips and smaller trips.
With the younger three, they’ve only joined forces once, partly because of the age of the youngest, and partly because the older of the 3 wanted his own trip. They went to Disneyland together this year. For their 8th birthday they get to go alone for 4 days with mom and dad, and this boy chose China. Which is a no. So he settled (in his mind) for New York City, which he absolutely loved. Next year child #5 turns 8, and she is going to Mexico to have some serious adventuring. She is fearless, and has never been happier than when we were endangering our lives in Costa Rica this summer.
From Simple to Spectacular – It’s all Special
That sounds really expensive doesn’t it? Well, yes. And, no. Since my husband travels so often for his job, we have gads of skymiles and hotel points. So we fly and stay for free. That leaves food and activities, which can still quickly get out of hand if we aren’t careful. The truth is, it can be really simple and still be special. Let’s talk super budget-friendly, even free. Think staycation type fun.
Mix and match adventures: When we stay local, we have gone to children’s playhouse/museums. We ride the local train, which they love. We took one daughter to brunch then Disney Frozen on Ice, which happened to be in town around her birthday. We’ve gone to a local amusement park, an Easter brunch, a movie, to a toy store to spend birthday money from the grandparents, to the zoo, lasertag, a trampoline park, indoor climbing, an interactive exhibit at a local museum, and more. Your child will love every second of it because it’s special alone time with his favorite people: you. Look at what your local area has to offer. We are lucky to live somewhere that has great indoor and outdoor activities year-round.
Scenario 1: Go to breakfast. It can be the 5-star brunch or the golden arches. Your child is happy to get to go to a restaurant alone with mom and dad. After breakfast you could go to a local attraction, bonus if you have a membership somewhere already and it’s free.
Scenario 2: You could make a picnic, get some kites or ball at the dollar store and go to the park. That is pretty much the groceries you were going to eat anyway + $3 for the kites. Your child will love it! And it’s basically free.
Scenario 3: Dinner at their favorite restaurant and a visit to the nickelcade.
Scenario 4: Go bowling and then to your favorite burger place.
Scenario 5: Rollerskating and pizza. Even more fun if you dress up in costumes.
Scenario 6: Paintball and Mexican food – Better for a little older crowd. I don’t think most young ones would enjoy it, but your older kids and adults would.
Scenario 7: Go sledding then get hot chocolate
Scenario 8: Go for a hike and picnic at the end of the trail, and go for smoothies after.
Scenario 9: Spend the day at a local lake or beach for swimming and make a picnic lunch and dinner on the grill there. Roast hot dogs and s’mores, or got get some ice cream.
Scenario 10: Take the train downtown and go to the aquarium or planetarium and get lunch.
Translating this to Christmas gifts
We added an experience gift to the something you want, need, wear, read list.
Last year and this year (sshh don’t tell), our oldest four kids got ski school and season ski rentals as their main Christmas gift, and it was a huge hit. Our local rec center has a program through one of the ski resorts. They bus them up every Saturday in January, give them a 2-hour lesson, then they ski the rest of the night, and bus them home. They were so, so excited to get this as a gift last year, and they have dropped several hints (ok, outright begged) to have this as their gift this year. For the two youngest, they got/are getting 4 date nights with mom and dad while their siblings were skiing. We did things like the scenarios I shared above. They all loved their gifts.
There are lots of reasons not everyone can take a family vacation at Christmas, but you can still give experiences. I made you a free download with our favorite experience gifts ideas starting at $0, and most of them are $25 or less. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. We use several of the less expensive options as stocking stuffers.
Taking it outside the family
This is a fantastic gift suggestion to give to grandparents. Memories with them become even more precious as time goes on. My husband’s grandfather took him, his siblings and cousins to the theater growing up. That had a big impact on him and those are some of his favorite memories.
We’ve given this gift to my kids’ friends. The gift of a date to go do X activity on X day. I pick up the other child and take them for one of the scenarios listed above, depending on the kids and the age.
Does this sound like fun? Go ask your kids what they got for Christmas last year and see if they remember. Do you even remember what they got? I guarantee that if they get experiences this year they will remember for years to come, and your relationship will be stronger.
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