I fear I may have come off like a Scrooge in this post. I don’t object to giving gifts, in fact, I love giving gifts, but I think gifts should be meaningful and thought-out. I keep reading about how easy it is to give everybody a candle or a picture frame or bath products or a cookie tray or baking mixes. While I like almost all of those things in certain contexts (and have even given some myself before), a lot of times, I think when you give those types of “generic” gifts the message you’re telling the person is, “I don’t know what you like and I don’t care enough to find out, but I feel obligated to get you something anyway.” I know the message we all want to send is “I care about you and want to give you something as a token of how much I value our relationship” but we don’t always have the time or money to do that.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with some ideas that I think would be good for friends and parents/grandparents/elderly, who I think are harder to shop for than anybody because they already have everything. Most of them are the gift of your time, which is a gift of yourself; I can't think of anything more personal. Because I had a father and grandparents who were disabled, a lot of the ideas are geared towards working around (or with) their handicap. You may not have those issues in your family. As with everything, keep the ideas you can use and forget the rest.
For Friends (or close neighbors)
-Delivering a complete dinner for whole family is one less thing a harried parent has to do during this busy time of year, and unlike a cookie tray doesn’t require dieting in January. (Learn how to do it right here, here, and here.)
-Breakfast basket with healthy muffins or scones, a pound of fancy Irish butter and freshly squeezed juice. If doing this for Christmas morning, let them know ahead of time otherwise they’ll likely already have something planned. Make enough for their guests too. If doing it for any old morning, give unbaked, frozen scones with baking directions, Irish butter and hot chocolate. This is better than giving a baking mix because it doesn't require them to do anything other than shove something in their oven; no ingredients and no mixing are required.
-Watch their kids for two evenings so mom and dad can Christmas shop. Two nights allows them to compare prices at different stores and not feel so rushed that they have to get it all done in just a few hours.
-Watch kids for weekend so parents can get away after the holidays…Valentine’s weekend or their anniversary are some of the best times.
-Movie tickets. My Costco sells two tickets to any Regal Theater for $15 that are good for any show and day any time. To ensure they get used, avoid tickets with lots of restrictions and choose a chain that is popular in your area.
-Year of lawn mowing. Best for a neighbor who lives very close to you and you know you mow your lawn as frequently (or more) than they do. Let them know well in advance of vacations or other times you won’t be able to follow through. (Also works for leaf raking and snow blowing.)
-Mix CDs by activity (workout, bathtub relax, dinner, dance party, bad day, good day)
-Monogrammed dishtowels (Monogram them yourself either by hand or on a sewing machine. Remember, wonky is good.)
-Dinner (your treat) once a month for a year. Could be in your home, their home, restaurant, or mix it up each month. Never miss a month!
-Offer to decorate their home for the holidays. Make sure you have similar aesthetic senses. If they do not regularly gush over your home, assume you do not have similar taste.
-Take down their Christmas tree ornaments and lights and haul the tree out to the curb. Many older people don’t put up a tree because it is too physically taxing, but would actually love to have one. If they're on a fixed income, you might offer to buy them one too.
-If you’re spending several days together over the holidays, offer to do daily massages. I did this for my arthritic grandmother one year and she loved it. A week of twice daily foot massages was much more appreciated than anything I could have bought from the store. It was served as wonderful, quality time for us, so it was like a gift to me too.
-Deep clean their whole house. Make sure they won’t be offended by an offer like this. It is often hard for older people to shampoo their carpets, clean windows and rid corners of spider webs. My dad had a hard time scrubbing his bathtub.
-Wrap their Christmas presents. Good gift for people with big families and arthritis in their hands.
-Stuff, seal, address, and mail their Christmas cards.
-Netflix subscription for one year, especially if they don’t have cable and you're far away.
-Magazine subscription. If it's a magazine you get too, you can talk to them about interesting articles.