Christmas multiplies and throws up all over our family room each year. A couple of years ago, my husband and I found ourselves buying an extra toy for one child simply to match the number of gifts another child was getting. We couldn’t even think of something else this child wanted but felt compelled to even things out. As we stood in the Target toy aisle, preparing to drop $20 for no reason, I knew something needed to change.
I wanted to relieve the pressure we were putting on ourselves while also creating meaningful memories for our kids.
I had heard of people doing experiences for Christmas, and it sounded fantastic, but I worried that our children would feel let down on Christmas morning with fewer presents to open. And would they even understand?
But we felt it was worth a try. What we were doing wasn’t working anyway.
This is how a year of experiences worked out for us.
One Experience a Month. I know some people give a big trip for Christmas, and while this would be fun, it wasn’t in our budget. I also wanted to create intentional memories all year long. So, we decided to give a special day once a month for the following year instead.
We called them Family Fun Days.
This involved some dedicated planning, but it really wasn’t hard. Of course, we didn’t know our whole schedule for the year, but we found one Saturday a month that we thought would work. Then, as the month came up and new commitments filled our calendars, we kept our date or adjusted as needed.
Something Tangible. Part of the fun of Christmas is that you get to open new things. I wanted to make sure that our gift of experiences included something tangible to open. We did this in two ways:
- One of the experiences we gave was to go to a play, so we wrapped up the tickets. You could do this with gift cards, too.
- Each child received a planner for the new year. In the planners, we had already written the family experiences we intended to do. Our older kids, who were 6 and 10, loved their fancy planners and new pens. Our 3-year-old, however? We gave him a dollar store planner that he promptly lost.
How to Choose Experiences. Our main priority was keeping expenses down while keeping memory making high. We splurged on tickets to a play, but most of our experiences cost very little. As we went through each month, we looked at a few things:
- Could we piggyback on holidays or traditions?
- Did we have passes we could include in our experiences?
- How could we add something unique and special to ordinary things we already do at home?
- What are things we always want to do, or already do, in certain seasons?
- What free things are in our community?
Experience Ideas. Our year ended up looking like this:
- Mom and Dad’s Restaurant at Home
- Love Night — Near Valentine’s Day, we made a special dinner, decorated the table, and each took turns writing what we love about each person in the family.
- Attended a Play
- Family Movie Day
- Family Hike Day
- Family Day at the Waterslides
- Camping Trip
- Swimming at the Lake
- Doughnut Day — When we scheduled this day, we didn’t really know what it would look like, but we knew it sounded fun. As it drew nearer, we asked the kids for input and decided to purchase donuts from several local shops and sample them all day to find the best doughnut shop in the Salt Lake Valley. (This was everyone’s favorite Family Fun Day.)
- Backwards Day — We ate dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner under the table, walked around backwards, and said words backwards. Creativity was high that day.
- Family Sleep-over
- Ride the Train Downtown Day
New Ideas. We plan to use some of these ideas throughout the next few years:
- Out to dinner
- Secret acts of service
- Museum day
- Attend a sporting event
- Game night
- Art project day
- Kids put Mom and Dad to bed (Our kids have been asking if they can do this for years. We’re not exactly sure what it will look like, but we may let them come up with a plan.)
- Zoo day
- Outside day (Plan ahead so that the entire day, from breakfast to bedtime, is held in outside places.)
- Camera day (Pick a few photo shoot locations and take pictures of each other with props.)
- Build something day
- Home spa day
- Outdoor movie or concert night (Many cities offer free outdoor movies or concerts in the summertime, but in December, you won’t know the schedule. You may have to be flexible and adjust your date when the month arrives.)
- Family bike ride day
- Family fort day
What We Learned. We’ve decided that our experiment of experiences will definitely be repeated, revised, and renewed every year. In fact, 10 months into our Family Fun Days, I asked our kids if they liked getting experiences as a gift. They all shouted, “YES! You have to do it again!”
If you choose to do something similar, be prepared for a possible lack of enthusiasm your first year. Your kids may not quite grasp the idea. Our kids were grateful and excited, but also a little confused. Our 3-year-old didn’t understand at all. But he eventually caught on as he got older. And like all of us, he sure had a fun time during each Family Fun Day.
We also still gave plenty of toys—probably more than we needed. Now, with one successful year of Family Fun Days under our belts, I feel confident in giving fewer tangible gifts this year.
QUESTION: Do you feel like gift giving gets out of control at your house each Christmas? How could you cut back?
CHALLENGE: Find a way to incorporate family experiences into your gift giving this year.
Edited by Nollie Haws and Kimberly Price.
Images provided by the author.