Giving Experiences and Building Community: Family gifts and activities that boost the holiday spirit

5 women smiling and huggingIn the whirlwind of the holidays, it’s easy to forget the true meaning of the season–connecting with loved ones and giving back. The spirit of giving goes beyond buying stuff. As fun as it is to give and receive material possessions, it’s important to nurture what you can’t get at the store–relationships, community and generosity. When we engage with others in meaningful ways, we not only do good in the world, but we feel good about ourselves. It may take a little extra time and creativity, but it’s well worth it. There are countless ways to choose people over stuff during the holidays. Volunteering, donating to charity and giving experiences are all valuable ways of giving back and lifting spirits.

Gift an experience

mother pushing boys on sled, giving experiences

Giving experiences instead of stuff offers folks something unique that will provide them with lasting memories. Perhaps it’s an experience they’ve wanted to do but not been able or willing to arrange for themselves. Or, it’s an opportunity to spend time together while sharing an interesting activity. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive; sometimes it’s the simple pleasures that bring us the most enjoyment.

By giving an experience, you are offering someone the opportunity to go beyond their comfort zone with the encouragement of a kind friend. Teaching kids that gifts don’t always come in a box is invaluable. Here are a few examples of experiences that make wonderful gifts:


Ice skating, sledding, board games or a trip to an arcade are just some of the ways friends and families can connect. Kids might enjoy doing something special with their grandparents, cousins or friends: a sleepover, baking cookies or setting up a tent in their room and “camping in”.


A membership to a museum, zoo or nature preserve is a gift that keeps on giving–it’ll be enjoyed all year and you’ll help support a great institution. Memberships are also available in many theaters, symphonies and other arts organizations.


The gift of learning can be enjoyed at any age and you can find lessons for just about every interest: sports, cooking, art, music–the options are plentiful. Whether you find a private teacher or group lessons through a local adult ed program, you should be able to find resources within your community.

Gift your time through helpful work

Female Neighbor Helping Senior Woman With Shopping, charitable workDonating to charities or donating your time is a form of giving experiences. These rewarding activities stretch people, especially kids, to think outside of themselves and consider others. Charitable experiences teach us important and fundamental life skills.

Children, especially, will benefit from practicing gratitude, empathy and acts of kindness, and this, in turn, will help them develop into kind, caring adults. When kids get involved in charitable work, they start to learn the feeling of gratitude. They become more appreciative of what they have in their lives. You are also deepening your relationship by doing a meaningful activity together.


Giving your time to help others really makes a difference, especially during the holiday season. If you’re in the position to lend a hand, show your generosity of spirit by doing something for those in need. Volunteering at a soup kitchen, delivering meals or helping coordinate a toy drive are just a few options. If a more personal experience is more your speed, consider baking cookies for friends or raking leaves for an elderly neighbor.

Giving to charity

woman holding donation box with clothes to give to charity

Giving to charity, a non-profit or other worthy cause is another way to choose people over stuff. You may have clothing or books your family has outgrown which can go to a family in need. Or there’s an organization doing great work to which you’d like to contribute. You may want to brainstorm charities and causes you’d like to support together as a family. By getting the whole family involved in the conversation, you’re likely to inspire more enthusiasm. Lead by example and show how good it feels to help others.

Gifts which are experiences alter both someone’s perspective about themselves and about the world around them for the better. When you engage in an activity, you are participating in your world and interacting with your community. This action-oriented gift has a ripple effect in ways you can’t necessarily see. It spreads good will, increases self-esteem and sets a good example for others to follow. Whether you help, create or share an experience with someone, make it meaningful and caring during the holidays and all year long.

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