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Un-Stuffing the Holiday Season

As weird as the holiday season was last year – no meals out, no shows or movie theaters, no big family gatherings, no church service on Christmas Eve – I have to admit, paring back the shopping was kind of awesome.

If I concentrate, I can actually remember some of the gifts I received from my kids. I can picture the looks on their faces when they opened their presents from us. This is what happens when you make the holiday season in general, and Christmas morning in particular, less about stuff and more about the spirit of giving.

That said, here are some ways you can make the holidays memorable for your family by giving services, experiences, and fun instead of traditional gift items. I’ve tried most of these and a few were recommended by friends. 

1. The fully stocked dress-up box was one of my first slam dunks on Christmas morning. I started with a very affordable cardboard drawer set and headed to Goodwill for cool clothes, floppy hats, and shoes. Next, I added a doctor’s play set, an old briefcase, a phone receiver, a pack of birthday party hats, and bits and pieces of Halloween costumes that I found on sale in November (masks, superhero capes, headband ears, etc.).  

2. The room makeover gift package was another hit at our house. Our youngest daughter had a flair for decorating and had been splitting her TV time between the Food Network and HGTV. We wrapped up a rainbow of paint chips, paintbrushes, a drop cloth, and a gift card to Target so she could pick out some accessories. 

3. If you learned something about your child’s interests from a camp last summer, think about giving a session of classes as a gift this holiday. One year, we packaged brushes and paints, a few small canvases, and a painter’s palette with a gift certificate for art classes at VMFA. (She’s in art school now!) We gave one of our older daughters a gift certificate for a pottery class at Visual Arts Center. 

4. The gift of theatre and live entertainment is also a good choice. And in Richmond, there are many options. Virginia Rep, Swift Creek Mill, and Richmond Triangle Players are some of my favorite theatre companies. A friend of mine buys two season subscriptions to Broadway in Richmond at Altria Theater every year and lines up special dates for each of those shows. Mom and dad might like one show, while dad and daughter or mom and son might choose another. (There’s a special Broadway in Richmond gift package available here.)

5. If theatre isn’t your thing, how about a movie-a-month gift package? This can be your child’s choice of
picking out a movie to watch at home, seeing a new release at the theater, spending an evening at the Goochland Drive-in, or catching a film at one of my family’s favorite movie houses, the Byrd Theatre in Carytown. You can pick up movie gift cards to major theaters in Richmond, as well as The Byrd, and gift wrap those for Christmas morning.

6. As cliché as it might sound, family memberships mean your gift will continue to give all year long. The Science Museum of Virginia is at the top of my family’s list. Make sure you buy the membership that includes tickets to The Dome so you can see a movie before the end of winter break. For families with younger kids, the Children’s Museum of Richmond is a no-brainer.

7. Whether it’s a college team or a local professional team, the gift of sport is a great one for many families. Of course, if your family supports a college further from home, a road trip to see a game is perfect. In DC, you should consider Wizards or Capitals tickets (they play at Capital One Arena). Even if you’re not a fan of these teams, remember your family’s favorite team might be playing in DC sometime soon. My Miami Heat will play the Wizards in February, so I have my fingers crossed. 

8. I made it to the mid-century mark before having my first pedicure, but now I’m hooked. What motivated me to try it in the first place? A friend gave me a gift certificate to a local shop, of course. Soon after this, I realized there were a lot of personal care experiences that would make great gifts for special people in my life. Who wouldn’t appreciate a massage, for example? 

9. If you have a child or teen who enjoys cooking, there are a few options to consider. First, consider giving them a meal kit service subscription, such as Blue Apron or Sun Basket, to make meal prep easy and fun. The whole family will love that one! Traditional cooking classes are also wonderful. For classes for kids and adults in Richmond, take a look at Publix or Victoria’s Kitchen.  

10. I mentioned before that we gave art classes to two of our daughters. We also gave our youngest gymnastics classes at a local gym one year. To impress her on Christmas morning, we wrapped up a leotard (that I picked up at a second-hand sale) with a book about Shawn Johnson, the gymnast of the year. Remember, the way you present the gift makes all the difference.  

No matter your reasons for wanting to give fun and experiences instead of more stuff this holiday, your family will benefit in the long run. In ten years, the memories they’ll hold in their hearts will be about the time spent together, not the money you spent on more stuff. 

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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