The Gift of Experience


As the Holidays approach, many of us are beginning the yearly process of gift buying for loved ones. If you’re like me, the holidays have a new meaning since becoming a parent, whether that is the joy of continuing a long-standing family tradition or the excitement of starting a new one.

After our first Christmas as parents, my husband and I sat down and had a deliberate discussion about what we wanted Christmas to look like for our family especially being non-religious. We wanted our son to experience the joy of Christmas without the consumerism driving it all.

A few themes emerged as we began to explore this topic.

  1. We didn’t want Christmas to be about “having something to open” or a pile of presents under the tree that would quickly lose their appeal.
  2. We did want Christmas to be exciting and something to look forward to while still savoring the magic of giving.

The conclusion we came to is that we didn’t want stuff; we would rather give and receive experiences.  We now plan a trip over or around Christmas as our main gift to each other. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t eliminate giving each other meaningful and thoughtful gifts and we love to see the giddiness and excitement on our 3 year old’s face when he sees a wrapped gift just for him.  We simply adjusted it and added our own tradition by implementing a “4 gift rule.”  This idea isn’t new and is generally structured as follows:

  1. Give something they want
  2. Give something they need
  3. Give something to wear
  4. Give something to read

On Christmas Eve, we began following the beautiful Icelandic tradition of book giving while spending the evening relaxing and reading together. Of course, this may only last 20 minutes with a young son, but the time doesn’t matter to us. It’s something we have been doing since the beginning and this tradition will change and grow as we do.

By giving each other the gift of experiences, it has provided us the opportunity to be creative and be more engaged in the gift giving process. Here’s a list of a few of my favorite ideas.


Monthly mail subscriptions– Our son gets Highlights Magazine that always includes an experiment to do. He also receives the kids version of National Geographic. This is something that they continue to receive throughout the year and he loves getting stuff in the mail. This is a good suggestion to give for the family members that are asking what to get the kids.

Activity Classes– There are quite a few kids classes in town. Some that come well recommended are Flagstaff Climbing, Summit Gymnastics and Maximum Martial Arts.

Movie Tickets– When you’ve already got the ticket, it makes it easier to get yourself out the door.

Cook Book– There are some really great kids cookbooks out there, it gets them involved in the kitchen and also…Life skills.

Geo Caching– This is super fun for older kids (and younger kids if you have a ton of patience). It helps them learn to use a compass and spatial awareness.

Prime Membership– I love this one. Who doesn’t want free shipping from Amazon and quicker delivery?

Cooking Classes– I took one of these nearly 10 years ago and it’s still one of my favorite experiences.

Escape Room– This is a great family activity that encourages teamwork, communication and problem solving.

National Parks tickets– What a great way to get families on a fun road trip and introduce kids to as many national parks as possible.

Food Subscription Boxes– I’ve used quite a few of these and they are helpful for busy families. My sister and I are planning on giving one of these to my mom this year for Christmas. There are quite a few to choose from depending on your needs. It’s also a great way to mix up the menu.

House Cleaning– There are a variety of house cleaning services in town, so why not get a mama in your life a full house cleaning. What an amazing gift.

Art– Giving art lessons or providing a medium to practice art encourages creativity and relaxation.

Netflix/Hulu subscription– This is a low cost but thoughtful gift. Another option is to upgrade to the commercial free account if they already have an account.

Massage– Need I say more? Here are some of my favorite massage therapists in town. Northern Arizona Massage Therapy, True Health Massage

Scuba certification– A great family gift if you have teenagers or adults and education that can be a catalyst for a lifetime of experiences.

Skydiving– Is there a daredevil in your life?

Community Theatre tickets– This is a tradition that we’ve done in our family for the last 8 years. Every year, my husband, father-in-law and I take an evening to go to a nice dinner and attend the Christmas play. A few local options are Theatrikos and Flagshakes.

Yearly memberships– This can be anything of interest. Local ideas include Lowell Observatory, Bearizona and the Children’s Museum in Phoenix.

Studies show that quality family time and positive experiences are worth so much more than a pile of presents under the tree. Giving experiences may help reduce stress levels and encourage connection.


  1. Love these ideas! When my girls were younger we did something similar. Something they wanted, something they needed, and a family outing/adventure. When they’re grown, they don’t remember the “stuff” but they do remember the adventures.

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