More Fun, Less Stuff

A 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

By: Shara Drew and Edna Rienzi, guest bloggers

The pandemic is showing us, in sometimes difficult ways, how much we really need each other. What is it that we want more than anything for the holidays this year (other than Covid to go away and never come back)? To spend time with our family, friends, neighbors. Heck, we would give our mail carriers a hug if we could! 

The good news is that even if we need to be physically apart from many of the people we care about for the holidays, we can still give the gift of connection. It’s a present that brings joy to gifter and giftee, will *never* end up in a landfill, and will last way beyond the pandemic.

For Your Kids:

We’ve spent a lot of time with our kids. A LOT. But how much of it has been meaningful connection and how much of it has been nagging them to pay attention to their Zoom classes or to clean up the Legos that have taken up the entire house since March?

A custom flap-book. Make it for – our with – your children!
  • Make a custom lift-the-flap book for kids that highlight photos of family members and friends you haven’t seen in a while
  • Make a personalized paper doll kit (pictures of family members)
  • Share your own talents: art, cooking, music, mountain biking, woodworking, knitting, photography, sports, yoga, dance, kayaking, surfing, sailing, paddle boarding, fly fishing, etc.
  • Designate an amount of money to donate to charity and let your kids pick which causes will receive it. Older children can research organizations that match your family’s values. Perhaps a fun New Year’s Eve activity!
  • Create an obstacle course in your yard 
  • Clear out a shed and make it a clubhouse (a coat of paint, twinkle lights, and bookshelves and voila!)
  • Clear out a closet or corner and make it a cozy reading nook
  • Make a custom “Would you rather” game with scenarios unique to your family
  • A coupon book is a classic hit! Some of our favorite kid-friendly coupon ideas: 
  • Good for One Late Bedtime 
  • Good for One Extra Story at Bedtime 
  • Good for One Chore-Free Day 
  • Good for One “Screen-Free Parents” Weekend 
  • Good for One Homemade Dinner of Your Choice 
  • Good for One Breakfast for Dinner 
  • Good for One Fruit or Veggie Skip (and still eat dessert) 
  • “Eat Dessert First” Pass 
  • Good for One Breakfast at a Restaurant of Your Choice 
  • Good for Your Choice of Dinner—For a Week! 
  • Redeem for One Treat at Grocery Store 
  • Good for an Ice Cream Sundae Party
  • Good for One S’mores-Making and Ghost Story-Reading Bonfire 
  • Good for One Hike at a State Park of Your Choosing 
  • Let’s Go Fly a Kite. Pick a Day. 
  • Kid’s Choice of Activity. Good for one hour. 
  • Good for an Afternoon of Crafting 
  • Good for a Night of Backyard Camping 
  • Good for One Full PJ Day 
  • Good for Bike Ride with Mom/Dad
  • Good for One Double Allowance 
  • King/Queen for the Day
  • Good for 10 Music Downloads 
  • Good for One Tickle Session 
  • Good for One Fort-Building Session 
  • Good for One Family Game Night 
  • Good for One Family Pizza Night 
  • Good for One Night of Indoor Camping 
  • “Get Out of Time-Out Free” Pass

For a Partner:

  • The Gift of Nostalgia: Unless your first date was an absolute disaster, a thoughtful gift idea would be to try to recreate that experience (although it might be funny to recreate a bad experience and try to improve it!)
    • If you saw a movie on your first date, find it on Netflix. Did you eat Mexican food? Order similar dishes or, if you’re feeling enthusiastic, have a cooking date prior to the movie.
  • Does your partner have a favorite local charity? Commit to volunteering hours together in the upcoming year.
  • Inbox Zero: (Offer to unsubscribe, archive, and organize your partner’s thousands of emails.)
  • Perform a lip synch of a favorite song, past or present. If you have children, get the kids in on it!
  • Some of our favorite partner coupon ideas:
    • Good for One Breakfast in Bed 
    • Good for One Romantic Dinner In
    • Good for One Foot Rub 
    • Good for One Back Massage 
    • Good for One Slow Dance
    • Good for One Romantic Stroll 
    • Good for One Hike and Picnic Outing 
    • Good for One Free Wish 
    • Good for One Day Off from Diaper Duty (or equivalent)
    • Good for One Uninterrupted Nap 
    • Good for Two Hours of Free Time 
    • Good for One Mental Health Day 
    • Good for One Evening of Control the Remote
    • Automatic Argument Win 
    • “Get Out of the Doghouse Free” Card

For Parents/Grandparents:

  • The Gift of Listening: 
    • Record interviews with relatives. You can ask them to share memories of the person you plan to give the recording to, or tell stories of your family history. Create a book or an audio gift to share.
  • If they have to stay isolated, send a “heart attack” (everybody in the family sends a heart-shaped letter that lists all the reasons they love them)
  • Make a standing phone or Zoom date (ex: every Sunday, 7 o’clock)
    • Make a promise to yourself to never hang up first.
  • Arrange and frame a family tree photo collage.
  • Have all the children and grandchildren write stories or draw pictures of meaningful experiences or lessons they learned from grandparents.
  • Give a gift that returns a present from your childhood or past. For example, if your grandmother knit sweaters for you each winter, learn to knit or crochet a simple scarf to show your admiration for her work.
  • Show off your talents: If mom and dad paid for singing lessons, show your appreciation by writing a song. If you’re a writer, express your feelings in a letter or poem—tell them in great detail all the things you appreciate about them. More of a visual person? Make a video! 
  • Share a Skill: Does your mom want to start a blog or learn some yoga poses? Does your dad want to get more tech savvy? If you’re skilled in these areas, spend a few hours on Zoom teaching them the basics. Or, look into buying them some  classes. Check out Skillshare for a great selection of affordable classes that your parents could do right in their living room.
  • Memory Book: Create a scrapbook for your parents that details your favorite memories of them from your childhood. If you have siblings, get them to contribute. Come up with categories—funniest memory, sweetest memory, most impressive memory—and include photos or drawings as well. This is a gift destined to become a cherished family treasure.
  • Assemble a family quilt (from recycled fabric from grandkids’ favorite outfits), collage, or other project that can be added to every year, with kids’ contributions reflecting their growth.
  • Birdfeeder (winter can feel long and dreary in some parts; it makes winter much more enjoyable is to look outside and see the birds at a bird feeder!)

For Friends and Family Members:

  • Make custom playlists for your friends (went to high school in the ‘80s, make your best friend a greatest hits of your teens)
    • Variations: 
      • Curate a playlist and send it to someone you miss dancing with (have a virtual dance party if they’re up for it)
      • Play the happiest tunes you can find and have a socially-distanced dance party at a park or in a driveway.
  • Donate to a cause in the name of a family member. Some families make gifts to charities and then present family members with a coupon or card indicating that the gift was made in their name.
  • Collect your favorite quarantine recipes and pass them along. 
  • Join them in learning a new hobby (Skillshare class together; MasterClass together)
  • Gift card to a local restaurant that may be struggling and a promise to go out once it’s possible.
  • Take a virtual yoga class with a family family member feeling the stress of the year.
  • Send study munchies money via VENMO to a student in your life.

For Neighbors:

  • Start a Little Free Library
  • Host a “Campfire Caroling Party”, and invite friends and family to socially distance around a firepit and sing carols (or 80s pop songs or whatever kind of music brings you joy)
  • Rake their leaves
  • Coupon to shovel their driveway
  • Homemade salsa, pasta sauce, jam, and baked goods all taste much better than store-bought versions. Include the recipe.
  • The Gift of Nature: a box of loose evergreens and wintery filler from your yard with a note challenging them to create something or enjoy however they’d like! It’s a great gift because you open this fragrant box of greenery and it’s instant possibilities and inspiration to create
  • Create a virtual giving circle and support a local organization that may be struggling
    • New to giving circles? A giving circle is formed when friends come together to pool their dollars and decide together where to give the money (or their volunteer time)
    • The Jewish Federations of North America put together these free resources explaining how to take your giving circle online
  • Clean out your pantry and donate the excess to a local food bank.
  • Write a bunch of hope-filled messages and deliver them to an assisted living home. You can also provide holiday decorations for the residents (paper chains and snowflakes).
  • Write thank you notes to hospital and other essential workers in your community.
  • Create a dance floor in the middle of your street. Use chalk or make a sign that asks all passers-by to show off their dance moves as they walk by.

For Teachers:

  • A thank you letter (whether they’re online only, hybrid, or in the classroom, every teacher is working hard this year)
  • Gift cards to local restaurants so they can really relax over the holiday break
  • Make a donation to a nonprofit that works on an issue your teacher cares about
  • Create a set of custom thank you cards for your teacher to use.
  • Do an act of kindness in your teacher’s honor. Tell your teacher about it in a letter or with artwork.
  • Pledge to read a certain number of books by the end of the school year
  • Pledge to cut back your screen time by a certain amount each week
  • Research a topic. Give you teacher a card with a note that you’d like to share what you learned with them as a gift
  • Make a list of 10 specific things you’ve learned in their class
  • Give them a book you enjoy to keep in their classroom
  • Ask the teacher to create a wishlist for items they wish they had for the classroom 
    • The room parent could even arrange a class gift for more expensive items.

About the Authors


Shara Drew is the Managing Director of Celebration Barn Theater and a photographer. Edna Rienzi is a writer and middle school teacher in Virginia. This collaboration builds on their previous work together on the Simplify the Holidays and Kids & Commercialism programs at New Dream.