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Yesterday, my friend and co-worker Casie Leigh Lukes shared her family’s holiday gift-giving tradition and her penchant for gifts that are ethical, educational, and fun. Casie’s socially and environmentally conscious holiday goodies got me thinking about my own family’s “alternative” gifting practices.

We Fazeli Fards have never been big on gifting for gifting’s sake. An unspoken rule is that if one of us can’t find a present that the recipient would truly want or need, we simply don’t give anything. No last-minute pressure to find something — anything! — to stuff a stocking or put under the tree.

Gifts should be thoughtful and meaningful, and given with intent.

As a result, we often buy gifts months in advance as we come across that perfect item or exchange gifts months after the occasion has passed. My sister, the artist in the family, navigates the situation by making gifts for the rest of us, such as paintings, drawings, and handmade ornaments, while I prefer to make edible gifts, such as cookies, pickles, and jam.

Handmade ornament by my sister.
Handmade ornament by my sister.

Friends and relatives have learned to expect random gifts at random times, and  not to scoff at a funny card with a handwritten I.O.U.

Another consequence is that physical gifts have, for the most part, been replaced by “experience gifts” — activities, day trips, and vacations that offer an escape from the everyday while building lasting bonds and memories.

For instance, as a combined Christmas/birthday gift for my dad’s 65th, we saved up for a week-long family vacation in Istanbul so he could reunite with his older brother. We celebrated my mom’s 60th birthday in New Orleans. For finishing grad school, I was gifted a dinner at Alice Waters’s famed Chez Panisse. When I bought my first home, my “housewarming present” was registration into a half-marathon in Miami. My 30th involved hiking glaciers and eating rotted shark in Iceland.

Other recent experiences have included massages, movie tickets, adventure courses, and a polar plunge. (Trust me: No gift beats the memory of donning swimsuits and running, as family, down a rocky beach into the icy Potomac River in the dead of winter.)

As you can tell, some of these gifts are budget-friendly; others, reserved for the special-est of special occasions, require saving up for several years. What doesn’t change is the lasting effect of the memories, photos and stories.

This Christmas was no exception to our little tradition. As her gift to me, my sister bought us passes to an indoor trampoline park near our parents’ home in New Jersey. I can’t really describe the sheer joy and giddiness that an evening spent bouncing up, down, and on/off the walls can bring. Maybe these photos will give you some idea:

My sister goes in for a butt-bounce at the trampoline park.
My sister goes in for a butt-bounce at the trampoline park.
Unexpected bonus: Bouncing around on a trampoline is a great workout.
Unexpected bonus: Bouncing around on a trampoline is a great workout.
Hair tie highly recommended.
Hair tie highly recommended.

Kinfolk magazine recently described these experience gifts as presents of heart and mind, noting that “some of the most meaningful gestures that can be given are not, in fact, wrapped in red bows, but are actually experiences to be shared together.” I couldn’t agree more.

Tell me: Do you deviate from typical gift-giving practices? Would you consider marking a special occasion with an experience gift? Leave a comment below or tweet us @experiencelife.

Maggie Fazeli Fard is Experience Life’s staff writer. 

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