Gifting Outside the Box

My husband and I have been parents for over sixteen years now. That’s sixteen years of holiday celebrations with gifts coming at us from all directions. Over the years, our thoughts on the big giant gift under grandma’s tree have changed dramatically. Watching a three-year-old opening a ginormous gift can be magical, even if they then spend more time playing with the box than the actual contents. (The cardboard box was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame for a reason.) But now, in our own selfish way, we are relieved when that big box under the tree doesn’t have one of our kids’ name on it. We’d rather not have friends and relatives spending money on gifts that bring less pleasure than its box! We don’t have the space or the need. And this is our philosophy about gift giving. We don’t want you thinking of us every time you trip over that giant 8-foot teddy bear in your daughter’s bedroom. 

But let’s face it, gifting can be really fun. As the holiday season gets closer and closer, I have to fight the urge to just keep buying. When I stop by Zak’s Avenue I typically find something that speaks to me; the perfect gift for a special person. When this happens, I’m buying. I am not, however, going to run to the big box store searching for a gift. My husband helped me see the light here. He has a “no obligatory gift” policy. He never feels obligated to buy a gift for anyone. Ever. He takes this to the extreme and feels it’s okay to buy a gift for one niece/nephew and not the other. They could be siblings receiving a gift in front of the other and it wouldn’t matter to him. If he doesn’t have something in mind or come across a gift he’s excited to give, he just doesn’t do it. I’m a bit more of the obligatory gift giver but it’s made me a more creative gift giver too. This is why we began gifting “experiences” rather than things. Experiences are a great idea for the young and old alike. They come is all shapes and sizes, denominations and seasons! 

For the kids, avoid the landfill fodder at the Dollar Store and replace it with a couple bucks worth of tokens for batting cages or Swillburger/The Playhouse video and pinball games. For a little more money there are tickets to be had for all types of great outings year round; OrKIDStra family concerts, TYKEs theater, Seneca Park Zoo, Rochester Americans hockey, Red Wings baseball and Rhinos soccer to name a few. For the kid who’d rather be a participant than a spectator, consider the gift of dance at MGOS Academy of Irish Dance and Ashford Ballet Company on South Clinton, swim lessons at the YMCA, a day of skiing at Bristol Mountain, or rock climbing at RockVentures on University Avenue. If none of these sound appealing, maybe tickets to the Ice Capades or Monster Trucks are where it’s at. Grandma and Grandpa, are you listening? You’ll have less to wrap if you decide on a season pass to Seabreeze this holiday season for the grandkids. Talk about Christmas in July! Finally, don’t forget about the kids’ museums that are just waiting for you to visit. Get a big bang for your buck with an annual membership to the Rochester Museum and Science Center or The Strong National Museum of Play. 

An equivalent experience of The Strong for grown-ups might be Arc and Flame, located off Manitou Road just 15 minutes from downtown Rochester. They offer date nights with welding, blacksmithing, coppersmithing, glass blowing and jewelry making on the agenda. That’s a gift your parents have probably never given or received. If that seems too much, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra or one of the many stage theater performances might be just the ticket. Check out TheatreROCS, the “page for stage”, your one stop online shop for all things theater in Rochester. Pay attention to the traveling exhibits at the George Eastman House and the Memorial Art Gallery as well. It’s okay to go here even when you don’t have guests in town. If you live in the South Wedge area, consider gifting a book of tickets for the Cinema Theater or a membership to the Lamberton Conservatory. The “cactus room” is a great destination to provide respite on a cold wintery day. 

For every adult that would enjoy these experiences, there is one whose tickets would go unused. Shift gears for these folks and gift them consumables. A bonus here is that it’s really easy to keep this local. How about a growler from Swiftwater, steaks from McCann’s, Hedonist chocolate/ice cream, coffee from the Coffee Connection or Tea from Leaf Tea Bar? Just across town at the Rochester Public Market there are oils and vinegars that the foodie in your life will certainly appreciate; European and local cheese too. On your way there, stop by Black Button Distillery and pick up some spirits or bloody Mary mix. While all of these may not be locally produced they do support the small business owner. For the friends or family members that only shop at big box stores, a gift of this sort is great exposure! Gift cards to restaurants are always welcome. Get creative and package them as an anagram. Put each gift card in an envelope marked with a letter. The envelopes spell out a word or phrase (Out to Lunch, Vegan) and the recipient has to solve the puzzle before opening. With any luck, they will take you along. 

Ultimately, remember that it’s the thought that counts. Don’t spend more than you’re able. Keep the spirit of the holiday in mind. Personalize simple gifts with a hand written note. Whatever you decide to do when it comes to gifting this holiday season, do it with no regrets!