The middle of September is the perfect time for Christmas planning. No you heard me correctly. It seems that every December you hear about people who would love to change something about how their family handles gift giving. The problem is December is too late! By then many in your family have already completed their shopping and won’t be happy about your plans to change things and scramble for last minute gifts . The time to start those conversations is now. Here are a few ideas for alternative and creative gift giving .
Photo Courtesy: slideshow bob 
Ideas for Alternative Gift Giving for Christmas
- Secret Santa
Instead of buying gifts for everyone in your family you can do a Secret Santa where everyone pulls a name out of a hat and then buys only for that person. If you’re concerned that you won’t know what to get for someone (and feeling added pressure of it being their only gift) you can have everyone make a list of a few items they would like. If you have a lot of people involved be sure to have someone not involved (an older kid for instance) keep the master list of who has who. This was my job as oldest kid in my family for many years. Not a year went by when someone didn’t call me (either they forgot who they had or they lost the list of gift ideas and wanted me to call their person) so this was an important step.
- Yankee Swap
The adults in my family have been doing a Yankee Swap for the past couple of years with great success. It’s a lot of fun to do. The only people I’ve heard of who did not have fun at a Yankee swap are those where no one steals. So if this is your first swap make sure people know that stealing is part of the game and it will make it much more interesting. How does it work? Everyone who is playing buys a gift and wraps it. Unique gifts  are a lot of fun. All gifts go into the center of the room. Then you put numbers in a hat from 1 to the number of people playing. Everyone gets a number. #1 picks a present and opens it. #2 can either pick a present or take #1’s present. #3 can pick or take #1 or #2s and so on. If someone takes your gift you get to open or take another one. This goes through until the last person goes and then #1 gets one last chance to swap with someone. As you can imagine gifts go back and forth. The trading is more fun than the presents.
- Theme Gifts
If as a family you are deciding to spend less on gifts then one way to make lower cost gifts more interesting is to have a theme. This could be anything – the color green, food, travel, etc. For ideas see the list of themed gift ideas . This puts the focus more on creativity than on the cost. We often do themes in our Yankee Swap. Last year our theme was movies. You had to pick a movie and then get a gift that went along with it. It also made shopping a lot more entertaining.
- Homemade Only
Another way to lower costs is to only exchange handmade gifts. As someone who is not very crafty I kept away from homemade gifts  for a while but then I realized even if I couldn’t knit a sweater there were still things I could do. One year I scanned in a bunch of old pictures and gave cds of the images out to family. Another year my sister typed up a bunch of my mom’s recipes and put them in a book for me. I’ve also made chocolate truffles or granola.
- Family Event
Instead of buying “things” for each other you could opt for a group experience gift . This could be as small or as big as you want it to be. Ideas include a night at the movies for everyone, bowling, a fancy dinner, a trip. If it works out well you could have a new family tradition on your hands.
- Family Giving
Another option is instead of getting gifts for each other to “adopt” a family to purchase for. Many churches or other volunteer organizations run programs like these. You’ll often be given lists or suggestions for each of the family members as well as genders and ages of the kids. It helps to get organized ahead of time because the deadline for these programs can be early so that they have time to collect and distribute to everyone.
No matter what change you’d like to make in your family gift giving the best time to explore options is now. Start having some conversations one on one with people in your family. If people seem open to change then brainstorm some ideas with the larger group. Keep an open mind and be flexible. Not everyone will have the same ideas as you. Be willing to try things for a year and then evaluate. Hopefully by planning ahead you can create a more pleasant holiday for everyone.
When do you start your Christmas planning?