15 holiday gift ideas. (Mostly “experiences.” Not much “stuff.”)

One of the most meaningful gifts I ever received was a birthday gift from my boyfriend, two Decembers ago.

It was a feather quill pen and a jar of black ink.

Plus a love letter written on a square of plain brown paper.

The paper was from a used grocery bag. He used another portion of the grocery bag to wrap the gift.

He drove nearly an hour through the freezing cold and sleet to deliver the gift to me.

I remember opening the door and seeing him huddled outside, shivering, holding the gift along with one small birthday cupcake that he’d baked for me. Salted caramel and chocolate. My favorite.

I’d been out of town for several weeks leading up to that moment and I’d missed him so desperately. We re-united with a hug that lasted forever and ever and ever, where time literally seemed to bend and tremble. My head pressed into his chest and I knew, with deep certainty, that he was my forever-love.

The gift was lovely — I still have the pen and ink jar today — but it was the energy and intention surrounding the gift that made it so special. He didn’t just give me an attractive physical object. He gave me an emotional experience. He gave me… a “moment.”

That’s why I’ll never forget it.

How about you?

What’s one of the most meaningful gifts you’ve ever received?

I love gifts — both giving and receiving — and my favorite gifts tend to be “experiences” rather than “stuff.” Stuff can be cool too, as long as it’s charged with a particular message, feeling, promise, or intention that makes it feel “experiential.” If that rings true for you, too, then I think you’ll enjoy the following list of holiday gift ideas.

This year, why not…

— Give a tutorial.

You know how to do lots of interesting things! Patiently show your mom how to edit photos, teach your sister how to set up a blog, help your best friend write a fabulous dating profile, or make a yoga class video for a relative who lives in another state. Teach what you know! Such a simple way to enhance someone’s life.

— Give a box of homemade treats.

It’s a classic! Earlier this week, my boyfriend and I made 15 boxes of homemade cakes and cookies and dropped them off all around town. A box for our local baristas. A box for the surgeon who fixed my leg. A box for the owner of our favorite neighborhood restaurant. People were completely stunned by the surprise sugar-fix. It was so fun — we felt like fairies sprinkling joy all around town! Cheesy but true.

— Give a Tarot or astrology reading.

Last year I gave everyone in my immediate family the same holiday gift: a 30 minute Tarot reading with my friend Theresa, aka The Tarot Lady. Everyone loved their reading! Here are my personal tips on how to consult with a mystic plus several pros that I highly recommend. Or, if you are mystically inclined, you could give the reading yourself!

— Give music.

Give music lessons. Give a personalized mixtape. Give a Spotify playlist. Give an impromptu concert in your living room. Give money to keep music programs in schools. Take someone out for a live show or a night of karaoke. Give an old school record player and a couple of LPs. Give an iTunes gift certificate and include an album recommendation in your e-card. Who hates music? NOBODY.

— Give “30 days of…” something.

A pass for 30 days of yoga at a local studio. A pass for 30 days of online fitness classes. 30 days of writing inspiration. Or 35 days of photography tips. Or 90 days of streaming music. Or make a generous promise: “Every day for the next 30 days, starting today, I promise to…” Days and days of delight!

— Give leftovers.

A few weeks ago, I took a big bundle of holiday leftovers — warm pear strudel and cranberry crepes — to a homeless shelter. It was a cold, rainy night, and everyone was surprised and delighted. I wasn’t trying to be a “hero” — I just didn’t want perfectly good food to go to waste. It was a win-win for everyone.

Win-win, and also… intense. I burst into tears on my way back to my car and felt thoroughly shaken up — in a good way. Visiting the shelter was a piercing reminder that my “problems” are microscopic compared to the misery that many people endure every single day. A valuable perspective re-alignment. (Side note / tip: call your local shelter ahead of time to make sure they accept food donations. Some do. Some don’t.)

— Give books that you love.

“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!” –Neil Gaiman

I always love when friends give me (new or used) books that they enjoyed — especially when they tuck a note inside to explain why they loved it so much.

You could give a book to a friend, get a copy for yourself as well, and then say, “Let’s read this together. Book club for two! You and me. Then we can discuss the book over brunch!”

Speaking of which…

— Give brunch.

Bacon, waffles, mimosas. Yum. Everyone loves brunch! If your favorite local brunch spot doesn’t offer gift certificates, you can use Gift Rocket to make a gift certificate for any establishment you want — by yourself! (I’ve used it before. Super cool.)

Side note: if you’re based in Portland, my boyfriend’s new brunch and dessert spot, HunnyMilk, is a must-visit. I know. Totally shameless boyfriend-promotion! But seriously, his food is beyond amazing. I speak from (daily) experience. If you email him at brandon@hunnymilk.com he can hook you up with a cute gift certificate, too.

— Give “a night off.”

Sometimes, the greatest gift you can possibly give is the gift of… freedom!

Years ago, when a friend of mine had a baby, I gave him a “babysitting voucher.” I don’t particularly “love” babysitting, but I had a feeling that “a night off” would be a gift that he would really enjoy.

Several months after their child was born, he and his wife asked me to babysit. It was their first “date night” together in a long, long time. They were nervous to be apart from their kid, but they felt better knowing their child was being watched by a friend rather than a “stranger.” They had a fabulous time and I’m pretty sure they had sex in their car that night, so… I felt pretty great that I could help to facilitate that experience! Ha!

How about you? Could you offer someone an evening of babysitting? A weekend of dogsitting? A “don’t worry about laundry or dishes” voucher for the next month?

Give a few hours of your time. It could be the best gift they receive all year long.

— Give words.

Write a heartfelt letter. It requires almost no money, it doesn’t take long to do, and it’s so powerful. Writing a sincere letter can seriously change someone’s whole day.

Here’s a free booklet I made for you — filled with letter writing inspiration — in case you missed it when I posted it earlier this year.

— Give forgiveness.

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” –Maya Angelou

Let it go. Let it burn. Let the ashes float away.

Imagine who you could become, and what you could create, if you didn’t have to carry anger, bitterness or self-criticism around like a boulder on your back.

Personally, I think forgiving “yourself” is often harder than forgiving other people — especially if you hold yourself to excruciatingly high standards, if you’re a perfectionist, or if you feel like you’ve “screwed up” really egregiously.

But self-forgiveness is possible and there are thousands of kind, caring professionals (like my friend Dr. Gelb) who can help you if you’re struggling. When you invest in yourself, improving your own emotional wellbeing, it truly is a gift for the entire world.

— Give laughter.

Give tickets to a comedy show. Write a ridiculously silly joke and slip it into someone’s coat pocket. Record your dad telling his classic “horse walks into a bar…” joke and email the audio file to your extended family. Or compile a list of comedy podcasts, comedy TV shows, and / or audio books and email your top picks to a friend.

Personally, I love: My Brother, My Brother And Me, Can I Pet Your Dog?, Doughboys, Champs, The Mighty Boosh, and this audio book made me chortle a great deal!

— Give your voice.

Use your smartphone or Vocaroo to record yourself saying, “I love you because…” or “I appreciate you because…” or “Next year, my wish for you is…”

Email your audio file to a friend.

It’s like a “voicemail” that they’ll be able to keep, treasure, and re-play forever.

— Give an orgasm.

Oh yes! I went THERE!!! Hey, we’re all grown ups here.

Give your partner an, ahem, “experience” to remember. Perhaps including a special new toy. Or give your sweetheart a collection of sensual semi-nude photos bundled together in a beautiful booklet. (My friend Danielle can help you with that…)

Or (my personal favorite) give an evening of sensation-without-expectation. Give your partner pleasure, touch, and kisses all over, without expecting them to reciprocate or climax or “do” anything in particular. Tell them, “You don’t need to ‘do’ anything right now. Your only job is to relax and just feel… whatever you feel. I love you. Let me show you…”

(If you don’t know about OM-ing — Orgasmic Meditation — you should.)

— Give a caring reminder.

I have a friend who is a black belt Aikidoka. For years, I’ve been saying to her, “It’s so cool that you do martial arts. I want to try Aikido too!”

“You should take an intro class!” she tells me. “Yeah!” I say. But then I don’t.

This year she sent me a couple of martial arts-related t-shirts and a card that read: “For the future martial artist.”

I smiled. It was the perfect reminder to just DO IT already. (I am attending my first Aikido class at 6:30pm tonight!!)

I hope you enjoyed this list of gift ideas.

Last but not least: don’t forget to put away your smartphone from time to time. Turn it off. Tuck it away. Un-install a few apps. Or try this.

Technology is amazing. It can enhance our lives in innumerable ways. But we all need tech-free time, too. Create space for screen-free connection. Truly, one of the greatest gifts you can give another human being is… a few moments of your undivided attention.

I am wishing you and your family a beautiful holiday season.

I hope it’s full of experiences that remind you why it’s such a gift… simply to be alive.