By Kelly Maue

    The holidays can be, well, um – complicated. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in gift-giving and other demands on time and money. What can feel like endless obligations rachet up the stress. So, wouldn’t it be great to take it down a notch?  

    You can.  

    Focus less on the number of gifts and the associated trappings of the holidays. Instead, emphasize spending quality time with loved ones and creating meaningful traditions. 

    I asked several adults about memorable gifts they’d received. Unfortunately, most couldn’t recall more than a handful of special things. So, it stands to reason that some of the presents we stressed about buying have long been forgotten. The good news? You may not have to shop for that “perfect” gift because time well spent makes some of the best memories.  

    Many of us have at least a few holiday traditions. Common ones include going to worship, sending greeting cards, and sharing a special meal with family. But there are many other ways to add meaning to the holidays and spend quality time together. 

    One of the classics?   Take a drive to look at holiday lights. It’s easy and fun; you can fit it in anytime during the holiday season. Who doesn’t love listening to music and visiting the light displays? Taking in some twinkling lights is a foolproof way to please the whole family.

    Other activities can depend on the weather. Of course, nothing beats sledding, snowball fights, or a friendly football game. But if the forecast doesn’t cooperate, chill out indoors while baking cookies, making pinecone birdfeeders, or watching your favorite holiday movies. Sometimes the most basic ideas are the best.

    You can also simplify gifting. For example, give the gift of an experience instead of searching for a tangible present. Cooking classes, music lessons, or tickets to a show may be precisely what that special someone wants. Other ideas could include a future family outing to a sporting event, the theatre, or a concert. And if a weekend trip or vacation is in the cards, there’s no better time to announce it than during the holidays.  

    Keep thinking outside the box! Another thoughtful gesture is the gift of time. How can you be present for someone special? Maybe what an older relative needs is a hand around the house. A note inside of a card could promise help with chores. Performing simple jobs like replacing batteries in smoke detectors, mulching a flower bed, or moving something heavy could mean the world to someone who isn’t as mobile as they once were.  

    Homemade gifts are another great option. A meaningful letter, poem, or handmade item could become someone else’s treasure. These gifts are also an excellent option for children, as they can give artwork for others to enjoy. Older relatives can share family recipes, memories, and stories.  

    And if you still want to shop, consider a gift for the entire family. What is something everyone can enjoy? A new board game, a puzzle, or a ping pong table all mean quality time together. And if you’re feeling adventurous, how about a tent or camping supplies for family time in the great outdoors?

    Set a good example and be generous this holiday season. Any gesture, small or large, is appreciated. Think about what worthy causes are meaningful to your family. For example, if you love animals, you might bring needed supplies to your local shelter. Another great option is to be a Secret Santa and drop off food and gifts for a family in need. And there is always a toy drive. Or, on a smaller scale – but equally thoughtful – deliver homemade cards and letters to an area nursing home. Request that they share them with residents who don’t have many visitors. Whatever you choose, get your family involved.

    If you prefer a charity that operates by monetary donations only, that makes the logistics easier – but don’t let the gift get lost. One way to do that is to put a reminder inside an envelope. Then, when it’s time to open presents, open the envelope first. As a family, discuss the organization and its mission. One example would be a gift to Heifer International – and the impact a gift of bees, chicks, or goats has on another family. Show your children how their contribution is life-changing and thank them for helping others.

    Finally, don’t forget to reach out to friends and family. Pick up the phone this holiday season and check on those special people in your life. Pay particular attention to those you suspect are lonesome. The holidays aren’t merry for everyone. 

    The holidays will be gone before you know it. Think about how you can make them more meaningful while making great memories.