Trading Gifts for Experiences

Bucking the trend this holiday season

Editor in Chief of Minnesota Monthly Rachel HuttonIn The Age Of Amazon Prime, you can have literally anything delivered, free, in two days’ time: engagement rings, caskets, car-top cargo boxes, a 55-pound drum of personal lubricant. (I halted my Google search for “weirdest things you can buy on amazon” at that point, because I was using my work computer, but I’m sure I was just scratching the surface.) It’s no wonder many of us are feeling overwhelmed by stuff.

For me, the modern stuff-splosion feels especially present in the run-up to the holidays, as soon as my family draws names for a secret Santa gift exchange. Trying to find just the right item, and making a few “hypothetical” gift suggestions for others, spurs more anxiety than excitement. (If you share these feelings, check out Tim Gihring’s no-nonsense MN Nice Advice on how to avoid unwanted gifts, and Bryan Miller’s funny, thoughtful essay on gifting guilt.)

Not that I haven’t had gifting success in the past. I’ve given and received presents, ranging from humorous to romantic to practical, that have left an indelible mark. My husband famously (and inexplicably) didn’t own jeans when I met him, and on one early holiday, his gift to me was to buy himself a pair. (I laughed and then I swooned.) Every time I nestle into the fuzzy sheepskin on our couch, I thank my husband for noticing how much I’d admired the cozy pelts at our local farmers’ market. And each weekday evening, when we return home to find that our toddler’s breakfast crumbs and playground sand have miraculously disappeared in our absence, our robot vacuum silently charging in his dock, my husband tells me how grateful he was to find it under the Christmas tree.

But this year, I’m embracing the trend of putting your money toward experiences instead of things—consulting our Holiday guide for ideas on the ways I might spend quality time with my loved ones. Perhaps I’ll take them to see Penumbra Theater’s Black Nativity, or Kevin Kling’s Tales from the Charred Underbelly of the Yule Log, or maybe we’ll head to Duluth for the Bentleyville light display. With my robotic assistant on hand to sweep up any spilled flour and sugar, I might also bake them that gorgeous chocolate Merlot cake pictured on the cover.