Giving the Gift of Tradition

by Grace Bonney

Every year I like to punctuate our gift guide posts with ideas that get to the heart of the season: celebrating the people we love. Rather than just gifting something tangible (which is perfectly fine), I think it can be even more meaningful to do something that is about committing to strengthening the bond between you and the person receiving the gift. No-buy and experience gifts are a fantastic way to do that, and we’ve shared some of our favorite ideas for both in years past. But today I wanted to share another idea: the gift of building a new tradition.

It feels harder and harder these days to find time to actually see the people you love in person and away from their gadgets. So rather than completely leaving technology behind, I decided to work the idea of computers, apps and gadgets into this year’s gifting idea. Along with more straight forward DIY ideas, I’ve shared 10 of my favorite ways to give someone the gift of a new tradition this year. Whether you’re committing to a monthly dessert date, a weekend crafting session or a shared blog update, this type of gift is truly a way to make the recipient feel loved, appreciated and remembered. And what could be sweeter than knowing that someone cares enough to commit to spending time together on a regular basis, work schedules and hectic lives or not! That sort of one-on-one time (whether digital or in-person) feels like the most precious present you could ever give someone. If you have any great ideas you’ve given or received before, please feel free to share them below! Happy Holidays, Grace

*Image above from a Christmas-themed ‘Beyond the Big Day’ post on D*S

All 10 ideas continue after the jump!

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1. Regular online chats

If you have a dear friend or family member that lives far away, why not treat them to a Skype pass (they’re relatively inexpensive depending on how long you plan on talking) and commit to regular talks, whether it’s once a month or once a week. You can move around the time to fit your schedules, but committing to keep in touch face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice) is such a nice way to tell someone you love them and want to know what’s happening in their lives. A sweet way to gift digitally would be a Google calendar invite surprise (they just have to hit “accept”!) or if you want to send something in person, maybe a tiny phone-shaped ornament or card that announces the idea and gift.

*I find Skype is pretty reliable (although not at all hours), but you could easily do this over FaceTime or use Google Hangouts or similar apps that let you talk face-to-face.

2. A Shared Blog

I think one of the sweetest friend projects I’ve ever seen was Maria and Stephanie’s 3191 blog. Named after the distance, in miles, that separated the two friends in their respective cities of Portland, ME and Portland, OR, they started a blog where each day they’d share photos from their mornings. Though it grew into something much bigger (and a book!), it began as a way for two friends who cared about each other greatly to stay in touch and really “see” what the other one was up to. While this does commit your friend to updating something on a regular basis (and not everyone will have time to contribute something) this would be great for any loved one who already updates or photographs their life in some way on a regular basis. Then at the end of the year you could combine the images and print them into a Blurb book that documents your lives side by side. That would also be a sweet way to present the gift, but making (or having made) a simple booklet that combines images of each other’s lives and perhaps a few exchanged emails or texts you could share. Send that to them with the login to your new blog and you’re ready to go!

3. Letters (and postcards) Forever

I miss hand-written letters. My friend Jennifer still sends me postcards and cards a few times a year, out of the blue, and they continue to be the highlight of my mail-life. I find that getting cards and stamps is the biggest challenge to written correspondence, so why not take that work out of things for your friends and loved ones? Find or make an inexpensive stationery kit and mail half to your friend (along with postage- you can step it up a notch by collecting usable vintage stamps from Etsy sellers) and keep half for yourself. Set up reminders for each other (perhaps via Google or Boomerang, my favorite reminder app) and then once a month sit down for a few moments, fill out a card or postcard and pop it in the mail. You can easily announce this gift idea by mailing the notecard or postcard set to someone in the mail with a card explaining the idea.

4. Friend/Family Instagram Hashtags

I’m a sucker for weird personal hastags. Things that only you and your loved one will think to follow, but that allow you to post things publicly and not need a specialized, new or private account. So why not commit to hashtagging something sweet or nostalgic about that person (or your friendship) and hashtagging it once a month so they can see it? For example, if you went to summer camp and want to celebrate an old friend, why not scan a dozen or so old camp photos that mean things to the two of you, and each month post one to Instagram and hashtag it #graceandannacamp95 and let them get a sweet reminder of your memories together every month. You could announce the gift by @replying them with a photo of a hand-written note that explains it.

*Alternate version: You could also make this a one-time tradition (once a year) gift by creating a hashtag that means something to them (ie: #childhoodinvirginia) and have the loved ones’ family and friends upload their own images and use the special hashtag so this person has access to a huge collection of old images that remind them of a place, person or time that was so special to them.

5. Crafting Weekends!

I don’t do it as often as I’d like, but I love to sit around and do crafts with friends. Whether it’s stringing popcorn garlands or making homemade valentines, I appreciate the conversation that springs up from time together doing something creative. While crafts supplies can be expensive, this is a clever way to use up around-the-house items and perhaps even share the responsibility (after the first few months) to create great things together. For example, perhaps once a month, you can use your house to host a craft afternoon for you and a friend (or several friends) where you provide small snacks and drinks (they can be homemade and don’t need to be fancy) and you all gather to watch an old movie and make something. Maybe you all bring pillow cases and embroider small things on them while you talk, or maybe you all bring an old chair and paint them together- either way, you’re spending time together and getting something fun done at the same time. You can announce this gift by sending someone simple supplies for the first gathering (maybe a stack of butcher block paper, colorful paints and a few small potatoes) and invite them over to make DIY gift wrap together or maybe send them cookie decorating supplies and invite them over to make holiday cookies at your home).

6. Cooking Weekends

I love food. I really enjoy cooking. But I hate dishes. I do them gladly when someone else cooks for me, of course, but I find I avoid creating dirty dishes whenever possible. But cooking with loved ones can be such a fun activity to share can be such a nice way to do something for others. So why not give someone the gift of a monthly cooking day? You invthis ite your friend over to make one thing that they can enjoy in their own home throughout the week. The gift? You’ll do all the dishes. Maybe once month you and your friend meet to make jams you can preserve and use for months to come. Maybe you meet and make breads and cookies. Maybe you’re just prepping together to make healthy soups your families can enjoy that week or freeze for later. Either way, you’re spending time together, getting chores checked off your list and giving them the gift of a day without dishes that have to be done. I find a lot of people would cook more if they didn’t have to clean up, so why not make that a little easier and take care of the clean up in exchange for good food and good times with a loved one. I would make sure you’re not committing to too many friends with this one, or you’ll be up to your elbows in dishes. I think this would work best for 1-2 friends at a time. It would be sweet to announce this by gifting them an inexpensive, but cute, vintage tupperware or baking dish and putting the recipe inside you can start your cooking day with.

7. Babysitting

I feel like the majority of my friends have children or children on the way. As much as I miss seeing them (and I do) as much as I used to, I miss seeing them getting to take a day off every now and then even more. So I feel like one of the most generous things you can do is to commit to a night of babysitting a month for a friend with children. Of course, you should only do this if you’re a capable and qualified sitter (if you’re scared of babies, don’t commit to watching one). But if you are, give your friends a card that folds out and perhaps has a little hand-drawn picture of them walking out the door, you playing with the kids and everyone with smiling faces. Then once a month (or every other month), whatever can you do, make it clear that you’ll watch the kids while they go to dinner, see a movie, etc. To make sure things don’t get sticky, say something like “Once a month, from 6pm to 9pm, I’m happily on babysitting duty at the XX household!” This is a big time commitment, so make sure you can tackle this. And I think it be even nicer to set yourself a once a month reminder to check in with the parent/s and ask what day this month they’d like a night they’d like a night off? Reminding them is a huge part of the gift, as some people may be too busy to plan a night off for themselves and may need a nudge.

Image via https://www.etsy.com/listing/56411904/lot-of-12-vintage-admit-one-carnival
8. Hey Hey, Matinee

Every year my mom and her sister go to see all the Oscar-nominated movies in one fell swoop. Over the course of just a few days they’ll see things in the theater (or watch them at home on TV) so they’re caught up and know which films they’d like to cheer for during award season. If you have a film buff in your life, it would be great to commit to taking them to one matinee a month where you can see films of a certain genre or style that you both love. Perhaps you’re both into thrilled- maybe it’s one monster movie matinee a month! If you’re into foreign films, offer them a free matinee ticket to the nearest French film. No matter what the genre or style is, sticking to afternoon movies is a great way to keep the cost down. The average matinee ticket price in the US is $7, so that’s $84 total for the year for their tickets- not too bad when you consider that $84 turns into 12 gifts, rather than 1. Announcing this gift in the form of a roll of tickets or an Oscar statue (best friend of the year!) or an old-fashion popcorn box would be great.

*To save money, you could easily take turns bringing homemade treats to eat at the theater. You could also skip the theater and watch a free movie on TV if the cost of tickets is too much. It’s more about sharing something you both love and spending time together.

9. The Great Outdoors

Whether you live in a city or in the country (or somewhere in between), getting outside is one of the best ways to relax and restore. Whether it’s a bike ride, a picnic lunch or a hike on the beach, spending time in nature is a lot of people’s favorite way to hang out. If you’ve got an outdoorsy friend, why not gift them the tradition of a monthly outdoor adventure? It doesn’t need to be expensive or elaborate- maybe it’s a picnic in a city park one month and a bike ride along the water another month. Your commitment is to the idea and making it happen each month. Announce the idea with something fun like a card made from fallen leaves or written on fallen birch bark- or maybe two twigs that roll up a scroll with the gift idea written on it. Or just a note made from a map of trails near your hometown.

Image via http://www.onlinecollegecourses.com/online-learning/language-classes/
10. Never Stop Learning

I’m constantly inspired by my dear friend and co-worker Amy Azzarito’s love of learning. Whether it’s learning to surf or learning to speak Spanish, she’s always investing time in something new to broaden her horizon. While paying for someone’s regular class isn’t the most budget-friendly option for most of us, committing to a lesson you can learn online IS. There are an unbelievable wealth of learning tools available for free on PBS and Youtube. Whether you want to learn a new language or learn the proper way to roast a chicken, there’s an expert online teaching you how to do it- free of charge. If you have a friend who you know whats to learn a new skill, why not commit to doing it with them, together, once a month? For languages you may want to commit to a more frequent meet-up but for only part of the year, culminating with a dinner out at a restaurant that specializes in the cuisine of the country you’ve been specializing in? Or if your friend wants to learn cooking skills, why not follow knife skills and cooking tutorials online together (you could even do this with someone living abroad over Google Hangout or Skype!) and then at the end of the year (or a few months) welcome them over for a dinner party where you can each use the skills you’ve learned. You provide the place and the clean-up services and you all win by getting time together over a meal you both made and love. Announce with a card or presentation that’s connected to the theme, like an old Spanish textbook cover turned into wrapping paper (take an image from the web and print it out like gift wrap!) or combine an Eiffel Tower and Whisk ornament to announce your French Cooking lessons!

No matter what type of gift you choose to give a loved one, building a new tradition will always be meaningful and special. As lovely as once-a-year gifts are, both of you (both the gift giver and the gift receiver) are given something special when you commit to sharing time together. xo, grace

Suggested For You


  • This is kind of silly, but my siblings and I always go bowling in our small hometown on Dec 23rd. It’s our annual excuse to drink cheap beer and get competitive. It doesn’t replace gifts, but I probably value it just as much!

  • This is wonderful! I was just racking my brain to come up with the perfect gift for my parents who spend most of the year missing me ;) though I’ll be home for the holidays, I wanted to give something that would help them feel closer while I’m living in Paris.

  • Great list! I would add to the 10th point that you can try a class through Dabble (dabble.co). They’re not terribly expensive and it’s a great way to test out the waters of a new hobby or take an enriching class. I’ve done a few classes through them and it’s such a fun way to get out and do something new!

  • I really like these ideas, and this post, in contrast to other holiday gift guides I’ve seen out there. : ) It’s a great reminder that people’s time is really the biggest gift…Time with loved ones, time FOR loved ones…and, for parents, the idea of giving them their own time, by offering babysitting, is perfect.

    I really love the crafting idea…it’s been a long time since I just sat down and had a crafting time outside of making things for work. That would be so much fun to do.

  • Can you please please please get that circus ornaments free download to work by Erin Jang on the other post you have with this xmas tree picture? It just leads to a weird non descript website called http://www.designspongeshop.com/ and I can’t find it on there. I am desperate to get this file to decorate my tree! I tried looking on Erin’s site but it just leads to the DS post which leads to no where. Please!Thank you!

  • Last year when she was 3, my daughter decided that her Dad really needed a tuba for Christmas. As far as I know, he’s never touched a tuba—let alone showed any interest in playing one—but the kid was insistent.

    The next day, I’m reading the newspaper…and holy Christmas miracle…there in black-and-white print is a blurb about the upcoming free Merry Tuba Christmas event at the Kennedy Center. 300 tubas, sousaphones and euphoniums in one awesome holiday concert. We got dressed up, surprised him with a card, and headed to the show…followed by pizza. It was the next best thing to getting him a tuba. :)

    But really there are so many free holiday shows like this…picking one and making it a yearly event is so much fun. We’ll be heading to Merry Tuba Christmas again this year—even though my daughter is pretty sure her Dad would really like a lightbulb. Sheesh.

  • I have been advocating non-material gifts this year because I think doing an activity and making a memory with someone is so much more valuable. Along the lines of your class idea, if anyone has anyone adventurous in their life I am doing Beehive Tours in San Diego,CA. I also have gift certs for Intro to Beekeeping classes that I teach. :)

  • I’ve been taking classes on Coursera.com all year and it’s been a blast! And it’s free! My husband and I took an archaeology class together and I’ve taken two history of rock classes. I’d highly recommend.

    I’m leery about taking food into the theater but then I try to frequent locally owned places and I know they’re on short margins and the food purchases mean a lot to them. One of my favorite movie spots (Hi-Pointe, St. Louis!) carries local beer and local frozen custard, plus their prices are reasonable. I’d never carry food in there.

  • Love the Xmas tree at the top of this post. How can I make some of those ornaments,especially the tree topper? These are some great gift ideas. I will definitely be using one of them for my parents this Xmas.

  • 10+ years ago, my roommates and I (and our significant others) got together every Monday evening to make dinner together. One person would choose the menu and buy all the groceries and then we’d all pitch in to make the dishes and have a fabulous dinner together. We all got experience with new recipes and had a blast in the process.

    Now that we don’t live together and have children, we’ve modified it to be a potluck. We get together every 6 weeks or so at one of our houses, pick a theme (ethnic, regional, etc) and everyone pitches in by bringing a couple of dishes which makes for an awesome feast. It gets us to schedule in time to be creative in the kitchen and the time together is nostalgic and awesome. I hope we’re still doing it in 20 years!

  • I love these ideas! It’s nice to think outside the box from time to time, especially since today’s consumer-driven culture encourages us to buy stuff instead of experiences. I enjoy experience gifts much more than “stuff”!

  • My sister came up with a great idea, that might turn into a tradition. Because fo how many nieces and nephews we have, rather than giving them cheap toys that they don’t need, we are chipping in to give them the gift of an experience. We are taking them to a small water park on 12-26. Since some of the kids live out of town, they will all be able to play together. If it goes well, we’d like to continue the tradition.

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