The holiday season is undoubtedly the hardest time of year if you don’t love materialism because it’s the most manipulative time of the year. Running the gauntlet of advertising for the entire month of December while being hit in the face by Christmas “Sales!” and distracted by shiny, brightly coloured packages is just the surface of it.

There’s also the nostalgic pull of childhood memories opening presents under the tree—good memories we want to recreate for other children. Even more insidious is the cultural pull that says that finding the perfect gift for our significant others is the best way we can show them that we care about them.

Maybe the most manipulative holiday feeling of all is the feeling that we have a responsibility to buy gifts for people. You know—the nagging disquiet that if you don’t pick up “a little something” for grandma or for your sister’s new boyfriend, you’ll break a thousand social etiquette rules and ruin the holidays for your family forever, thus confirming to your skeptical relatives that your socially responsible, anti-capitalist lifestyle is indeed the path to the dark side.

Here are some gift-giving ideas that might help you have it both ways: preserve family traditions and relationships and outwit the holiday industry.

Make something – This is an obvious one, but a good one, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know how to macramé, or hand someone a lump of wool you’ve just failed to knit into a hat. You can make good things that people need, even if you’re not handy (although if you’re handy at something that does open your options right up). Try baking a batch of cookies, or make some soup or stew and put into a jar so someone can have an instant meal when they’re too tired to cook. Compile a recipe book of all of your gift recipient’s favourite foods. If you can think of it, somebody on the Internet has handmade it and has directions that will show you how to do it.

Charitable donations There are lots of ways to give a donation for another person. You can cut a cheque for a cause that somebody cares about. Some organizations will let you choose something specific (a fruit tree or mosquito nets for children) to give on someone’s behalf so that the donation, as well as the choice of non-profit, really speaks to the person you’re giving this to. You can also make up a gift basket of things a local food bank, animal shelter or hospice might need and offer to go with the person to hand deliver the donation so that they can be the hero of the day.

Give the gift of you – Everyone has something they do well, so offer your services to somebody. Do a friend’s taxes if you’re a financial person. Tutor, if you teach. Even if you have a doctorate in literature and have no useful skill to offer, you can still commit to shovelling snow, doing yard maintenance or babysitting somebody’s kids for an evening. If you already trade services with your family  and friends, level-up and offer something more than the usual. Third-party bartering, where you take your electrician neighbour’s mother for groceries so that your neighbour will have a look at the wiring in your mom’s house totally counts.

Coupon books – Make a book of things you know somebody would appreciate having done for them then follow through when the person wants to cash them in. You could offer to clean somebody’s house, take them to a terrible movie that you would otherwise never, never go with them to see, or give one to your kids that’s filled with coupons that let them get out of chores and break all kinds of house rules. Or better yet, give that to someone else’s kids…

An easier time of it – Discover the one thing that your gift givee is most stressed out by, or finds hardest in life, and find a way to make that thing a bit easier through the year. Do a weekly lunch date or send flowers to the office every month if someone can’t stand their job. Be a standing plus-one for somebody if they hate going to functions alone. Plan really thoughtful study sessions if exams are the most stressful thing. Support is the best gift of all and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Enjoy a peaceful season!

For more tips on dealing with the holidays read DREAMING HEAVEN: 6 tips on how to not get derailed this holiday season>>

image: Kristin Nikolai (Creative Commons BY-SA)