This holiday season, we asked our writers to share with us ideas around “The New Christmas” — how they are reinventing the holiday season in new ways, in personal or public rituals, with new traditions or with a return to long lost ones, with broader definitions of family and community. We asked them to share with us how they are moving away from the “consumerism” culture of the season, what “shifts” are happening in the ways they celebrate the season, and how they are engaging their friends and family in these new traditions. — Eds.

5347998667_32efc2c612_zPhoto by erika g. via Flickr (Creative commons License)

“Don’t get me anything else, that’s all I want,” our nine-year-old son said when begging us to give him a PlayStation during a long ago holiday season.

He has outgrown such requests (and, yes, we gave in that Christmas), but he hasn’t forgotten it. Last December, when the PlayStation turned 20, he reminded us how much he’d coveted one of his own.

 “I still remember the year I asked for a PlayStation for Christmas (easily my best Christmas).” He wrote in an email.  “I was so excited that I sneaked around in the basement and found the box hidden away in the back room. I hope I did a good job of faking surprise. . . ”

We are no longer hiding boxes of Legos, CDs, and computer games in that back room. And rather than piling lots of stuff under the tree, our family now focuses on fewer, more meaningful gifts. This ‘less-is-more’ approach has not only kept me out of the mall, but has also reduced my family’s holiday waste.

Below are ideas for gifts that can provide memories that will last long after they are opened, and advice for wrapping them in a more eco-friendly way.

Give Experiences

I turned 60 last year, and my older son marked the occasion by sponsoring two nights in a Brooklyn Airbnb. Not only did my husband and I have the chance to test out city living in a vibrant neighborhood, we were only a bike ride away from our son for a few days. The extra time with him made the gift especially meaningful.

While that particular gift was a grand gesture on my son’s part, “experiences” come in wide range of prices and in many forms. They might include tickets to a performance, museum passes and memberships, or classes on almost any topic.

For example, is there a foodie in your life? You could treat them to a local farm share, or if you live in NYC, you could send them on a wild food walk with urban forager Marie Viljoen.


Capture a Memorable Event

These days, almost everyone has a camera or camera phone on hand, and if we are lucky, we manage to capture something more significant than our morning cappuccino.

Last Christmas, I gave PlayStation son a candid photograph of himself in conversation with an elderly friend who lives in North Africa. I knew both the person and the setting would evoke powerful memories. I had Mpix mount the photo on an aluminum backing that would travel well in his suitcase and, once home, would hang easily on his wall. The gift was much less expensive than the PlayStation, but the emotion on his face when he opened it told me I’d nailed it. I see that photograph mounted on his wall every time we Skype.


Make a Donation

This year, in lieu of traditional presents, we will be honoring a couple of gift recipients by making a donation in their name. The list of causes runs the gamut from refugee relief to excellence in writing and editing.

Whatever the cause, however, it’s a good idea to research how the organization uses its funding. Charity Watch, for example, provides a list of top-rated charities based on criteria that include the percentage of an organization’s total expenses going to programs versus overhead, and how much it spends on fundraising. Charity Navigator, and Guidestar also analyze and rate nonprofits to help users understand where their donation is going.


Get Crafty

The above suggestions require minimal wrapping, yet a beautifully wrapped present not only looks festive, it makes the gift feel that much more special. This year, I’m striving to replace those big rolls of holiday wrap with something a bit more unique and eco-friendly. Here are a few tips I’ve come across in the process.

It’s amazing how many materials you can transform into wrapping paper. According to Inhabit and Treehugger old maps, calendars, and fabric are among the many eco-friendly alternatives.

This how-to post from “The Art of Doing Stuff” may not reuse materials, but the resulting wrapping paper is itself reusable, because when it is unwrapped carefully, it is suitable for framing.

While my own desire for “stuff” has waned over the years, there is one thing I’ll never refuse: having all of us together under one roof. As most mothers of adult children will agree, it’s the only gift that matters.

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