When I was a kid, my large extended family decided for one year that all Christmas gifts would be homemade. My family created a scrapbook of a family camping trip for an aunt and uncle. My Aunt Carol made a crazy 4-foot tall stuffed rag doll for me. Now, why is it that I can remember this, but I couldn’t tell you any other gift my aunt gave me in my lifetime?

I think it is because there was a different feeling about the meaning of gift giving that year. Everyone was actively involved in creating things. They required time and consideration. They were filled with creativity and thoughtfulness. They were labors of love. A sense of connection and care filled our experience that year.

So, this could be just a sentimental story but I see it as a memory I can learn from. The lessons are two fold. First, when making a gift for someone, it requires that you spend time thinking about him/her – remembering times you’ve enjoyed together or contemplating what they seem to value in their life. As you make the gift, you spend perhaps hours with them on your mind. The gift, then, becomes a symbol of how you have been holding them in your heart and mind. This is what many of us long for- to know that we exist in the hearts and minds of others. I believe this is a big part of what makes homemade gifts so special. Secondly, the lesson I take from this memory is that gifts don’t need to be expensive to be valuable. Today, many people find themselves in deep debt, underemployed, tense and fearful about the future. Financial fears can lead to high stress levels, sleepless nights and irritability, which, in turn, compromises physical health and leads to increased levels of conflict in relationships. Spending money you don’t have can create toxic resentment in a relationship. At this point, all sense of generosity or joy is lost in the giving and the gift itself, is tainted with bitterness.

If you didn’t see it coming, here it is. I have a suggestion. This year, try doing what my family did. Make gifts. Suggest to your friends and family that they do the same. At this point, you are likely to say “But I don’t have the time”, “But I’m not creative”, “But my kid wants an iPhone”. To that, I say, “Challenge yourself. It will be worth it.” Creating and giving a handmade, meaningful gift can lift your mood and ease your pocketbook. Here are a few ideas to help you get the creative juices flowing.

Create a photo collage.

Frame a favorite photo of you and the other together.

Knit, sew, build, bake…

Write and frame a letter to someone expressing the following:

    The way you have touched my life
    Something I have learned from you
    A time I will always remember
    Something I have always wanted you to know
    Make a Gift Certificate for:
    A home cooked meal at your house.
    A walk and picnic
    A car wash
    A date a month
    Have other ideas? Please share them.