I like to think I’m a champion of gift-giving. If there were ever a competition centered around who can gift the most meaningful present, I’d rank pretty high.

See, it’s all about knowing the receiver well and paying attention, and, not to toot my own horn, I am quite observant.

However, my sister has always been my hardest target. Despite our close friendship, she’s very tricky to shop for. It’s hard to sum up such a deep-seated relationship with a tangible item. When we were younger, we’d physically exchange gifts — silly things I can’t even remember well enough to describe here.

As we got older, however, I got crafty — gifting hand-burned CDs, framed pictures, concert tickets — experiences and memories.

Abbie Ginis/Dearly

And now, with the holidays and her 21st birthday creeping up, I reached out to my sister to ask if there was anything she particularly wanted for the occasions. Her response (sounding wise beyond her years, mind you):

“Let’s just enjoy our time together when you visit! No need to spend money on material goods.”

Relief washed over me (and my wallet), as the pressure to find that perfect gift dissolved. And she’s right (as usual). The holidays are meant to be a time to come together as a family, as friends, and just enjoy one another.

However, we’ve been conditioned to think that, starting as early as Black Friday, we need to drop massive amounts on our loved ones in order to make the holidays special. Advertisements have even gone as far to tell us that homemade gifts are obsolete:

A grandma-like figure in the above ad, who says, “I always knit my gifts,” is shut down by the narrator who retorts:

“Well, you shouldn’t!”

But why not? My favorite gifts are always the ones with sentiment: handwritten letters, a meal out with friends, a hand-knitted pair of socks from my grandma. Isn’t it the thought that counts, anyway?

A conversation with one of my friends recently sparked another way to make the holidays meaningful. As he was describing the gifts he’d picked out for his mom and brothers, he added that in his family, they also add on a donation to the receiver’s charity of choice.

I’m sure this idea isn’t new to everyone, but I was struck by the generosity of making the holidays about more than just stuff. I ran the idea by my sister, and we concluded that this year we aren’t going to give our parents goofy socks or bath bombs. Instead, we’ll be putting our money to good use by helping others.

The holidays shouldn’t be a stressful time, but rather one to celebrate each other.

So this holiday season, consider keeping your wallet to yourself. Frame a picture, write a letter, or buy a meal for people. Curl up on the couch and watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” together.

Make this year about more than just stuff.

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