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My article “Christmas Gifts You Don’t Have to Shop For” was published by Relevant Magazine today.

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I remember the first year my husband and I decided not to give our friends and loved ones stuff for Christmas. Instead of giving tangible, wrap-able things, we gave “relational” gifts.

We gave my brother- and sister-in-law a homemade gift certificate for an evening out together, just the four of us. My sister-in-law is an artist and they both enjoy good food, so we made the gift certificate for something called the Alberta Street Art Walk and dinner at a restaurant of their choosing.

As Christmas Eve approached, I got nervous about the gift. What if they think it’s lame? What if they don’t want to spend time with us? What if they’d rather have a traditional thing to open and take home with them? Doubts and second guessing persisted. But on Christmas Eve, they unwrapped our gift certificate and genuinely liked it.

We enjoyed two family members whom we’d never spent time with outside of extended family gatherings, and they seemed to enjoy spending time with us, too.

I was first introduced to relational gifts five years ago by Advent Conspiracy. Taking their cue from the first Christmas—God giving himself relationally by coming to be with us—relational gifts are rooted in the gift of presence.

For most relational gifts, it makes sense to create your own gift certificate describing the relational outing that you and the receiver will experience together at a later date. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

For the Theater Buff

Go to a play together. Buy tickets in advance or let your theater friend choose the play. Print out show listings from local theaters and include them with a homemade gift certificate.

Tip: Community theater companies, acting schools, community colleges, colleges and universities all offer good shows at lower prices.

For the Music Lover

Go to a concert together. Buy tickets in advance or make a homemade gift certificate that’s good for going to a 2014 concert together. You can print out concert schedules from local venues and include them with your gift certificate.

Tip: Many cities have a free outdoor summer concert series. Make a gift certificate for an outdoor summer concert including a picnic dinner. Make the dinner yourself or order it. Be sure to bring a nice blanket, drinks and tableware (the real stuff, not paper or plastic).

For the Foodie:

Going to a restaurant is sort of a no-brainer, but maybe think a little beyond that. Take a one-time cooking class together. These popular classes usually have 8-12 participants and end with everyone eating the meal they prepared. Do an Internet search or call a specialty cooking store to find classes. Cook up more fun by adding more friends or family to the mix.

For the Art Lover:

Go to an art show, art walk or art museum. Or take a one-time art class together. Community centers often offer one-time art classes on Saturdays or Sundays.

Tip: Many cities have a free once-a-month art walk where local art galleries stay open late and sometimes offer complimentary appetizers or wine.

For the Dancer (or wannabe dancer):

Totally impress your significant other by signing up for a multi-week group or private dance class (6-8 weeks is typical). Consider the type of dance—swing, salsa, ballroom, etc. Ask a subtle question (or get someone else to) to find out which style your partner would most enjoy.

Tip: Do some research to find a venue with live music and dancing, as well as a dance class at the beginning. The cover charge is usually low and the dance lesson is often free.

For the Book Worm:

Go to the best bookstore in town together on a weekend night when they offer something special like a reading by a featured author. Take your time meandering the aisles together with no timeline or agenda. Part of your gift might include buying a book for your bookworm. Add lunch, dinner or dessert to round out the experience.

For the Sports Nut:

Sports fans are used to getting jerseys, new footballs and memorabilia, but nothing rivals the best and most obvious gift for any sports nut: go to a game. If your sports nut is game, dress in goofy team color outfits and cover as much skin as possible in face paint.

For the Outdoor Adventurer:

Plan a half-day, all-day or overnight trip. Go hiking, snow shoeing, rock climbing, snow mobiling, horse back riding, skiing, ice skating (outdoors), snowboarding, or cycling. Make the trip even better by purchasing or preparing some really good food.

For the Kids:

Consider going on a special date with your child, godchild, niece or nephew doing something that fits her or his unique interests—Swimming, go-carting, trampolining, zoo, paint-your-own pottery, sporting event, bowling, movie, skating, etc. Go out for cupcakes, ice cream or dessert of any kind afterwards and you’ll be golden.

If the thought of spending evenings and weekends Christmas shopping depresses you, or you’d like to help debunk the myth that Christmas is about getting and giving stuff, try giving relational gifts this year, even just one, and see what happens.

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