13 Holiday Gifts Light on the Planet and Your Wallet
Share succulents, homemade spirits or personalized linens for meaningful, conscientious gifts
This time of year, giving and receiving gifts can feel like a burden rather than the joy they are intended to be. A generic gift exchange can feel so hollow, especially for those of us who would like to carry our earth-conscious practices from the rest of the year into the holiday season.
But with a little forethought, there are plenty of ways you can give gifts that are easy on your wallet — and the earth — and that create special memories at the same time. Which of these 13 gifts would you most like to give or, for that matter, receive?
1. Low-maintenance succulent garden. Combine several colorful succulents to make a tabletop dish garden that is easy to maintain and will bring beauty to any room for months — maybe even years. Include an identification key to the plants according to where they are in the pot for an added touch. Care instructions can be useful too, especially for novice gardeners. See this guide for some tips for beginners.
2. A sip in the right direction. Homemade limoncello is easier than you might think to make but still impresses. Here is a simple video to show you how.
If making your own liqueur is outside of your comfort zone — or available time — you might purchase three varieties from your local specialty store for a fun taste test. Think any old limoncello is the same? Think again! When I was wandering the cobblestone streets of Milan last summer, I happened to pass a limoncello-only bar. Who knew?
Alternatively, you could modify this idea using brandy or any spirit that conjures evenings spent by the fire in wintertime.
3. A cut above. Vintage cookie cutters are completely charming. You can find wonderful old ones, including unusual shapes, at flea markets, thrift stores and antiques shops.
Tip: Combine this with a favorite cookie recipe and your special gift will be remembered for years.
4. What a card. Handwrite your favorite recipe on an index card. (They still carry them at office-supply stores.) Include it with a basket of all the necessary nonperishable ingredients. This idea works best if it’s a family recipe that can’t be found in a typical cookbook.
Tip: For an extra homey touch, dip your card in coffee or black tea, and then dry it in the oven on a low heat or with a blow dryer. Your recipe card will look like it already has been passed down for ages and is ready for the next generation to pick up the tradition. Find a tutorial here. (Note: The oven temperature should be no higher than 200 degrees, and make sure you do this step before writing your recipe on the card.)
6. Get personal. A vintage monogrammed napkin with the same initial as your friend or family member will be treasured — both because of the thought you put into it and the quality of antique linens. If you haven’t been scouring your local estate sales for such items throughout the year, go to eBay and search for the initial you want.
Tip: A mismatched collection, all with the same initial, makes a delightful set.
7. The gift of experience. A theater gift card or event tickets are a showstopping alternative to yet another thing that must be maintained or stored. Choose a film or concert you know the recipient will enjoy, or, if you’re not sure, purchase a gift card or certificate from a venue in their hometown. You can usually do this online, which is helpful if you don’t live near the gift recipient.
Tip: Adding popcorn and classic movie-type candy to your gift will really bring down the house. Or go for an Oscar by stopping by your local movie house and buying a bucket of popcorn (hold the butter!) and placing your gift card at the bottom. Note: This gift will work best if you can give it in person. That way you can encourage the recipient to keep digging through the popcorn and not throw out the card!
As another version of this gift, you could give a membership to a local museum.
8. Sugar sugar. Candied citrus peels take a bit of time to make, but they are a wonderful winter treat and they last forever! Recipes can be found online. My husband (whose candied orange peels have been a hit many times) likes this one.
Present them as-is in a jar, or dip them in chocolate for an unbeatable flavor combo. Consider also using the flavor-packed peels in a special holiday recipe — including a fruit cake people will actually like. Find several recipes here.
9. Put ’em up. Make your own canned goods to give away to friends and family. Winter is the perfect time for marmalade, which can be made from any citrus fruit. Place your own special label on the jars, and remember to include the date.
10. Easy baking. Make up a self-branded mix for your favorite cookie or cake recipe. One year my cousin, who was a young adult at the time, gave everyone a jar of pancake mix he had concocted himself. Although it was a simple mixture of flour, baking powder and the like — and quite inexpensive, I’m sure — I was impressed with his ingenuity and forethought.
A vintage Bundt or loaf pan makes a perfect vessel for your gift. No need for paper; a simple, reusable ribbon ties up the concept perfectly!
11. The way they were. Copy and frame a photo with special meaning that your family member or friend is not likely to have already.
Somehow my home has become the unofficial repository for my family’s old photos. Most are quite small and some have faded, but scanning and lightly touching them up with my photo software improves them almost instantly. I upload them to my favorite photo printing company and have them printed in a size appropriate for the gift I have in mind.