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Creating Holiday Memories? Hint: It Doesn't Involve Giftwrap

If you think back in your life at the best holiday memories, from your birthday to the traditional 'holiday season' of Thanksgiving through New Years...

  • What do you remember most?

  • What did you eat?

  • Who were you with?

  • What did you do?

  • Where were you?

Now let me ask you this - what gifts did you receive? How many did you get? Did any of them "make" the holiday...or was it something else that stood out that made the day so incredibly special?

When I look back at my life, from childhood to present day, it's never, ever been about the gifts. Presents has been around in some of them, but I couldn't name off 95% of what I received. Sure, a few storebought items here and there were particularly clever (a favorite painting of mine she found in a thrift store, the random tapes that must have been seriously funny for her to track down, the entire collection of singles by one of my favorite bands, the raspberry beret to go with the song that was in my stocking, the necklace with my birthstone he snuck back to buy), and a few were horrific (the black unicorn candle that melted from the horn stands out in particular...), but in all honesty...? They didn't make the day. They were purely optional. And they didn't represent the feeling I got, nor the memories that I have to this day.

So I thought I'd share some of the many ways I've celebrated over the years - the Who, the What, the Where - that didn't involve consumerism, that only involved the simple acts of sharing time, food, and place in celebration of the holidays...

WHAT (the food)...

As a little kid, my core memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas were centered around food...from my mom's homemade stuffing she made extra of because it was so popular, to my stepdad making the apple pie the night before, with the leftover bits of crust he topped with cinnamon and sugar for the two of us to snack on while the pie awaited our guests the next day....from the fondue parties we'd have on Christmas eve, sitting around the coffee table with bits of apple, bread and sausage to dip into the cheese, the woodstove burning and our dogs asleep in front of it, followed by brekkie on christmas morning with homemade hot chocolate served on fancy china with a soundtrack of nat king cole, ella fitzgerald, johnny mathis, and a little john fahey classical guitar in the background. sure, there were gifts under the tree and in stockings, but i couldn't tell you what i unwrapped for the most part...because no matter what we claimed to wanted to receive? That ultimately wasn't what we were truly craving. The smells from the kitchen? I remember those.

In my adulthood, the holidays were a huge variety pack of places and with that, foods. I was obsessed with baking and honed my craft over the years, and loved to make things to bring people, and loved the sharing of foods, sweet and otherwise, that often came with holiday celebrations. Some holidays were celebrated out at a restaurant, using our combined funds to celebrate with great meals instead of wrapped gifts. Some were picnics on the beach, substituting a great view of the ocean for an overpriced tree. And some were trying out recipes at home from all over the world, from Peru to China to France and beyond....or simply introducing the love of my life to American traditions he'd never experienced. All were unique and special and delicious...because it was about the togetherness, not the expectation of unwrapping something afterwards.

Even birthdays, which I love getting gifts for if I'm totally honest, have never been the same without a meal or a treat. From the 31 Flavors ice cream cake my coworker years ago sprung for after hearing how I had always wanted one to the homemade chocolate cake I shared with my BFF in high school when I turned 15, to the dinners with friends on my 25th in Seattle, my 30th in Santa Barbara, and my 40th at Lake Tahoe, eating was, well, more memorable than anything unwrapped.

WHO (the people - and other creatures - we adore)...

What are the best holidays if not about the love and affection we have for the people in our lives? My whole life, these holiday memories are surrounded by those who were by our side during those times.

My holiday memories are eclectic to say the least, and have been everything from huge meals with families (both mine and that of friends and significant others) to intimate dinners for two to a long tradition or winter solstice cocktail parties I threw for over a decade to celebrating with a few close girlfriends to being out in the community, be it volunteering or checking out local art or sitting on Santa's lap, to sitting at home just watching a movie with my love and my pup, while our ducks explored the strange new world of a White Christmas. I treasure the variety of people who have come in and out of my life, and love how the holiday memories in my own life are rich and varied.

WHERE (the places that memories are made of)....

Whenever people talk about something to do for the holidays that doesn't involve unwrapping something, I think of my earliest memory of a holiday that blew me away...going away to a little cabin in Sunriver, Oregon, when I was 9 or 10 with my parents and our two dogs, to experience a "white Christmas" for the first time ever. It was sheer magic. If we did gifts, I don't remember them. Did we even have a tree? Who cares. We played in the snow. We ate dinner. I remember being happy.

That imprinted deeply on me when I left home, even though they never had another holiday like that for us. And I vowed to enjoy the holiday in a variety of environments, to not get stuck with the concept of tradition, where change was against the rules. From going to my gram's after working late on Xmas Eve in my retail days, to giggling with girlfriends at one of our apartments with cocktails in hand, to sharing Chinese with friends and splurging on fancy meals at the Bacara during my past life in Santa Barbara, to eating macaroni with my sister at her island home and watching SATC while her hoarder husband spent the night waiting in line for Black Friday sales leading to obscenely unnecessary purchases, to catching a Thanksgiving flight to London in 2010 then to Melbourne in 2013

The places on this slideshow are a few of the more recent ones...

  • Hiking up to Council Crest on Christmas Day the first year we were married.

  • My 41st birthday on a freakishly warm January day at the coast with our newly adopted shelter dog, Ruby.

  • New Years Eve spent seeing my friend Shirley sing at Jimmy Maks, where the amazing Esmerelda Spalding stopped by to join her for some tunes.

  • New Years Day at Short Sands, my favorite place on earth, when my sweetheart was visiting from Australia.

  • Christmas writing in the snow of our back patio in Portland where we ultimately got well over a foot that week!

  • Spending the holiday MONTH in Australia, culminating at his sister's house with the most massive amount of meat I've ever seen in one plate, and Bowie in the background.

  • Wandering the Pearl District after Chinese food on Christmas Eve with my love, admiring the lights..

  • Doing paint-your-own pottery together, making ornaments for our first tree. We do trees every couple years, depending on our mood.

  • My husband's first snowman in our front yard following the crazy aforementioned snowstorm.

  • Waking up before dawn to capture the sunrise while living on our farm, while our woodstove kept us toasty warm that winter....

  • Celebrating the new year together at the beach, just before getting engaged...

  • My solitary New Years Day morning meditation walk at Kubota Gardens near our last home in Seattle

  • Playing in the snow on my 40th birthday, finally saying YES to his proposal days after he'd gotten down on one knee. (Hey, the guy did his first snow angel for me that day! That showed me he'd get out of his comfort zone to make me smile LOL...)

  • Sticking close to home with our inflatable dino in the Emerald City (good thing, as it snowed the next day).

  • Cozying up with our adopted pittie, Lucky, on the couch at the farm, not feeling any desire to leave the comfort of home on a holiday that ended up being one of the rainier ones on record.

  • Finding this lovely wish in progress while celebrating my birthday in Zihuatanejo, first international bday!

I will say, there was ONE gift that did stand out above all others...but it was not wrapped, and did not involve spending one cent. On my first birthday back in Seattle, my honey wrote up lyrics to one of his favorite love songs to me on various pieces of paper and hung them like ornaments on our california lilac bush in the back yard. He had been inspired by those wishing trees that one occasionally sees and surprised me on the morning of my birthday with these and I never, ever will forget the effort and the love in putting together something so sweet and romantic, yet so utterly simple all at the same time. We started our great love story through letters across oceans, and every time he writes me a love letter, it makes my heart sing.

The gift of our life together? Priceless. Think about what means most to you before you go adding more 'stuff' to your holiday. Make it about your connections, not what you unwrap...

Now that's sustainable.

"Objects are just objects. If you lose them, they get stolen or destroyed, it’s not a big deal. They’re just objects, not your life. Your life is every moment that passes by and what you fill those moments with is what truly matters, not what fills your home. Let’s lust after life instead." ~ from Zen & Spice


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