I really hate store-bought presents. The people I want to give things to are so special to me, that a pair of earrings or a piece of pottery (even if it IS McCarty, art made out of Mississippi mud, which is wonderful in itself) just don’t cut it when it comes to conveying how much I care about them. Every year, I struggle with finding meaningful gifts for my friends and family. Many years, I’ve ended up giving “things” to those on my list because I just can’t get my brain working in time to come up with something perfect. But every once in a while, I find my mind churns at just the right moments, and I come up with something that lasts. Giving those gifts have become some of my favorite holiday memories.
My mama is the hardest person to shop for on my list. Anything she wants, she can buy for herself, but she doesn’t want a whole lot. And my mama is the sentimental type. She loves for things to have meaning as much as I, and she is moved by gifts that she knows took time or have significance. She gives those types of gifts, too. My mama makes Christmas magical, she makes birthdays sweet; heck, she can make Valentine’s Day feel like it is the best day of the year, even if you are single. It is a mission of mine to make the holidays just as special for her as she does for me.
I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites that I have given and received to and from my mama. It may be too late for Christmas this year, but I’m hopeful these ideas will get your wheels turning for next year, helping you to make Christmas last far beyond December 25.
1. A journal, but not a blank one. In 2008, I decided to keep a journal for my mother. I was pregnant with my son who was born in April, so it chronicled the last few months of my pregnancy with him, and then my first few months of being a mama. Another big life event happened that year: I decided to go back to law school at 32. The journal encompassed taking the LSAT, getting into law school, and starting school with a 4 month old. This took a lot of time, dedication, and brain power, but I’ll never top this gift. It ended up being a year-long love letter to my precious mama, and one that she can reopen anytime she wants.
2. A meaningful photograph of something other than you. I used to fancy myself as an amateur photographer; truthfully, I had a decent eye and a really good camera. I traveled in Europe in 2001. I have also visited many interesting places near my home, so long and short journeys have provided me with scenery fit for photographs. One photo I took while touring the Boboli gardens in Florence, Italy, was of an incredibly old tree, its roots so strong and thick that they became my focal point that day. Years later, my brother, sister and I decided to give Mama a picture of the roots, with a twist. I had my local framer cut the photo into three parts. Each one of us wrote a letter to Mama about how much it meant to us that she had given us roots just as deep and lasting at that tree. We had each part framed identically, and we taped our notes to the backs. Today, the photo hangs in my parents’ bedroom, but it is so much more to my Mama than a piece of art to adorn her wall. It is a reminder that her children are proud to belong to her.
3. Photo books. Once I became a mama myself, I decided to chronicle my son’s life in a photo book each year. If I was smart, each time I uploaded an album to Facebook, I would have uploaded it to a share site like Snapfish or Shutterfly as well. However, I’m a procrastinator, and I end up having to gather all of my pictures in December to pick out ones to use. This is the first year I will do two books: one for my 5 year old son and one for my 2 month old daughter. I give a book to each set of grandparents for Christmas, and they look forward to receiving them every year. It doesn’t matter that they expect them now; they love seeing their grandchildren in pictures.
4. Recipes. When my grandmother died, there was one possession that everyone wanted: her recipe box. My mother, one of three girls, was awarded the box when they all divided up her things. Knowing this was a coveted item that belonged to my Nana, the next Christmas, Mama copied each and every recipe card and put them in plastic sleeves in a binder, and gave them to her sisters, nieces and daughters so that we all could have them…in her handwriting. We could even see the soup stains on them. Those stains, visible even in copies, made the gift even more perfect.
5. Silver from the year of their birth. When my Mama turned 50, I searched the internet for something that was made in her birth year. I found a silver spoon that was made in 1951, and I gave it to her with a note about the beauty that had been created that year. It was not in her silver pattern, but she loved it because it was from me, it was unique, and it was as old as she was. Two peas in a pod.
6. A book of letters…from someone else. If you haven’t guessed by reading thus far, family is very important to me, and my grandmother was a treasure. She died in 1996, and I miss her every single day of my life. Nana was a wise, genteel Southern lady who gave me one thing I will hold dear until I die: her words. When I went to college at Ole Miss, Nana wrote me once a week. Her letters were often short notes detailing what she and my grandfather had done that day, doctor’s appointments, and shopping trips to McRae’s. My favorite tidbits were her funny admonitions, such as: “I heard Playboy is coming to Ole Miss to get girls to pose. Not you.” As if. Anyway….after she died, her letters became gems that I was so thankful I kept because I could literally hear her words bouncing off the pages. One Mother’s Day, I realized that my mama couldn’t experience her own mother on that special day…so I made copies of as many letters Nana wrote to me as I could find, and I put them in a binder and gave them to Mama. I hate to see Mama cry, but the tears she shed that day were happy ones, because even after all of those years, she got to hear her mother’s voice once again.
There are others, but these are my favorites. If you feel like you are completely void of ideas, I would encourage you to climb into your attic, or someone else’s. That is where I have found scrapbooks that could be rehabbed, letters, photos, awards, old records, forgotten pieces of furniture, wedding cards, and so much more. You would be surprised at what you could put into a picture frame or a shadow box that would evoke memories you could never recreate otherwise.
These types of gifts take time, so I hope that if you are reading this, they won’t discourage you. Instead, I hope that they set your mind in motion for next year…or for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, and even Thanksgiving next year.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the most special presents you have ever given or received. Making the people we care about the most feel just how much we love them is the best gift we can give to them…and to ourselves.
Top image source via MaeMae Paperie for Grey Likes Weddings.
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