Give Your Own Experiences for a Green Holiday

Three older women sitting on a couch, laughing, and enjoying each other's company.

“Give an experience instead of stuff” for the holidays! Catchy, isn’t it? That’s been a popular concept for years.

Usually that has meant giving someone an alternative to a typical gift like a sweater, knick-knack, or electronic device—for example, theater or concert tickets, piano lessons, or a gift card for zip-lining through the forest.

Chosen well, those kinds of alternative gifts can be delightful and well-received. They also reduce waste.

But those of us who have many years of life experiences can give our own kinds of experience gifts. We can share our holiday experiences through stories.

Maybe you do that anyway. But this year, let’s stretch ourselves, and expand the generosity of our storytelling. Your holiday stories—from childhood, young adulthood or later—may resonate with others, young and old, to a much greater degree than you realize.

Ice, snow, and fun

For example, children or grandkids might enjoy stories of your favorite present as a kid (after you hear their stories of their favorite gifts, of course!).

Mine was a hockey stick and puck. I was only seven or eight years old, and I wasn’t a skater or hockey player. But one Christmas my brother and I got hockey sticks, and after big snowfalls we played street hockey for hours on end, in our tattered black, rubber buckle-boots, using sleds as the goals on our icy street in Indiana.

Stories bring us together

I may be an outlier on this but, at family holiday gatherings, I believe it’s good to talk a little politics, if you can do it without coming to blows. We should, at least some of the time, let other people know how we feel, and advocate for what we believe.

The secret to that is keeping it short. At holiday get-togethers, when political talk gets too intense, or family grudges rear their ugly head, call a truce—it’s time for storytelling! That’s a way to get the kids involved in the conversation, too.

Tell favorite holiday stories. Or favorite snow stories—even folks who have lived in the Northwest their whole lives should have a few of those!

Tell stories about your most memorable Christmas tree or wreath, or your most fun New Year’s Eve! Or share your Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Lunar New Year stories.

Green storytelling

So, what does storytelling have to do with “green holidays?” A lot, really, because it helps make the holidays more about people connections than about gifts.

In these contentious, polarized times, we need to talk more. We need to find common ground—our common stories—with people who might be younger, or older, than us.

Let’s bring storytelling beyond our family, too, like at the senior center or at friend gatherings. Even if you’re not a natural storyteller, just focus on your memories. Keep your stories short and sweet. About five minutes per story is good. Then sit back and listen, really listen, to others’ holiday stories.

Rethinking the holidays

Going back to holiday family gatherings: If you really want to help the planet, be brave! Try to move people more toward connecting—storytelling, games, cooking, eating—and away from excessive gifting. More fun, less waste!

You could draw names and have each person give just one big gift to the selected family member, rather than buying stuff for everyone. A friend just told me about the Elfster website her family uses for drawing names, which is a great, free way to make that easier. You could even forgo material gifts for everyone, except the kids, and make a big donation to an agreed-upon non-profit. And then you can just gather, tell stories, and talk.

One last story from me: My dad was born in 1915, a man of very few words. He loved Christmas, but you had to do things a certain way. He checked the Christmas tree stand for water every two days, so the tree wouldn’t dry out. And before we put the lights on the tree—the same light strings we used for 20 years—we had to lay out the lights on the floor and carefully test and inspect each string of lights.

I was impatient with all that as a kid. But I still liked the rituals, doing things the same way every year. Eventually I realized it was all about safety. And love.

AgeWise contributor Tom Watson manages King County’s EcoConsumer public outreach program. King County’s Green Holidays program offers more holiday ideas and tips. Have Green Holidays ideas to share, questions, or suggestions for future articles? Contact Tom at or 206-477-4481.

This article originally appeared in AgeWise King County (December 2018), a monthly e-zine published by the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services.