Christmas gifts that give of your talents and time

The Art Institute of Chicago, like many museums and cultural institutions, offers various membership levels that can be purchased as gifts. (Photo courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago)

More than 20 months under the cloud of a pandemic has made many Americans think more about the value of time with loved ones and not taking things for granted — from health to jobs to travel to even having access to basic household items.

Many adults as they get older talk more about not needing more stuff, but wanting gifts of time or experiences, practical and handmade gifts.  Sustainability or environmentally-friendly gift- giving is gaining more momentum.

Here are some ideas to help you get started on the nontraditional gift giving.


Donations to nonprofits

From food pantries and shelters to environmental groups, there is no shortage of organizations on the local, state and national levels that are always in need of monetary assistance. Making donations in someone’s name to a nonprofit is the perfect gift idea for those in your life that are socially conscious or those who maintain there is nothing they really need.

It helps if they already volunteer with an organization.

But when that does not present itself, if you know their interests and social passions that helps narrow the list of choices.

Next step is to do some research on the credibility of organizations you are considering helping. Check websites for their missions, histories, financial sourcing and how they spend their money.  When looking at local nonprofits, try asking around for information from people whose opinion you trust. Visit the social media pages if they have them.

Many school districts have their own educational foundations that often accept donations, as do local Friends of the Library.

Tickets to theater and musical performances are a good gift idea for those who like to get out to live entertainment. (Photo courtesy of the Peoria Civic Center)

If you have no particular interest or don’t know where to start, is a comprehensive site that helps you search based on interest and city or town.

Gift memberships

This is a gift that keeps on giving. Unlike gift certificates that have a limited use, memberships to places like museums, zoos, art clubs, fitness clubs, entertainment venues and even wineries and microbreweries offer longevity and flexibility.  Many of these places have a variety of membership packages available to suit different lifestyles  — seniors, families, individuals — and financial levels.

How many times have you heard a friend or family member say they would love to visit a museum more or even join fitness club (private or public) but for the cost?  A gift membership helps them not miss out on things they want to do and they use it throughout the year.

Subscriptions to theaters or art exhibits or local symphonies or music organizations is a special gift for the art enthusiasts in your life.

Gifts for gardeners

For those with a green thumb, giving seeds or seedlings to replant in the spring is a lasting gift.

Some gardeners are committed to vegetables, some love their flowers and some are both. Find out their preference.

If you don’t feel confident on getting the actual plants or seeds, give them subscriptions to seed catalogs or gardening magazines.

For gardeners in our life that are especially skilled and devoted, check into the University of Illinois Extension’s master gardener program ( or the Extensions various special webinars or events happening locally.

You can also purchase tickets for them to attend special programs at local botanic gardens, the Morton Arboretum (for those in the Chicago area) or their local forest preserve districts.

Traditional spices of the holiday season can be used in creative ways to make gifts from the kitchen that will last for many months.

Treats from the kitchen

For those who enjoy getting to work in the kitchen, share your baking and cooking skills this holiday season with tasty heartwarming gifts.

The University of Illinois Extension reminds to use organic ingredients, shop local first, and avoid foods heavily wrapped in packaging.

Here are some food ideas from Kristin Bogdonas, nutrition and wellness educator with the Extension:

Holiday Spice Nuts — The sweet, savory flavors and warmth of the freshly roasted nuts was a special treat during the holiday season. Consider making your own this year. This is a simple process that allows you to get creative with a variety of spice blends.

Pomander Balls — A fun holiday tradition for all ages. This homemade air refresher will last for months. The best part is that you only need two ingredients — oranges and whole cloves. The more cloves you use, the longer it will last. Simply poke the cloves into your orange to create a pattern and hang the pomander until it’s dry.

Masala Chai — Masala (spice) chai (tea) is easy to make at home with a few warming spices, ginger, black tea bags, milk and honey to taste. Make the chai spice bags ahead of time, and gift with black tea bags, or have on hand when you’re in need of a warming beverage for those cold winter nights.

Mulling Spices/Stove-top Potpourri — Similar spices can be used to make both mulled wine gift sets and simmering potpourri pouches. Common ingredients include cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange slices, cardamom, allspice and ginger root. Simply add your spice mix to a muslin bag with drawstrings for easy cleanup.

Herbal Tea Bags- Create a variety of blends for sleep, energy, and cold season support. In addition to herbs, consider adding dried orange peels and ginger or loose-leaf teas. Personalize each tea bag with a quote on the tag if you are giving these as gifts.

Infused Vinegars– Brighten up your meals by infusing vinegar with flavorful herbs and even fruit. These make great gifts for the foodies on your shopping list. Give yourself some time if you are going to make these since they take several weeks to infuse.

Photos tie family history together through generations. Get creative with old photos and share them as Christmas gifts with family of all ages.

Do It Yourself

Handmade crafts and gifts of time are a thoughtful way to give of yourself to loved ones. This information from University of Florida Extension (also referencing article from Country Living Magazine).

Pass along family treasures, as gifts, during the holiday. Gift-wrapped family heirlooms with a personal note or letter including the family history attached to the item.

Agree to celebrate the holidays together with acts of service in your community in place of exchanging gifts. Many service agencies could use your help during the holidays. Wear face coverings, gloves, and maintain distancing during acts of service.

Offering your time and help to people in your family or neighborhood. Senior citizens or those with physical challenges or even single parents would appreciate meals delivered weekly, or help with housework or walking the dog during cold weather.

Movie nights

Hold movie nights, either in-person or by setting up streaming parties and connect during or afterwards on Zoom or Facetime or Facebook Live. Let people take turns selecting the films and have snacks tied to a theme of the movie.

Give the gift of reading

Read books for loved ones for young and old. Children love to have stories read to them and for older people who may struggle with seeing this helps them to stay connected to books. For children, you connect online live or record a video using props. For adults, reading a book or even magazine to them in-person also gifts them a visit which is very important to many who live alone or are in assisted living centers.

Share old photos

Get out the boxes of photos or digital files and make copies to share in special frames or personalized keepsake boxes or albums. Make it a fun, creative project with other family members this holiday season. Photos keep memories alive.

For the environmentally conscious on your gift list, a donation in their name to a nonprofit group that does such work is a meaningful action. (Photo courtesy of Prairie Land Conservancy)


Here are some links that can help in your searches.