Have fun with your family this season making gifts that come straight from the heart—and the imagination.
1. Have a creative challenge
Everyone in the group draws a name and is obliged to give a gift made from some common item or items that you've agreed upon, such as a hanger, soda bottle, milk jug, core from a roll of fax paper, etc. A starter idea: Turn a plastic soda container on its side to make a piggy bank. The cap should be the snout. Then add corks for it legs and cut a slit in the top. Remember: It's the thought that counts!
2. Give gift certificates
Send gift certificates to folks in distant towns for stores in their areas. For example, try a certificate for a restaurant, bookstore, art supply store, house wares store or music store. You can also give online gift certificates to more popular sites such as Amazon.com or even J.Crew.com.
3. Ask for requests
Give everyone index cards and individual sections of a card file box to make note of anything they would like for the next holiday. Go through the cards together, and then put them away (to retain some element of surprise). The file can be continually changed, and used for birthdays too.
4. Let them do it
With teenagers, the best solution is to give them money. Have them shop for, and wrap, their own presents. Let Mom and Dad have the surprise of opening the gifts to see what they bought!
5. Drop a hint
Send a toy catalog with some suggestions circled for distant relatives to choose an appropriate gift. This will save them time and will also help guide them to the right choice. Use clothing or sports catalogues for older children.
6. Put it to a vote
Let each person decide her gift budget and make a list of several wished-for items that cost no more than what she contributed. Meet and have everyone take turns leaving the room while it's decided what to buy them and who will shop for it.
7. Build a fund
Ask each family member to bring a few inexpensive items to your holiday gathering. Then appoint someone as an auctioneer to solicit small bids for the gifts. Turn over the collected money to charity, spend it on taking the family out to dinner, or find some other wonderful way to celebrate.