Christmas is drawing near and there’s still that hard-to-buy-for person on your list. They certainly don’t need more stuff, yet you want to gift them with something special, something that shows how much you appreciate them. Don’t give up. You don’t need to buy that fruit cake or “tower of chocolates.” Invest in a memory instead!
I still remember the sermon, even though I must have heard it 30 years ago. It obviously struck a chord. At the time, we were a young family in a church filled with young families. The pastor got up and exhorted us to invest in our children—not in toys, but in memories.
He gave an example from his own family’s experience. They were at a tourist attraction in the nearby mountains, where there was a little train with open cars. For an exorbitant fee, you and your kids could ride through the redwoods for 20 minutes. Normally, they would have saved the money—pastor’s salaries aren’t that impressive. But his four kids desperately wanted to ride that train, so they splurged on the tickets and climbed aboard. Years later, the kids were still talking about that ride.
It’s counter-intuitive. You’d think that things would be more permanent than memories. Things are tangible. You can glance over and see them. But things are outgrown, or we get tired of them. They wear out and break. They take up space and require maintenance. After a while, it seems that instead of owning the item, it owns us. And, if it’s at all valuable, Pete and I have discovered that it takes a lot more effort to get rid of something than it took to buy it in the first place.
Memories, on the other hand, become part of our collective identity. We’re the family that… camped in the rain, climbed that mountain, served dinner to the homeless. We’re the friends who went sailing at the lake, stood in line to see that movie when it first came out, went on that short-term mission trip together. And remember when… ?
It’s the things we do together that unite us.
There are two categories of experiences. The everyday sort of experiences might include going out to our favorite restaurant, seeing a movie, or hiking a familiar trail. These memories meld into a blur—we may not remember each meal or hike, but we know that we do these things together. They tell us that we belong, that we’re loved.
Then there are the extraordinary events that stick out as special, singular occasions that we’ll treasure all our lives. My 16th birthday is one of those. My friends got together to surprise me. They knew that I loved popcorn, so they fashioned a giant popcorn ball and smooshed it into an angel food cake pan, creating a popcorn birthday cake. And the guy I had a crush on hosted the party. (I guess I was pretty transparent at 16.) Here I am (exactly) 47 years later, and I still remember it vividly.
One nice thing about giving memories is that they fit any budget. Sure, you can spend a pile on tickets—to a concert, to Disneyland, to Australia. Or you can find free concerts at local colleges or churches and visit someplace near home. Hiking is often free (you may have to pay the entrance fee at a state or national park, but that is still a bargain in most cases). I like to cook. One of my favorite gifts is to invite someone to dinner at our house. Often, I make it more interesting by telling them to pick a country and I’ll make a meal from that cuisine. Add some atmosphere with appropriate music and decorations, and you’ve provided a cultural experience they won’t soon forget.
We can spend a lot of money on gifts during the holidays. But as I get older, I find my gift wish list gets shorter while my desire to spend time with those I love grows and grows. It’s like the old VISA card commercials: gas from Colorado Springs to Arvada and back: $10. Entry to the (Clive) Cussler Museum for my dad and me: $18. The look on my dad’s face when he saw all the antique cars: priceless!