Monday, December 01, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack – 12-4-08
Jeff Gill

Making Memories, Creating Experiences

This is the week when you start to almost get used to the unusual sight of trees, trussed and tied down to car and van roofs, whizzing around the village.

Some go off to the pick and pay lots, while others, quite a few others in fact, go further afield to Walsh’s Tree Farm or up to Timbuk, where they can set out into the carefully managed forest to cut down their own. (Those places will just sell you one, too.)

Other than giving a family material for later Clark Griswold stories about dad severing an artery, or the flying squirrel jumping out onto Mee-maw’s towering blue wig, why? Why would you go out to do such a thing on a cold day, when the last thing you cut down was three inch tall grass blades?

Because it makes a memory. Creating experiences is a powerful part of what this time of year is about, from roasting an entire bird when your usual poultry option is take out stir fry, to carefully mitre-folding shiny decorative paper around a box already impregnable by most country’s special forces untis, so children can shred your handiwork in less time than it takes Michael Phelps to swim a pool’s length.

Spending your money on making experiences that last in the memory may be the smartest expenditure you can make for the holiday season. With planned obsolescence making your laptop out of date in a year and inoperative without cracking open the motherboard in three, with materials from overseas saturated in lead and melamine, and that’s the sturdy part of some purchased goods, memory may be more durable than you think.

Age and ailments can take a toll, but the memories that last have a shelf life that stands up pretty well next to consumer goods, and you can pass those memories on to your children and grandchildren – who knows which stories they actually listened to while they were typing on their iPhone screen?

An Advent wreath on the dinner table, in observant Christian homes, can create a focus for remembrance that also is good for many years, with just a set of new purple candles needed to start again. Advent calendars, at least the ones not focused on chocolate behind each little paper hatch, can return and be passed down through a family, creating layers of memory.

In your Christmas season shopping, we’ll all spend some money, recession or not, but one way to maximize minimal dollars is to think “how can I buy a gift that makes a memory” for the person or family you’re shopping for? That helps us get off the treadmill of stuff (What stuff do they already have? What stuff can I afford for them? Is this stuff in style?) and reduces questions of storage or even usefulness, questions all the more nagging for the fact that we hate to ask them of ourselves as we shop for others.

Restaurant gift cards or certificates are easy to mail and always can fill a niche, but what about getting someone a chance for a meal somewhere different? Wherever they don’t often, or ever eat, try that as a present and as a provocation. Help people get out of their rut, which is usually less to do with actual tastes and more to do with habit. Take a chance, get ‘em to eat some hot Thai spice or at an Italian restaurant they didn’t even know existed.

Books are my favorite gift to give or receive, but it’s true that not everyone welcomes reading as a present (it feels like a homework assignment, the Lovely Wife tells me). A picture book can take you somewhere cheaply without assuming they want to commit to a sit down readthrough.

And a cookbook with a few interesting spices wrapped into the package can be a fun way to invite some adventure right in your own kitchen.

Does anyone out there have any other ideas for helping people make memories out of this Christmas season? Write me at and I’ll use ‘em here for last minute ideas . . .

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; write him at

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