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In Part One of Not a Holiday Gift Guide, I shared that though gift-giving isn’t really my love language, I’ve learned to lean in hard into the festivities. I’m definitely not anti-gift, but Jordan and I are really fortunate to have enough things. What we really want is to create memories and share experiences during the final month of the year.

For all of our planned holiday activities, check out Part One. Hopefully, there will be things in there to inspire your own holiday plans this year.

In this post, I’m sharing what else we’re doing to make this next month as happy as it can be with the experiential gifts we’re giving and some of the meals we have planned.

But first, here’s a rundown of the ground rules we’ve given ourselves this year:

  1. It’s not about spending less, it’s about enjoying more of what’s good. This has kind of become our life money mantra. Yes, we will spend less, but we don’t focus on that. We fill up our calendar and our lives will all the good things and there’s no room to feel like we’re missing out.
  2. Schedule it in. Life gets busy, right? I’m setting calendar invites for the festivities that are a must do.

  3. Set expectations. Because how awkward would it be to show up empty-handed when someone gives you a gift? Our guidelines with family this year are no presents for us, but one present for Henry is a really nice gesture.

Experiential gifts

I hate having a lot of stuff. I’m constantly cleaning out our flat and getting rid of everything that I can. So, when gifts do come into the holiday equation for us, we usually rely on experiential gifts. Here are some things I have gifted or plan to gift:

  • Unwind with Christmas tea. My mom, sister, and I have done this a few times and it’s so sweet and special.
  • Take in the Nutcracker or another show. the perfect gift for any theater fan.
  • Take a class to learn something — cooking, photography, pottery, etc. I gifted Jordan and cooking class one year. We went together and though neither of our skills really improved, we had the best time.
  • Plan a special night out. every year I used to take my sister out on the town for her gift each year. A fancy, fun dinner, ice skating, and walking the streets of San Francisco created some of our favorite memories.
  • Relax with a spa day. this is a gift Jordan and I usually give to our amazing mom’s.
  • Give the gift of specialty meats. Okay, this one isn’t an experience per se, but we’ve gifted our favorite steak fans some specialty choice cuts of meat. And a couple of times we’ve been lucky enough to be invited over when they prepare them.
  • Break a sweat with some sort of physical activity. Rock climbing, anyone? I haven’t gifted this yet, but Jordan has been hinting about ski lessons, so…

Meals

As busy as you are, you have to eat over the holidays. Might as well make it good, right? I break meals down into two categories: festive holiday meals and the survival meals that you have on a busy holiday weeknight.

Festive Holiday Meals

Jordan and I aren’t phenomenal cooks and we don’t love hosting elaborate meals, so when we entertain the focus is on ease. Because if I want to have the most time to spend celebrating, the meals need to be easy.

  • Tea and cake: I’ve finally met a nice group of British women out here and they get together weekly for tea and cake — yes, really. I’m planning to have them over for tea and holiday cookies one afternoon. Easy.
  • Holiday cheese board and Kir Royal: We probably won’t host a full meal at home other than Thanksgiving this year. I’m not a great cook and while I love having people over, sometimes a full meal is just too much for either Jordan or me to pull together. But an easy afternoon or evening with friends and a holiday cheese board and a Kir Royal is going to happen.
  • Spaghetti bolognese: Ina Garten calls this a weeknight meal. I think it’s the perfect meal when you have houseguests and you want a nice winter meal at home. We’ll be making her recipe when we have guests in town next month (with a sub of turkey for beef).

Survival Meals

And I have to include our fast weeknight meals. These aren’t holiday meals, but they’re how Jordan and I survive during busy weeks (so pretty much every week). These meals have helped us ditch our takeout habit, which has been great for our health and our bank account. With the activities I’ve planned, our goal is to spend as little time in the kitchen on busy nights, so we can spend more time celebrating.

  • In less than 10 minutes we can have this lentil soup on the stove simmering and everything used to prep cleaned up. It simmers for another 20 minutes while we occasionally run back in the kitchen to stir it. It’s so easy we have it weekly.
  • Another soup for the win. Spicy black bean vegan goodness. Ten minutes of prep and 30 minutes of simmering. It’s just easy.
  • I’m a big fan of the one-pan or one-sheet meal. This miso salmon and veggie pan goes in the oven after 10 minutes of prep and pops out 30 minutes later. Dinner, sorted.
  • This cod dish is the same idea but cooks on the stovetop. Prep and cleanup take less than 10 minutes and then it simmers unattended for another 10-15.
  • These harvest bowls. I’ll eat anything Minimalist Baker puts up on her blog. Ten minutes and I can have the veggies in the oven and the quinoa simmering.
  • If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I spent 20 minutes shredding kale and brussels sprouts at 6 a.m. one morning. I was annoyed at myself then, but I had a salad that lasted for my lunches all week (and didn’t wilt!). This recipe was the best.

Whether you’re all about the gifts or you’re looking for something a little different this month, I hope this list will inspire you to make the most of your celebrations.

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