“Mom, you baby-boomers are the collectors, my older daughter says, with some exasperation. I’ve asked what she’d like for Christmas for her apartment in Manhattan. “We millennials want experiences and memories, not stuff.’’
I get it. Many of the young are on the move and don’t want to be weighed down. And they often live in small places, but that’s only part of the story: They are allergic to dusting knick-knacks.
Nowadays our boomer friends lament: Who will take the family china? We’re downsizing but our kids don’t want it! Instead, many of our children are happy to hold potlucks and parties with mismatched plates and glasses. And they jump at the chance to travel, attend performances, engage in sports, or just hang out with friends.
So where does that leave us boomers when it’s time for holiday gifts for our grown-up children, nieces, nephews and the other young adults in our lives? In an informal poll, here’s what I found:
– Tickets to plays and concerts are high on their lists.
– Gift certificates to special restaurants are welcome.
– Consumables work well: Organic, shade-grown coffee, fine wines, olive oil, spices and rubs make fine gifts.
– Many young adults are dedicated locavores, that is, their diet consists principally of locally grown or produced food, so locally made honey, jams and pickles are well received. They also like to support artists and craftspeople in their communities – useful pottery and hand-crafted jewelry can fill the bill.
Less stuff for us
Another enjoyable change in the holiday gift-giving is that many of us boomers also are receiving less stuff. For example, here’s what happened last Christmas after my husband, Mike, found a colorful and cozy Manhattan apartment on Airbnb.
Our family of four, two in-laws and a friend squeezed into the warm living room to exchange gifts. We had asked everyone to think “small” for gift giving since the holiday vacation was focused on just being together in New York. The three baby-boomers opened our packages from the young adults to find “I heart NY” mugs with miniature liquor bottles inside each one. We politely said thank-you for the nice but simple presents.
“Wait! There’s more in your mugs! Look again, urged our adult children. Sure enough, a small folded paper at the bottom of each mug revealed a ticket to “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway. What a surprise and such a delightful, musical experience! Plus, none of us had to squeeze it into a suitcase for the return trip home.
Sometimes family members are not available for a holiday. We’ve enjoyed small gatherings of friends who are also alone then. One Thanksgiving, a recently divorced friend planned to be by himself that day. We said, “No way!” and had a great time while he tried out different gourmet recipes for our tiny Thanksgiving. As one boomer friend says at holiday time: “No family around? Then make family!”
A former Athens resident and boomer, Laura Nehf, describes how holidays changed when she and her husband became empty-nesters several years ago. The key word in the way they plan their holidays now is flexibility.
“We find ourselves traveling to see our children because we are more flexible than they are with their school and jobs,” Nehf says. “And we’ve also become flexible about the date of the holiday itself. We may celebrate Christmas the weekend before. After all, bigger crowds and higher costs typically make traveling closer to the actual dates more challenging.”
She also points out that not every holiday is spent as a family these days. “Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter used to mean that the whole family would be together. But now, we focus on one or maybe two holidays for everyone to get together. This year it will just be Christmas.”
Hosting holiday gatherings has changed, too. When all your adult kids are coming to visit, you don’t have to do it all, she advises. “A holiday gathering works well as a group effort. Put people in charge of different tasks, including the music selections and setting up a sing-along.”
Nehf agrees that most young adults refuse to put energy into collecting stuff and recommends the approach of make-it, bake-it or grow it when it comes to gifts. She also supports local artists and suggests finding small, creative gifts that are easy for travelers to take home. “In general, we’ve moved away from commercial Christmas gifts to more creative ones,” she says.
Special experiences make holidays memorable for all generations. The entire Nehf family squeezed into a horse drawn carriage for a tour of downtown Beaufort, S.C., one year as part of their celebration. Everyone grabbed an elf hat or silly reindeer horns. Unlike when they were teens, “they’re all for it now.”
As boomers age, sharing more of our history, memories and traditions with the younger generation becomes more important. One family compiled a cookbook with favorite recipes of all the older siblings. Nehf makes a family calendar with photos of each family member engaged in an activity. A mix of funny, sweet and poignant pictures, it’s a unique gift for everyone in the family to enjoy throughout the year.
Being an empty-nester and a boomer is like looking at a glass that’s half empty or half full, Nehf says. “For us, it’s a chance to relearn what personal freedom feels like again. The glass is more full than empty! Right now, we are post-kids, post-pets and pre-grandchildren, so we’re enjoying freedom and flexibility. But we don’t take it for granted; we try to give back whenever we can.”
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