Give Gifts that are Experiences instead of toys this Christmas

Christmas is such a magical time, but when it comes to presents, too much stuff can be overwhelming. Christmas gifts that are experiences can go a long way to reducing stress during the holidays.

gifts that are experiences

Years ago when our kids were younger, we didn’t really have any vision of what we wanted Christmas to look like for our family. I was just so excited to celebrate the holidays with kids because everything is so new and fun for them. However, I quickly learned that the Christmas season became overwhelming for my children. This was especially difficult for one of my children who struggles with sensory issues and overstimulation sends him into overdrive.

Christmas became a difficult time for our family. The combination of too much sugar, too many events, parties, and celebrations, too many late nights, and too many new toys became a recipe for disaster. My usually well-mannered and well-behaved children turned into grumpy difficult kids who were having way too many tantrums. I started to dread the holiday season.

In my opinion, there had to be a better way.


Then, a few years ago I stumbled on the concept of minimalism. If you aren’t familiar with minimalism, basically, it’s about living a lifestyle that involves less stuff, in exchange for more peace and calm in your life. A minimalist Christmas sounded pretty good to me after so many years of Christmas stress.

We decided to cut back on the amount of Christmas events and celebrations we would go to. We still went to our favorite Christmas events like the yearly parade, a visit to the mall to see the model train, and a pioneer Christmas evening at a local homestead conservation, but we ended up taking other events out of our schedule. We still did Christmas baking and ate a little too much sugar, but we cut out some sugar by no longer buying and building a gingerbread house kit covered in oodles and oodles of candy.

But most importantly, we cut back on the amount of gifts. I’ve mentioned it in my previous posts regarding Christmas, but we set a new rule for presents under the tree. For each child we get “something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.” Not only did it help with the over stimulation, it eased the budget too!

We also asked family members to cut back on the amount of gifts given to our children. Now, I know this can be a touchy subject. I don’t think we should ever ask family to not get our kids anything because grandparents especially want to bless their grandkids. But I think if you can have an open conversation about how to make it work a little better for everyone, that can go a long way.

For our family, I had asked family members to cut back on what they gave to our children only because for a long time up to just a couple years ago now our kids were the only grand kids, nieces and nephews on both sides of our family, which meant they had A LOT of people buying gifts for them since there were no other kids to buy for.

The past couple of Christmases especially have been more modest for our kids and it has made Christmas less overstimulating.

Look, I’m not trying to be a grinch, taking things away from my kids. I want my kids to be blessed at Christmastime by us and others. But Christmas is fun for NO ONE when one of your kids has thrown their body on the floor while crying and screaming in the middle of a family get together because they’ve just had too much Christmas.

Trust me – the kids are miserable, the parents want to die from embarrassment, and anyone else in the room is feeling awkward.

Ask me how I know this.

Anyways, for us we were able to make Christmas a little more low key. But another great way to minimize the amount of toys sitting under the tree is for your kids, grand kids, nieces or nephews is by purchasing gifts that are experiences, not toys.

Experiences can build lasting memories and give kids an adventure they otherwise would not have had a chance to take part in.

Check out these non-toy gift ideas for Christmas.


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Memberships for places like zoos, museums, aquariums, science centers, etc.

These types of places are fantastic for kid-friendly fun, but also they are great places for kids to learn.

Movie tickets.

Do you know how many times we have gone to the movies together, all as a family? Twice since my daughter was born over 11 years ago. It just isn’t something we can justify sticking in the budget because it is so expensive!

However, if our kids got movie tickets as a gift, my husband and I could buy our own tickets and we could go to the movies as a family. Or, the person who bought the tickets for our kids could take them to the movies and spend some time with them. Kids LOVE going to the theatre. Actually, let’s be honest – who DOESN’T love going to the theatre?

You can grab some movie gift cards for AMC HERE, or for Regal Entertainment Group HERE.


CityPass is awesome! It is a pass you can purchase that gives you huge discounts and admissions to major attractions in major cities. It is available in 13 cities, and has 94 major attractions. Most of those cities are US cities, but Toronto is in there as well. This pass is good for places like museums, aquariums, zoos, and so much more. This is a great way to give families the gift of affordable fun! You can get that pass HERE.

Little Passports.

Little Passports is definitely something I’ve been eyeing for awhile to get for my own kids. It is a monthly subscription and what it contains is a package with information for a different country each month that include things like letters, souvenirs, recipes, activities and more. They have a world traveller subscription, a US traveller one, an early explorers package for younger kids, and even a science one. Not only is it fun for kids, but it’s educational too! Grab one for your family HERE.

Season pass for national or provincial parks.

One of our favorite places to spend time together as a family is at our local provincial parks. My kids get excited any time I announce we are taking a day trip to our local park. Swimming, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding, etc. These types of parks are a gorgeous setting and encourage kids to leave behind the screen time in exchange for a day of adventuring.

Magazine subscription.

Years ago my in-laws gave my children magazine subscriptions as gifts. My kids eagerly await that magazine all month and the minute it gets here they spend hours reading it. It’s the gift that keeps giving every single month! I’m not going to lie, it’s a gift to me too because as soon as those magazines arrive I know I’m in for a quiet afternoon. 🙂 Some popular magazine options are Highlights, Clubhouse, and National Geographic for Kids.

Tickets to a live show.

I will never forget seeing Beauty and the Beast performed on stage when I was 13. I can honestly say all these years later that it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. There is just something amazing about watching a story come to life on stage in a musical. Tickets to a live show is a non-toy Christmas gift that will have lasting memories!

Audible membership or gift card.

Okay, this is probably a better gift for older kids, but younger kids could benefit from it as well. Audible is a program that allows you to listen to books on audio. These can be great for anytime, but especially when driving in the car on longer trips. I’ve personally used audible to listen to books while I am doing dishes or working out on the treadmill, so it really is a great gift for any age. You can purchase a gift card for Audible HERE.

Classes or lessons.

Kids love to learn new things. Pottery classes, horseback riding, photography courses, sewing, climbing wall classes,etc. The list of experiences you can buy them in this category are unending!


This year, instead of buying your loved ones the usual, consider gifts that are experiences. Non-toy Christmas gifts can be a great addition to the holiday and can bless the person you are giving the present to.

Buying gifts that aren’t toys may be a concept that feels a little weird to you at first if you’ve never tried it for your family. However, I encourage you to give it a try as I know many people would love to receive a gift that sends them on an adventure!

Related: Make Money for Christmas with These side Hustles

4 thoughts on “Give Gifts that are Experiences instead of toys this Christmas”

  1. What did you end up putting under the tree then? We want to do an over night to Chicago and take the kids on adventures there but wanted them to open up more than a museum ticket etc. Just wondering if you had any ideas

    1. hmm…. you could buy a small gift for underneath the tree. Depending on how long the drive is, you could put buy something that they can do on the way to Chicago? I think the idea with the experiences instead of toys is just to keep toys to a minimum but not to feel guilty if you purchase them a small toy or two. Or maybe a board game to share among them?

  2. Depending on ages of kids: wrap up kidney beans (Cloud Gate aka “the bean”), hotels/houses from Monopoly game, “L” train ideas, Bear/Bulls related theme (could be animals or actual gear depending on ages), etc. Think of things your family will do/visit while there & you’ll come up with additional ideas.

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