Dec 1 lynn little column

November 30, 2000

Holiday ideas that connect young and old family members

As the holidays approach, both young and old people will buy gifts for loved ones. But gift-giving doesn't have to be an inconvenience or an empty ritual.


Rather than viewing gifts as "products," consider them ways to bring people together. The search for the perfect gift becomes a search for ways to share time and build relationships.

Gift-giving has become increasingly difficult. Social scientists say we're busier than we used to be, and more of us are living apart. Even families who live under the same roof are spending less time together. This raises concerns about family cohesion, particularly between young and old members who need it the most.

This separation has a profound impact on our lives. Young people are in need of guidance and nurturing. "Going it alone" can also be difficult for elders. When older people become socially isolated, they often experience more physical and psychological stress and decline. Holidays are a great opportunity to bring old and young family members together. Choose activities that tie into what people have in common, whatever their age. Successful joint activities involve mutual interests such as eating, talking, singing, dancing and crafts. Activities that accentuate shared membership in a family or community also work well.


Here are some suggested gift ideas that older adults and young people can give each other, as well as gifts they can develop together for others.

Gifts from old to young
HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A family recipe.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> An heirloom that reflects a shared family heritage.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A sewing, knitting or crocheting project. Each person can complete segments of the item.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A quilt made with a material or design that has family significance. In the children's book, "The Keeping Quilt," Patricia Polacco tells the story of a quilt made from material drawn from the clothing of four generations of family members.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Hand down a hobby, such as wood carving or coin collecting.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A puzzle you can do together.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Gather ingredients for a joint baking/cooking session.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A model kit. Choose a level of difficulty that will stretch your recipient's problem-solving abilities.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Seeds for a garden to work in together.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A family album.

Gifts from young to old
HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Supplies to make a book about family history or identity. You might include newspaper clippings, photos and stories you write together.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> An oral history or biography booklet based on an interview conducted with the adult.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> A computer game. This is ideal for the computer-shy adult, but make sure you are around to help install the game and review the instructions.

Joint giving and co-producing

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make a presentation, sing a song, or play instruments together at a nursing home, a children's ward at a hospital or as part of a community event.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Cook and deliver a meal to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Join a community service project. You might help rebuild a park, deliver meals to the homebound or paint over graffiti.

The essence of a great gift is that it helps us locate the "we," not the "me." Let's use this holiday season as a time to journey beyond our private worlds to feel and be closer to loved ones.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County. Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

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