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The Best Office Party Ideas for a Cool Summer Company Picnic

The Best Office Party Ideas for a Cool Summer Company Picnic

summer office party inspiration In the long history of spoken communication, most sentence combinations have been uttered. But one that probably hasn’t is “It’s such a nice beautiful summer day. I’m really excited to go into work!” Or, ok, it may have been said, but never sincerely. It might, in fact, be the most sarcastic sentence possible.

office party ideas for summer
A summer day at the lake to inspire the office | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jens Johnson

That’s the thing about work. Most of us have to do it, but there are days when it feels almost impossible to focus on it. And as the summer drags on, employee morale might sap in light of the sun filtering in and enticing them out-of-doors. That’s why you should have an office party or a summer company picnic. It’s something to look forward to, a great way to bond, and if you do it right, a real boost to how your employees feel about work.

But you don’t have to do the same “We’ll be having hot dogs in the parking lot from 12:30 to 1:15” company picnic routine. Shake it up. If you can go big, you should! Having a summer party that’s creative, exciting, and cool is a way to rebrand your company, both externally and internally. It becomes a place not just to work, but a place to be.

Here are some of the best office party ideas for a summer company picnic.

Summer Office Costume Party Ideas

Why should Halloween have all the make-believe fun? Summer invites great costume parties! You can go light and airy, or go for a throwback costume party. Either will challenge your employees to get creative without the Halloween pressure of being scary or finding something office appropriate. Here are a few of our favorite summer costume party ideas.

office costume party for summer
Gadzooks! A Great Gatsby party! | Image courtesy Etsy seller CallMeThrifty

The Great Gatsby

Flapper dresses! Straw boaters! White jackets! Everyone loves the glamour and swinging thrill of the Gatsby era. You can serve delicious punch and fun finger sandwiches, as well as normal picnic fare. Get some swing music and get ready to rock away West Egg. Feel free to combine it with other period-friendly party ideas, like Downton Abbey or Idlewild. (If you do Gatsby, don’t be afraid to consult the book).

Alice in Wonderland

If you’ve read our blog, you know that Alice in Wonderland is one of our favorite books. And why not? It’s sweet and funny and weird and magical. And it makes for great costumes.

People can come as Alice or the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter or the nervous rabbit. They can do steampunk interpretations or create their own characters. Just make sure you have a garden party set up, with plenty of tea.

A Beach Theme

It doesn’t matter if you live right by the shore or in the middle of Nebraska; when it’s summer, you’re thinking about the beach. So are your employees. That’s why having a beach party is great. Rent some sandboxes, set up a volleyball net, maybe give out cool beach-themed gift bags, and grill something delicious. It makes the summer suddenly real.

We All Scream for Ice Cream at Summer Office Parties

It’s one thing to have ice cream at your party. Lots of companies might do that. A tub of chocolate, maybe some whipped cream if sales hit their 2nd-quarter goals (and if not, talk to Stan. Thanks, Stan), etc. But to have a party where ice cream is one of the central themes, and the pièce de résistance? Well, that’s a different animal altogether. A different, delicious animal.

a summer office ice cream party
This would be fun to see at the office | Image courtesy Stocksnap.io user Filip Sablutura

Having a big ice cream buffet bar creates a fun, childlike air to the party. Give choices of toppings, a whole wide variety, with fruit and nuts and candy and various sauces and non-Stan-dependent whipped cream. Make sure, of course, you incorporate dairy-free ice cream options so that everyone can participate.

Participate? Yup. This isn’t just about eating ice cream. There are fun and games to be had! Have various contests for “Strangest Topping Combination” or “Highest Stack.” See which department can make a banana split the quickest. See which team can use ice cream and toppings to make the perfect image of the CEO (if they have a sense of humor, of course).

Go all out. Get cool ice cream gear. Maybe even have the C-Level or management team don old-timey ice cream uniforms to give out some scoops. It’s a great way for a company to bond on a hot summer afternoon.

A Halfway-to-Christmas Gift Exchange

christmas in july office party
It’s Christmas… in July! | Image courtesy Etsy seller LaurenAstonDesigns

It’s silly, when you think about it, that only once a year do we get to exchange gifts. After all, exchanging gifts is fun. It’s fun to get gifts, and to receive them. It’s fun to guess what’s in a box, and to guess who got it for you. And it’s not fun to have to wait until December to do so every year. So why not do a Halfway-to-Christmas or a “Christmas in July” gift exchange?

You can do it the same way you do your December Secret Santa exchange, with a helpful online portal to make the anonymous selection and gift ideas even easier. You can even put up Christmas decorations for a day, which is a surefire attempt to get everyone’s spirits up in a goofy sort of way, and maybe make you feel cool in the hot summer. Maybe encourage summer-themed gifts as well, such as:

A cool summer office party idea
Fans can keep you cool, or be a cool backdrop | Image courtesy Etsy seller PomPomsArt

Gift Ideas

The point of these parties is to boost company morale, to celebrate their hard work, to let people talk to each other outside of meeting rooms. Employees should get to know one another so that work becomes a collection of people instead of a distant group of atomized individuals. We shouldn’t only do these once a year. New hires come in, routines can get set, and it can be hard to break habits once Christmas comes around.

So, have a summer office party. Be goofy, bring in a Santa, have ice cream fights, dress like beautiful goons, exchange gifts. Encourage creativity, and you’ll be rewarded with happiness. Merry summer.

Here in the North Pole, our summer office parties aren’t much different from the winter ones—they all involve reindeer games—so we want to hear about your summer office parties. Share them on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Beach Getaway Gift Guide.

A Graduation Party Planning Checklist: Elfster’s How-To Guide

A Graduation Party Planning Checklist: Elfster’s How-To Guide

graduation party planning

Plan to celebrate your 2017 grad | Image courtesy Unsplash user Glenn Carstens-Peters
Plan to celebrate your 2017 grad | Image courtesy Unsplash user Glenn Carstens-Peters

When I was getting ready to start college back in the 90s (cue lightning and thunderbolts in the background), we didn’t really need much. Bedding and such, of course, but besides that just a couple of packing crates, my books, my Discman, my CD case, and, of course, some decorations to show just how unique and idiosyncratic I was. I think there was an Escher? That blew some minds, man.

In some ways, not a lot has changed. College students still need bedding, and still have the need to demonstrate their personality. But there is more necessary in order to compete, to survive, and to thrive these days. College-bound students are entering a very competitive atmosphere with technology that people my age couldn’t have even imagined, and are still dealing with the terror-thrills of independence, the fear of failure, and the rush of exploration that makes for a great college experience.

So, as we roll through graduation and college preparation season, how should you celebrate that? What kind of party should they have, and what should you give them? What can you gift your graduate, or the grade-school friend from whom you’ll be separated for the first time? What should you give to send someone off without really saying goodbye? Here’s your elfishly insightful graduation party planning checklist and gift guide.

The Go-To Graduation Party Planning Checklist

So, the first thing you need to do before sending them off to the halls of academia is the graduation party—and we have your planning checklist. Graduation parties are kind of an odd hybrid, both a culmination and a consecration: you’re getting them ready for a voyage and honoring how they got here. So what do you need to make it successful, to honor the past and the future and that winnowing present?

graduation party cake
Not pictured: the “Because You’ll Need It” banner | Image courtesy Etsy seller SoSimpleSoSweet

Cake, obviously. But more.

  1. Reserve a venue. If you’re going to throw a big party and need to pick a venue, make sure you pick it well in advance. Remember that you aren’t the only one with a graduate (unless you’re from a really, really small town), so your favorite place is probably someone else’s too. Book a few months in advance.
  2. Send out guest invites. Make sure you send out the invites far enough in advance. Graduation season and wedding season are at the same time, and coincide with vacation season. And summer TV season, which is really good these days, amiright? Anyway, get out the invites early. Make sure your friends pick you.
  3. Choose: music or band? How much do you want to go all out on this? If you’re having a big party, make sure you book a band in advance. And, honestly, don’t make it a surprise. Check with the graduate. Don’t just think, “The kids will love this Nickelback cover band!” You’re on the internet. You know better.
  4. Plan for food: At the last few parties I’ve been to, I’ve noticed that the catered food came from a friend who was starting a company. Different parties, different friends, different companies. And it was all awesome. There are a lot of startups out there, with people trying their hand at business. And with a lot of the established brands booked, give them a shot. The food I had was great. It’s a perfect mix of supply and demand.

    graduation party planning 2017
    Of course you need balloons | Image courtesy Etsy seller Paris312party
  5. String up decorations. This is the hard part. You don’t want corny. You don’t just want a few mortarboards lying around. Celebrate who they are, and celebrate who they will be. Try out a few different things. Some of our suggestions include:
    • Pictures of and information about their college. These are great conversation starters and can actually help prevent the grad from repeating “I’m going to X” 100 times.
    • Yearbooks. Everyone wants to see the yearbook. Don’t hide it (depending on the autographs, of course).
    • A slideshow of them growing up, hitting key moments of their life. Show how that tiny person with impossibly small toes became an incredible human on the cusp of adulthood. Because that’s what this is all about.

It’s also about the gifts, though, so here are some ideas for both parents, friends, and other family to send someone away at their last hometown bash in style…

The Starting-College Basics Gift Guide

What does a college dorm room need? Something that’s practical and fun? Obviously, you’ll want to get bedding, at least a couple sets (let’s be honest, laundry will be low priority). And you’ll want to get them some nice clothes so they don’t end up going to class in sweatpants (spoiler: they will anyway). So above and beyond that, what can you get them to make the college experience even better? Let’s start with some sweet chairs.

Some Sweet Chairs for Making Friends

party gift for grads
Modern knit bean bags… who knew? | Image courtesy GeiMarGa

I never actually had a beanbag chair, but I had a few roommates who did. I never quite understood the point of them: these shapeless lumps with virtually no function that wouldn’t support you and did nothing but lurk uncomfortably in the room. And the chairs weren’t much better! But that’s different now. I was looking up beanbag chairs, and discovered that they now have form and support. Some, amazingly, even have fur.

But those aren’t the only kind of chairs. A chair should be comfortable, but should be sort of expressive. It should tell you something about the person. The furry beanbag shows a goofy sense of humor, a pratfalling luxe, if you will. But there are others. You can take a look at:

Needless to say, these are all seats for lounging around and hanging out with friends in the dorm, or playing video games. Some homework will be done on them, but for that, you need a desk.

desk for college grad party gift
Retro can still hold a computer | Image courtesy Etsy seller ReclaimedWoodUSA

A Throwback Desk to Prepare for the Future

Some colleges, of course, provide desks in the dorms, but if your doesn’t, or if your college student will be living off campus, they’ll need a desk. So, above and beyond the Marley poster, this is a good chance to show off some personality. A nephew of mine needed a desk, so my wife and I got him a very cool, old-fashioned, rustic-looking one.

That’s what’s in these days, for both young people and old men like myself: bespoke, traditional, hand-crafted items that smack of a DIY aesthetic and aren’t the exact same thing as seen in everyone’s dorm. There’s been a silent revolution against mass production, and nowhere is that more true than in young people. Unless that mass production is in video games, of course. That they are fine with.

Gifts to Say Goodbye to Friends

College is about meeting new people but, in a very real way, it is also about separation. We’ve directed most of this article to parents getting ready to send their kid off to school for the first terrifying time, and ways to make them more comfortable. But what do you give a friend when you are saying goodbye, maybe for the first time ever, save for some summer camps and family vacations?

graduation party planning
If your grad doesn’t like their party, I’ll eat my hat | Image courtesy Etsy seller Bakedlovely

These are old-fashioned, but they never go out of style.

  • A journal for two. You’re both going to be doing amazing things, and meeting new people. You’ll have new adventures. And while text, Facebook, and all the other social media things make it easier than ever to catch up, they don’t have much depth. So give your friend a journal, but with a twist. Address it to each other. Write down thoughts like letters, and you can exchange them. That’s a way that you can stay connected even when you aren’t, and can catch up.
  • Your favorite movies. What movies did you watch over and over and over together? Make sure they have copies, whether it’s the physical movie or buying it for them on Amazon. Even if it’s a kid’s movie. Especially if it’s a kid’s movie. That brings a sweet nostalgia when everything seems to be changing.
  • A shared playlist. Chances are, you’ve listened to a lot of songs together over the years. You have a soundtrack of your lives. So put it into a playlist, and give it to your friend. Whenever they put it on, they’ll remember the time you went swimming at night, or stayed up til dawn watching movies, or went nervously to the dance then had a great time. 

But here’s the thing about those songs: they’ll listen to them, and create new memories. There will be new associations. And that’s ok. They won’t replace the old. They’ll swirl together, mixed in that great rush of life. Memories don’t have to be exclusive. That’s the heart of going to college. You meet new people and try new things and forge new memories but remain fundamentally yourself. It’s not about chairs or desks or even music: it’s about the people who interact with them. The ability to do so, to forge a path in life while staying in touch with the past, is the greatest gift of all.

It’s been awhile since we graduated from NPU (North Pole University), so Elfster wants to live vicariously through you! Share your favorite college prep stories—and this year’s best gifts—on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Beach Getaway Gift Guide.

The Best Eid al-Fitr Gifts for Traditional Ramadan Gift Giving

The Best Eid al-Fitr Gifts for Traditional Ramadan Gift Giving

the best Eid al-Fitr gifts The sacred and solemn holiday of Ramadan is a time of prayer, of reflection, and of charity. It is a time of peace, where one prays for the world—and for themselves. It’s not for focusing on small worldly and bodily needs, such as food, but for seeking out your inner quietness for answers to spiritual matters. That makes it a time of fasting, when food cannot be eaten between dawn and dusk.

Eid al-Fitr gift wrapping
Eid Mubarak to all around the world | Image courtesy Etsy seller inkandocean

To mark the end of that most holy month, Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which roughly translates as “The Festival of Breaking the Fast.” And it is a festival: it’s a day where fasting is not allowed because you’re supposed to celebrate and break bread with loved ones, friends, and family. This three-day festival is spent engaging in acts of kindness and charity, and is capped off with a feast.

Often, during these three days, gifts are exchanged. These gifts are usually steeped in meaning, even if—especially if—they are simple, because the best gifts of Eid al-Fitr are a reflection of the season that has just passed. They remind us to be grateful for the food we eat, the water we drink, and the love we share.

That doesn’t mean Eid is solemn, though. It’s a celebration! It celebrates that we are all here, together, and that even when times are rough there is a community of the faithful to share the burdens with. And, it’s a reminder that, most importantly, there is always family and faith. Those are the greatest gifts of all.

Eid Mubarak! The Best Eid al-Fitr Gifts

The Muslim world is made up of over a billion people on 6 different continents, in nearly every country in the world. There is no one consistent way to celebrate Eid as there are different local customs. As long as they are reflective of the holiday, there is no way to go wrong.

So what are the best Eid al-Fitr gifts? What reflects the nature of the festival? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Gift Baskets

eid al-fatr sweet gifts for a basket
Eid celebrates the sweetness of life | Image courtesy Etsy seller meskasweets

Remember that food is going to be a crucial part of any Eid celebration. So, gift baskets are always a great idea—especially ones that include simple sweets or local delicacies. Some items popular to include in gift baskets are:

  • Dates
  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Honey
  • Juices
  • Turkish halwa
  • Fruit cakes
  • Dates stuffed with almonds

All of these sweets can go into a decorative gift basket and be brought to the home of the person having the feast, or be gifted to your loved ones. Breaking the fast by enjoying dates stuffed with almonds or the sweetness of halwa makes you recognize and appreciate the good and fine things in life.  

Something to Fill with Meaning

eid al-fitr journal gift
There is a sacredness in the empty spaces we fill with love | Image courtesy Etsy seller SabahDesigns

Sometimes, the most meaningful presents don’t have anything in them. You can fill them with your thoughts and memories, and your wishes for a better world. Good examples of this are gift boxes, picture frames, journals, and more. These can be a reminder of the holiness of the time, especially if they are inscribed with the shahada. You are giving the gift of mindfulness and memory.

Islamic Calligraphy Art

The strict iconography of Islamic culture has allowed its amazing traditions of artisans to interpret the Quran into art. That has created an awe-inspiring tradition of non-representational calligraphy, with the words of the Quran interlocking and moving through space. It is the Word as art, and a perfect representation of the divine importance of the Quran. You can find all manner of items with this tradition, from signs to hang to intricate and elaborate eggs.

Books and CDs for Children

There is no better time for children to learn the importance of their heritage than Eid al-Fitr. Children are, of course, the hardest to make fast, as they don’t yet appreciate the meaning of it (for the most part). But by giving them activity books to learn about their religion, or movies to watch, they’ll grow in understanding of the beauty and grace of their culture. And, by next year, don’t be surprised if they are the most enthusiastic fasters in the family.

An Eid al-Fitr Gift Exchange to Celebrate the End of Ramadan

One of the most beautiful traditions of both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha is giving gifts to strangers and the less fortunate. This is especially prevalent on the Arabian Peninsula. The more fortunate will buy bags of rice and other staples and give them to those who need them, leaving them anonymously at their doors.

eid al=fitr gift card
The beauty of Arabic calligraphy | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheGoldInkPress

We still encourage that, but there is another way to send anonymous gifts to anyone around the world. A Secret Santa gift exchange allows you to create a group where you can buy gifts for loved ones who may be an ocean away. These are anonymous, but you can also reveal who the Secret Santa is after the gifts have been bought and sent, all with the click of a button. It’s an easy and fun way to stay connected during the time of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.

One thing many groups do during the festival is to sign up for a Secret Santa gift exchange and buy gifts for local charities or those in need. That way, someone who is in Portland can send gifts to a relative in Sana’a who will bring it to a food bank or to an orphanage in Jakarta or anywhere, near or far, where people need charity. That is the spirit and the grace of Eid. You can make your love, your charity, and your desire for peace be global.

There are no geographic limits to your faith, and there don’t need be any to your brotherhood with the world. Eid mubarak from Elfster!

How do you show people you love them on Eid al-Fitr? Tell us about your favorite gifts and memories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired Eid dessert gifting, browse our Sweet Gift Guide. To find out more about how Elfster can become a part of your Eid al-Fitr celebration, read our silly “How to Play Secret Santa” guide.

What to Put in a Beach-Themed Gift Basket or Bag for Her

What to Put in a Beach-Themed Gift Basket or Bag for Her

Beach-themed gift basket ideas | The Elfster Blog

What to put in a beach themed gift basket
Beach hair, don’t care | Image courtesy Unsplash user David Solce

This beach season, you’re probably looking to add something more to your bag than suntan lotion and the newest teen vampire novelalthough you totally want both of those too. You want to rock the sun and sand in style, comfort, with a little decadence, and a lot of goodies. You want, nay need, great beach gear. And so do your girlfriends!

This year, why not send a beach-themed gift bag to your sister, girlfriend, wife, or best friend? It’s a great gift that really kicks summer off in style. You can have the best Fourth of July party plans ever but, really, what most of sane people want is not a single day, but a whole sunny season filled with relaxing by the carefree splash of the ocean or a sparkly lake. Sound like someone you know? Then they’re sure to appreciate these DIY thoughtful gift baskets.

There’s something about water that just seems to center and relax most of us; it’s a beautiful gift straight from nature. And, by reading up on our ideas for what to put in a beach-themed gift basket or bag, you’ll make that gift even more special.

Hot Items to Put in a Summer Beach-Themed Gift Basket

So, what should go into this magical summer gift basket, this enchanting beach bag that will change her life, or at least her afternoon? Start with the (semi-)basics…

shibori beach-themed gift basket ideas
Shibori in the sand | Image courtesy Etsy seller Katrinreifeiss
  • A Custom Beach Towel or Blanket: Beach blankets are the way to claim your own little slice of sandy heaven. They establish your place on the beach; rolling it out is your cue that relaxation has begun. So why not take that slice and make sure everyone knows it’s yours? A personalized embroidered towel puts your friend’s name right on the spot she’s claiming. Or, choose a one-of-a-kind hand-dyed blanket so she can spot her spot from the waterline. It’s a little indulgent, but isn’t that what the beach is all about?
  • Beach-Proof Cups: One of the main problems with the beach is the question of what to do with your cup. After all, sand rarely makes an even surface and the wind off the water, while refreshing, can cause more spills than blindfolded volleyball (a great beach game, by the way). That’s where spiked beach cups can come in handy. These burrow into the sand like a mole crab, offering your bestie, sister, or wife spill-free, sand-proof sipping.
  • Candles for the Beach: There is nothing like the night and the water, the setting sun and the lapping waves, the sea and the rhythm. And that can be made better with candles, piercing through the darkness and making everything more romantic. Putting outdoor candles in a gift bag says that you know your friend’s trip is going to be very good. This can include lantern holders to shield the candles from the wind, or even non-flame, look-a-like LED candles. The point is to cut a soft arc through the silent darkness.

(Optional musical accompaniment for use with candles)

Reads Perfect for a Beach Gift Bag

Water (etc.) cup: check. Towel: check. Sun and sand: check. Now it’s time for your friend to kick back and enjoy a little bit of beach reading. So, what’s hot this year for a read perfect for a beach gift bag? Here’s a list of a few books that people want to sink their teeth into (vampire teen novels excluded, sadly):

Beach Bum Candle for a Gift Basket
Beach candle to go with your beach read for when the actual beach is out of reach | Image courtesy Etsy seller AtoZCandles
  • Beach House for Rent by Mary Alice Monroe, the next in the beloved Lowcountry Summer series, following The Beach House and Beach House Memories.
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. A chilling whodunnit, and a page-turner that’ll keep you guessing.

  • The Salt House by Lisa Duffy. Tragedy, family, and fishing along Maine’s rugged coast.

  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman. A debut novel about a shy and bookish girl finding herself at Harvard in the mid-90s. Quirky but not pretentious, charmingly meandering, and fiercely anti-climatic. If you are of Elif’s age, you’ll relate to the moods and the music.

  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith. A new sweeping, bracingly funny novel from one of America’s best writers.

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Whether she’s been watching the show or not, she needs to read the book.

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Strange, haunting, macabre, riotously funny, and definitely weird. America’s short story master creates a page-turning novel.

A Beach Bag-Themed Summer Gift Exchange

Boho Beach Gift Bag
Boho Beach Bag: The three B’s of summer… | Image courtesy Etsy seller CoralglassStudio

Of course, if you have a big group of girlfriends, you can all surprise each other with handpicked summer gifts and beach bag-themed items by bringing a bit of Christmas into July. With an online Secret Santa-style beach gift bag exchange, you can send your friends and loved ones the perfect beach day tucked neatly into a basket whether they’re across the country or around the world. All you need to do is have everyone sign up for a free online Secret Santa organizer, and drawing the names for the exchange will be randomized and anonymized.

Participants can fill out what they want and make detailed, beach-tastic wish lists that their Secret Santas can pick their perfect presents from. Gifts will be delivered right to everyone’s doors, just in time for vacation. It’s as if Santa decided to take a beach trip, which, let’s be honest, would be well-deserved.

But you deserve it too. And so do your girls. So start a gift exchange, and get your friends the gift of summer sun, sand, and fun. Then, enjoy those salty waves!

We’re up in the North Pole so Elfster wants to live vicariously through you! Share your favorite summer beach stories—and this year’s vacation plans—on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Beach Getaway Gift Guide.

Ochugen and Oseibo Gift Ideas: Japanese Customs and the Tradition of Giving

Ochugen and Oseibo Gift Ideas: Japanese Customs and the Tradition of Giving

japanese gift giving traditions ochugen and oseibo

What do you say when you give someone a gift? No, not “here,” or “look, I got you a gift,” but what is your gift saying? What are the wordless messages you are passing along when someone opens that special thing you gave them? There are a million possibilities but at the core, at the purest level, you are saying: I value you.

Ochugen gift idea
Gift giving should be peaceful, especially during Ochugen or Oseibo | Image courtesy Etsy seller SatsumaStreet

In Japan, gift-giving is less about the gift itself as the meaning behind it, which is why a simple gift is often the best. Japanese customs and the tradition of gift giving can be highly ritualized and formal but, at its heart, it’s a way to show that you appreciate someone, and that you’re grateful for their presence in your life. That gratefulness reaches its full flowering in the holidays of Ochugen and Oseibo, at the middle and the end of the year, respectively.

Ochugen and Oseibo are days specifically designed for gift giving, as opposed to gifts being an auxiliary part of it. Gifts are merely the medium, though, through which you show appreciation, and show someone you care. On Ochugen, which generally falls on July 15th, and Oseibo, which falls in mid-December (by the 20th), you are telling someone how much they mean to you. And there are many ways to transform your emotional sentiment into something physical. Here are a few ideas for Ochugen and Oseibo gifts.

A Brief History of Ochugen and Oseibo Gifts: A Changing Japanese Tradition

Japanese gift wrap technique
Gift giving doesn’t have to be elaborate, just thoughtful | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Before we get into the gift ideas, we should note that some of these old Japanese traditions and customs are changing. Ochugen and Oseibo began near the start of the Edo Period in the 1600s when it was considered a duty to give gifts to those you felt indebted to, such as a boss or a general. This happened twice a year and, as we said, became more and more ritualized.

But, recently, this idea has fallen out of favor with the younger generation, and in the broader culture, because it feels forced and presents the opportunity for favoritism. But many in Japan have actually transformed it away from a day where you give gifts out of obligation to one where you do so because you want to show someone that you care about them. It isn’t debt. It is love.

That spirit has always been there, and is now being revived. Beyond the ritual, there is joy. And that joy can come in many forms—i.e., let’s get to some gift ideas.

Ochugen and Oseibo Gift Ideas for Kids and Adults

So, what should you give as an Ochugen or Oseibo gift? Remember that the gifts themselves aren’t as important as what they say. That being said, though, here are some gift ideas that people will enjoy opening.

Sweets (Especially for Children)

Japanese candy Oseibo gift
You’ll find very few people who don’t like getting candy | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Candy is pretty much a universal language, especially for children, which is why it is one of the most common gifts on Ochugen and Oseibo. A giant box of various candies is a traditional gift, and one that every child, or the young of heart, will appreciate. Some of the favorites include:

  • Pocky
  • Ramune
  • Konpeito
  • Rice Candy
  • Hello Panda
  • Flower’s Kiss

Sweets (For the Adults This Time!)

Obviously, sweets aren’t only for children. Adults like sweets too, if my dentist bills are any indication. And there are many wonderful desserts in Japanese culture that you could make as a gift, giving the present of your own time and handicraft. One of my favorites is anmitsu.

Anmitsu isa Japanese wagashi dessert with agar agar jelly, fruits, mochi, red bean paste, green tea ice cream and a good drizzle of sweet black sugar syrup.” So there are a lot of different tastes and flavors running through, as well as textures. This moves between ice cream, jello, and fruit salad, with the tea flavors combining with the fruit to create a summer-like vibe in your mouth.

Japanese art gifts for Ochugen
Combine the arts of painting and bookbinding | Image courtesy Etsy seller missredfox

Nami at JustOneCookbook gives a great breakdown on how to make this treat, which can be done in less than a half hour. Like the holidays themselves, this is a recipe that evolves and changes. Feel free to give it your own spin.

Art and Creativity

Art always makes a great gift, especially art representing the culture in which Ochugen and Oseibo were born. Japan has incredible traditions of both representational and nonrepresentational art, as well as some of the most interesting landscape techniques in human history. Needless to say, the poetry tradition, most well-known in the forms of Basho and Issa, is world-renowned and beloved. Any gifts celebrating this tradition are appreciated.

Or, you could help people make art of their own. Japanese ink painting is increasingly popular, and is an evolutionary step above the adult coloring books that are currently popular. Know someone who loves to create? Give them a book about how to develop their Japanese ink painting skills, and next holiday, you might get the best art of all.

An Ochugen and Oseibo Gift Exchange

Remember, the hierarchy that has sometimes defined Ochugen and Oseibo doesn’t do so anymore. You are free to give gifts to anyone who means something to you, not just to those to whom you feel in debt. These holidays have taken on a new, more meaningful spirit.

peace crane oseibo gift idea
The gift of peace… cranes | Image courtesy Etsy seller ChaoticHarmonyPress

This means that you can send gifts to anyone around the world as a way of handing something to someone beyond the physical reach of your outstretched arms. One way to do so while saving time and money is by setting up an online gift exchange, like a Secret Santa.

By doing so, you can exchange gifts anonymously while making sure that people get a gift they will love. You can send gifts around the world. You can surprise, and be surprised. It’s an easy way to stay organized, and to make sure that on a special day, everyone knows they are valued.

Ochugen and Oseibo might not be a surprise. They have happened every year for centuries. But that makes the need to show someone how you feel even more important. By sharing gifts with friends and loved ones around the world, you step away from the rote and the ritualized. You remind yourself that we exist, and that our lives have joy and meaning, because of those around us. We hand out love—and receive happiness in return.

How do you show people you care on Ochugen and Oseibo? Tell us about your favorite gifts and memories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired Ochugen and Oseibo dessert gifting, browse our Sweet Gift Guide.

The Best Traditional Kwanzaa Gifts to Make and Give

The Best Traditional Kwanzaa Gifts to Make and Give

Kwanzaa gifts to give Kwanzaa has always been one of the world’s most exciting holidays, especially in North America. It is a burst of light and color, of sun and laughter, emerging brightly into the coldest and darkest days of the year. It’s a celebration of heritage, but it isn’t one stuck in the past. It creates a vibrant tapestry of the past, present, and future, looking toward the next day while honoring the last.

Kwanzaa gift ideas to make
Lighting the traditional Kwanzaa candles | Image courtesy Wikimedia commons

Kwanzaa is a unique holiday in that it comes after Christmas, but unlike Dia de la Reyes, or Three Kings Day, it isn’t a strict continuation of it. It is its own holiday, one forged during difficult times to create something beautiful. It is an inclusive celebration of community, one that is uniquely American, but that reaches across the ocean and across the vast, vibrant, and diverse nations of Africa.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of family and community and, as such, is a perfect occasion for gift giving. Whether you pick out Kwanzaa gifts to make or buy, the act of exchange is what brings people together. It’s saying that in these dark days, whether that refers to the early sunset or the challenges of life, there is brightness. There is hope. There are the smiles that come from two people connecting, from a group of people remembering what matters. Family. Community. And the love they share.

(Optional musical accompaniment to this post)

Why Kwanzaa Matters

kwanzaa cookies to make as gifts
A Kwanzaa feast can include anything | Image courtesy Etsy seller CosmicCookieBakery

1966 was a difficult year for much of the African American community. Systemic oppression boiled over in the destructive Watts riots, and the Civil Rights movement had begun to fracture. Into that heat stepped Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University in Long Beach. He researched traditional “first fruit” or harvest festivals in various African cultures, and combined these varying and beautiful ceremonies into something bigger. Kwanzaa isn’t just one holiday; Kwanzaa is pulled from the traditions of many different nations, including the Zulu and the Ashanti.

It is, in short, synthesis. It’s a combination of many similar, though unique, feasts and festivals, and through them it creates something new. That’s the spirit of Kwanzaa. Each family celebrates it differently—and each community forges their own traditions, borrowing and swapping and sharing.

Every community, every family, and every person who adds or alters the feasts, and dances a little bit, adds themselves to the tapestry. They add their own personality, their own quirks, and their own individual love to the celebrations. They are giving a gift. And that gift, that generosity of spirit, is what Kwanzaa embodies: That through our love for each other we are stronger against the darkness. There is light between us.

Homemade Kwanzaa Gifts to Make

a Kwanzaa quilt
A handmade Kwanzaa quilt | Image courtesy Etsy seller PrayerQuiltsByRosie

Handcrafting a gift is a great way to demonstrate that you are taking the time to make something special for someone. And, it’s especially appropriate for Kwanzaa, a holiday that celebrates traditional ways of doing things.

Here are some ideas for people with the tools and time to handcraft presents, but for the rest of us, don’t worry: there are links to purchase similar items, and more handmade crafts to buy in the next section.

  • A Kinara, or candle holder: Candles hold great significance at Kwanzaa, signifying unity, self-determination, cooperative economics, work and responsibility, purpose, faith, and creativity. A wooden candleholder celebrates all those virtues. There are easy ways to use reclaimed wood for DIY projects if you are so inclined. Pairing them with symbolically important and beautiful Kwanzaa candles completes the gift.
  • A quilt or tapestry: A quilt is a story. It can tell many tales through pictures and even non-representational art, literally weaving the beautiful stories and legends of Kwanzaa, like Anansi and his Sons, into something heartfelt and lasting.
  • A Kwanzaa scrapbook.  A scrapbook or album filled with stories, memories, pictures of Kwanzaa past, song lyrics, recipes, and more is an incredible way to treasure the past while leaving room for the future. It’s in the perfect spirit of the holiday.

Kwanzaa Gifts to Give, Pre-Made

Kwanzaa handmade mask
A hand-carved tribal mask | Image courtesy Etsy seller OurTalkingHands

We admit that not everyone has the time to weave a quilt or forge a Kinara. But there are plenty of gifts you can give that are pre-made from local artisans and African craftspeople.

  • African art: Each mask tells a different story of a different culture. Each hand-carved animal has a legend. There is folklore, from Ghana to Kenya and from the Sudan to South Africa. Across this vast and diverse continent there is a rich heritage that is explored through traditional art. These are gifts imbued with meaning that will last a lifetime.
  • Kwanza storybooks for children: Kids need to know their heritage and traditions, and, as has happened for thousands of years, these are passed down orally. A Kwanzaa storybook is a way to keep the tradition of storytelling alive, so they can read, remember, and then pass it down to their own children someday.
  • Traditional instruments: Music and songs are a huge part of any Kwanzaa celebration, whether that’s a traditional zeze like they play in Tanzania or the smooth sounds of the late and lamented Teddy Pendergrass above. Buying an instrument for someone keeps that tradition alive, and allows them to create songs all their own.

A Gift Exchange for This Year’s Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa celebratory drums
Drums will play a huge role in any Kwanzaa celebration | Image courtesy Wikimedia

We’ve talked about how big a deal gifts are for Kwanzaa. It isn’t about the receiving, but about the giving, that alchemy of connection which transcends land and time and cultures. And whether you are near or far from your loved ones, sometimes the best way to celebrate this is with an online gift exchange program.

An online gift exchange is like a normal Secret Santa, only it allows for total anonymity and lets the recipient craft their list, update it, be asked questions by their Secret Santa, and be shipped a gift without giving away the game. This is perfect for large groups, or for those who are celebrating Kwanzaa far away from each other.

It’s a great way to celebrate any tradition, with technology so seamless you don’t even notice it. It can’t be hijacked by Zomo, the trickster rabbit. It just allows for people to come together, sharing their gifts, both literal and personal, sharing their love, and joining together as a community.

It might be cold outside, and the night may bring darkness, but inside there is light. Inside there is love. Inside, there is togetherness. That is Kwanzaa.

What are your Kwanzaa traditions? Tell us about your favorite Kwanzaa gifts and memories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired Diwali dessert gifting, browse our Sweet Gift Guide.

Unique Diwali Gift Ideas: Celebrate India’s Festival of Lights Around the World

Unique Diwali Gift Ideas: Celebrate India’s Festival of Lights Around the World

diwali gift ideas to celebrate the Festival of Lights in India—and around the world

The word Diwali, with its upward-lilting last syllable, already carries within it a lightness and a note of grace. That’s fitting, too: A translation of the word reads “rows of lighted lamps,” a beautiful and warm image invoking peace, warmth, and openness. Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights in India and around the world, is one of the high points on the Hindu calendar, a day when light triumphed over darkness. And it’s that selfsame light that we celebrate today.

Diwali, Festival of Lights in India
India’s Festival of Lights | Image courtesy Wikimedia commons user urbanurban_ru

Imagine thousands of lights over thousands of houses and across vast lands, stretching back into the mists of times, and you have Diwali. It’s a day where people clean and redecorate, much like the traditions of the Chinese New Year, pushing away the darkness of the last year. And it’s a day to give presents to the ones you love.

Exchanging gifts is fitting for such a wonderfully happy day. Gift exchanges celebrate the love that you have for each other, and the joy of having people near you. That’s the purest expression of light—that which comes from within us, and can be felt by others. Even if that light is unseen, there’s the physical glow of the festival, a historical celebration of family and friends, illuminating your every smile.

This Diwali, make sure you let your loved ones know how much they mean to you. Be a beacon through every darkness with unique Diwali gift ideas for celebrating India’s Festival of Lights anywhere around the world.

Why Is Diwali Important and Celebrated: The Story of Diwali

The story of Diwali
Tell me about Diwali… | Image courtesy Amazon

The story of Diwali is well known in many parts of the world, but there are many different reasons why it is important and celebrated from region to region throughout Asia. In northern India, it recognizes the return of the god Rama to his sacred city after 14 years in exile. In southern India, the day focuses on Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and prosperity. In Nepal, it celebrates Lord Krishna’s victory over Narakaasura, the demon king, while in Bengal it’s most often associated with the goddess Kali.

The point is the same, though: A memorialization of the triumph of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, hope over sadness, and light over darkness. That’s why it’s a holiday in India, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Fiji, and many other countries, including parts of Pakistan.

The holiday is about joy and jubilance. There’s no room for mourning or despair. It recognizes victory and, more importantly, the chance for more victories to come. It recognizes that we can triumph in our own lives. And because it’s a party, there are always traditional foods. In this case sweets, perhaps to signify just how sweet life can truly be!

Unique Diwali Gift Ideas for Family and Friends

Patterns + Colors | Image courtesy Etsy seller RCMooreVintage
Patterns + Colors | Image courtesy Etsy seller RCMooreVintage

It isn’t a Diwali party without sweets and candy, but the celebration of Diwali is about more than just food. It’s also about giving gifts. You just have to know the right ones to give. Here are some unique Diwali gift ideas for friends and family this year, from gifts that will dazzle to gifts keeping with 2017’s minimalist trends:

  • A party dress: A Diwali dress is very important, as they are themselves a representation of lightness, a manifestation of the swirling beauty in the cosmos. Reflecting the intricate minaturisms that characterized much of Hindu art, and suffused with bright colors, a dress becomes a treasured item, a reminder of a new year—and of the person from whom it came.
  • Diwali books: These are especially great for children who are just learning what this sacred and beautiful day really means. Diwali books can be about the history of gods triumphing over darkness, or about how we celebrate it today. There are two sides to Diwali: the light without, and the love within, and good books help children recognize that from a young age.
  • Statues: Representations of the gods can bring good fortune and joy to the recipient, and are a reminder of why we celebrate.
  • An Om tapestry: Sacred in Hinduism, the Om (or Aum) pattern is the representation of the sound of the universe. An Om tapestry brings that transcendental peace and oneness to any recipient.
  • Candles: It is the Festival of Lights, after all. Give a candle and when it is lit, it will join the millions around the world, shining through the darkness.

A Diwali Gift Exchange

Diwali cards are sweet | Image courtesy Etsy seller Aleeshasattic
Diwali cards are sweet | Image courtesy Etsy seller Aleeshasattic

As we’ve pointed out, Diwali is celebrated around the world, and not just in countries where it’s an official holiday. The Hindu diaspora is in every corner of the globe, bringing unique and beautiful traditions of learning and peace wherever it goes. But that might mean your Diwali celebrations are spread out over many continents. Luckily, you can still have an online gift exchange to bridge those miles.

An online gift exchange allows you to randomize and anonymize selections so that the giver of the gifts is a surprise. The recipient can create a wish list from top online retailers, and the list will be given to their secret gift giver. The presents will be sent, and they can all be opened at the same time,

Your friends and family don’t all have to be in the same room, the same city, or even the same side of the earth to break bread and eat sweets together. You can bring that spirit, that light that makes Diwali so special, through the darkness of countless miles. By being able to celebrate with the ones you love, from anywhere, you are bringing the endless glow of Diwali with you everywhere.

What light illuminates you? Tell us about your favorite Diwali gifts and memories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired Diwali dessert gifting, browse our Sweet Gift Guide.

Brass Lakshmi image in banner is courtesy Amazon.

Hot Summer Kickoff Party Theme Ideas: Planning Outdoor Activities for Sunny Days

Hot Summer Kickoff Party Theme Ideas: Planning Outdoor Activities for Sunny Days

summer kickoff party themes
Summer candlelight celebrations | Image courtesy Unsplash user Jovi Waqa

There are few things I love more than a classic Americana summer party. Food on the grill, cold drinks in the cooler, music sifting through the hot air reminding you of the past—and of the current endless present. Kids running around, firecrackers going off, lawn games that are fun and weirdly competitive. Burgers and ribs, grilled veggies, salads passed around laughter-filled tables. A long and sultry day that sunsets into a firefly dusk and a dance-filled night.  It’s the bottomless plastic ketchup bottle to my soul.

But, sometimes, you want something different, something that bucks tradition. While no one objects to a classic, this year you can expand your sunny BBQ repertoire by exploring new summer kickoff party theme ideas that focus on some favorite elements of the sunny season slowly rolling in. Celebrate the sun and fun to come by turning that feeling of being warm and free into a backyard BBQ or summer block party.

So, here are three summer-themed party plans for the three months of (hopefully) endless sun ahead. They’re just around the corner. You can already taste them… Now get ready for them.

(Mandatory musical accompaniment for this reading)

Summer Kickoff Party Ideas With an Oceania Theme

If you don’t live on one of the coasts or the Great Lakes, your summer party might be pretty landlocked. Most people don’t have backyards abutting a sea. But that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the feeling of being by a large body of water, a cool breeze meandering through, carrying with it the salty freshness of a million waves.

Teal and seafoam colors, along with nautical decorations, set the mood. If you want to get really wild, you can create the thatched gazebo look of the South Pacific (repurposing what you used on St. Patrick’s Day). Here’s what else you’ll need for your Oceania-themed summer kickoff party:

ocean party theme
Remember: Sand dollars aren’t currency, and seahorses aren’t actually horses | Image courtesy Etsy seller ShinySoiree
  • Seafood: Lobster might be a little expensive, but grilled shrimp is always delicious, and super easy. Some of the younger guests might not like seafood, but they’ll always enjoy the classic kid snack of goldfish crackers. If you really want to go all out, though, in a way that’s both fun and not terribly expensive, try a crawfish boil. That’ll bring the nautical theme to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Blue Wave Punch: Blue Hawaiian punch and lemonade make a sweet, colorful, seafaring addition to any ocean-esque party.
  • Seashell painting: Decorate seashells! Seashell painting is fun for kids and adults, especially if you use ocean-themed greens and blues to create swirling masterpieces that feel like stepping into the ocean. Even if you aren’t by the water, seashells are easy to get and pretty inexpensive.
  • Walk the Plank: All you need are some two-by-fours, a few cinder blocks (or other level objects) and, of course, plenty of eye-patches. Set up two boards and two teams, then race. Falling off is a disqualification. The eye-patches make it an especially piratical game.

Camping and Crafting: A Woodsy Summer Party Theme

As a former Boy Scout, I have great memories of camping. The deep North Woods in the summer had a certain piney stillness punctuated by hiking, archery, and other events of greater or lesser meretriciousness. Adults love camping too, especially now when the chance to unplug takes on greater importance.

camp party invite
Camp, craft, and hunt | Image courtesy Etsy seller INVITEDbyAudriana

So maybe have a camping party. Spread out pine needles, put some tents in the backyard, make table runners that feel like the old log cabins we used to stay in…it harkens back to national parks and lingering days. Your party will have that warm campfire smell, where the only notifications you hear are the gentle questionings of owls.

  • Flame-grilled food: Food can be pretty normal, except (if this is possible) it has to be cooked over an open flame. You can get safe, clean, easy-to-use firepits nearly anywhere, and they’re perfect for cooking hotdogs on sticks. But, of course, the mandatory food is s’mores. It’s not camping if you don’t have s’mores. Don’t forsake ants on a log, either. Reach back into your childhood, people.
  • Bug Juice: Flavored gelatin, orange and pineapple juice, ginger ale, sugar, and maybe some sherbet. It’s the perfect summer cool-down treat. And really, any recipe is a good recipe. Everyone has their own, just like everyone has their favorite camping spot.
  • Pinecone bird feeders: All you need is some peanut butter, oatmeal, birdseed, and a pinecone, of course. Kids will love coming up with creative ways to make their feeder stand out, and they’ll love seeing birds eat from it. Plus, it’s a sticky-sweet way to give back to nature.
  • Storytelling: Some would argue that this isn’t a game, but camping is about unplugging, getting back to the world, and letting your mind wander unfettered by technology. So sit around the fire, and create a story together. Pass it around sentence by sentence, grownups and kids alike. Where you go could be as distant as the most remote campground on the furthest continent.

Summer Outdoor Night Party Ideas for Stargazing

Huck Finn and Jim, while floating down the Mississippi, would see the sky “all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.” You don’t have to get that philosophical to recognize that the silence and grandeur of a star-filled night is one of the great joys of summertime.

Decorations for this party could include hanging planets, star-themed plates and napkins, and maybe lights strung around the trees in your yard, for the dusk and early evening before the actual show. If you aren’t in an area with stars, outdoor LED lights can evoke that bright and endless majesty as well. Because the point isn’t just to see stars. It’s to feel them. Here are some summer outdoor night party ideas for a stargazing soiree:

planet party cake
The world revolves around sugar, er, the sun… | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheNewYorkCakepopery
  • Dippin’ Dots: It’s the ice cream of the future! But if you want to be a little more creative and astronomical, planet-shaped cake pops are beautiful and fun. Every kid wants to eat Jupiter! Whether or not you include Pluto is up to you. I’m not getting involved in that debate.
  • Cosmic Swirl: Pink lemonade. Blue Hi-C. Tonic water. Over ice. Served in front of a black light. The colors swirl and mix like the dawning of the universe.
  • Build a telescope: Paper towels, scissors, and a pair of convex lenses (only $5) can bring your kids closer to the night sky. They might not see as far back as the Hubble with your homemade telescope, but they’ll have a better appreciation for what’s up there.
  • Create constellations: When looking at the sky, come up with new constellations. The old ones are pretty played out. This is a great imagination booster.

Summer means so many things to so many people. Your party should celebrate what it means to you, whether that’s camping, being at the beach, tailgating with friends, or just gazing up at the sky. Let your imagination rise with the temperatures. Your summer party can be whatever you want it to be.

It’s getting hot out here, so Elfster wants to hear your favorite summer stories. Tell us about them on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Outdoor Fun Gift Guide.

Feliz Dia de la Reyes: Three Kings Day Gift Ideas for a Royal Celebration

Feliz Dia de la Reyes: Three Kings Day Gift Ideas for a Royal Celebration

camels for three kings
Camels don’t actually have to be a part of the celebration, but they could be… | Image courtesy Etsy seller darialvovsky

The story of Christmas doesn’t begin or end on the 25th. There’s an entire holiday season full of parties and gifts that leads up to Christmas Day. And, for many around the world, a hugely important Yule-inspired holiday is celebrated after the new year: Three Kings Day (or The Feast of the Magi), known in many Latino cultures as Dias de la Reyes. It’s a day that is as venerated and fun-filled as Christmas morning.

Dias de la Reyes, which falls every year on January 6th, is the exclamation point at the end of the holiday season. While some spend the first week in January wrapping up glass ornaments and dragging away the Christmas tree, that isn’t the case in cultures which celebrate The Feast of the Three Kings. For those lucky countries, the holidays end with a bang, with gifts, with goodies—with joy. It’s one final chance to celebrate a beautiful season with the ones you love. I’ve pulled together some royal Three Kings Day gift and party ideas, if you haven’t been lucky enough to celebrate the occasion before. So, read on. It’s the wise thing to do.

 

The Feast of the Three Kings: Celebrating Dia de las Reyes

wise men book
Vintage wise men | Image courtesy Etsy seller BabettesFeats

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Three Kings followed the Star of Bethlehem to the manger where the Christ child lay swaddled. In the gospel, they are just referred to as visitors from the East, and while their number is never mentioned, the three gifts that were brought—the now famous gold, frankincense, and myrrh—led scholars to believe there were three of them.

Who they were has always been up for debate. “Kings” was a later interpolation, but they are most often referred to as astronomers, or just the “Wise Men.” Some people believe they were Zoroastrian priests, which lends a certain symbolic weight to early Christendom. By the middle of the first century, though, they were given names: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar.

Regardless of who they were, their visitation was important to Christian history. It was a symbolic recognition of the importance of Jesus to everyone. Three Kings Day celebrates the idea that his story is universal; even distant kings (or astronomers) come to bow down. That’s why it is a feast day, and why some cultures really elevate that feast to a full-blown celebration.

 

Feliz Dia de la Reyes: A Gift Exchange With Camels and Shoes

In many Latin cultures, the Wise Men are a bigger deal than Santa. One of the traditions is for children to put out a bowl of water and a bowl of grass (for the camels) on the night of January 5th, and ring their shoes around the bowls. When they awake, the shoes are filled with presents. (Presents can also be placed outside the shoes, of course. It’s hard to get an XBox in a sandal.)

rosca de reyes bread
Rosca de Reyes | Image courtesy My Bueno Cookbook

It’s a day filled with parades and parties. One tradition is to have Rosca de Reyes, or “King’s Bread.” In Mexico, thousands of people gather to eat from a mile-long string of connected loaves. It’s a communal affair: everyone bakes and everyone eats, sharing from each other’s ovens. It’s like a city-wide gift from everyone, to everyone. Of course, yours can be a little bit smaller.

This is a sweetbread, with a twist: There’s a figurine of the Christ child hidden within it (echoing a Mardi Gras tradition). Whoever finds the figurine has to make tamales for everyone on February 2nd, which is the Feast of the Candles. While the root of this silliness is unclear, it is a good reason to eat tamales. Note: There is never a bad reason.

The day is usually rounded off by a feast. There aren’t any traditional foods, which is wonderful. It means every family has a tradition of their own! You can continue traditions or start a new one every year (if the tradition is to have no tradition at all). At the dinner, the children often wear gold toy crowns to pretend they’re the kings, but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.

 

Three Kings Day Gift Ideas for Royal Fun

incense holder
Incense evokes the gifts of the kings | Image courtesy Amazon

Needless to say, Dia de la Reyes is a great reason for everyone, not just the kids, to get and receive gifts. It’s still the Christmas season, after all. They can be exchanged at the end of dinner, or when the kids are opening their gifts around the shoe ring. But what gifts to give? Here are a few Magi-inspired ideas, but like with the food, there aren’t traditional gifts, so don’t feel bound by these ideas:

  • An incense holder: Why an incense holder? Because you may be giving them incense sticks. After all, what better way to celebrate the Feast of the Magi than by inhaling the beautiful scents of frankincense and myrrh? While these may be inexpensive now, spices and perfumes and incense were incredibly valuable back then, and the symbolism shows that you truly care.
  • Oils and Lotions: There are, of course, other ways to give the scents, including oils and lotions. These are wonderful aromatherapy gifts, and can make anyone’s day a little more relaxed.
  • Gold: We aren’t, of course, going to tell you to give someone actual gold (although you can, if you want). But why not something golden, like decorative throw pillows or a candle holder?

A Magi Gift Exchange Is a Wise Idea

wise men photo props
A wise man once said… | Image courtesy Etsy seller silhouetteshop

Remember, there aren’t traditional gifts. You don’t have to go down the “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” road. Indeed, your gift giving options are wide open, but this can make gift giving tricky. If there are a lot of people in your family or group, you might want to consider setting up a gift exchange.

A Three Kings gift exchange can be run like a Secret Santa, which in this case we’ll call a Secret Gaspar, because that’s the easiest name to type. In your Secret Gaspar, everyone is assigned a giftee, and you’re given a list of what they might want. You can even ask questions anonymously, and they can add or subtract from their lists. No one knows who anyone is, since it’s all run online.

You can do this if you are going to be together on Jan 6th, or have the gifts sent to be opened all around the country—or even the world. For families with relatives in Latin America, this is a wonderful way to bring everyone together.

Sometimes, you can’t all get together. You can’t follow the Star of Bethlehem to give gifts. But that doesn’t mean you can’t all be together, in spirit and through technology, sharing gifts and laughter in warm remembrance of that cold night and three mysterious strangers all those thousands of years ago.

If you’re interested in more international gifting reads, the elves say A Freilichen Purim to you!

What’s in your shoe? Tell us about your favorite Dias de la Reyes gifts and memories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting, browse our gift guides.

A Freilichen Purim! Gift Basket Ideas to Celebrate Spring, Community, and Life’s Joys

A Freilichen Purim! Gift Basket Ideas to Celebrate Spring, Community, and Life’s Joys

purim printable cards
Sweet tags for baskets of sweets | Image courtesy Etsy seller TwinkleSprinkleShop

Late winter and early spring are, for everyone, imbued with a sense of rebirth and excitement. It’s a time to escape the long winter—and look forward to the light. For the Jewish people, though, it means something more. It is the time for Purim, to celebrate when they were saved from annihilation at the hands of the Persians. It’s more than a party for the rebirth of spring; it is celebrating the miracle of existence. 

And what a celebration it is! Purim is described as a time to let loose, offering more unalloyed fun than any other date on the Jewish calendar. It isn’t a day for somber reminiscing, but for celebrating the unvarnished joy of being alive in this world. It’s marked with costumes, lively decorations, and food—delicious sweets and amazing baked goods.

All of this—the food, the costumes, the love and joy—can be included in your ideas for a Purim gift basket. Giving gifts is part of the Purim tradition; a spirit of generosity reflects the nature of the day. So for Purim, assemble a gift basket that will make your friends and loved ones thrill to the particular delight of being alive in this fallen, yet beautiful and joyful world of ours. A freilichen Purim!

Haman’s Lottery: The Story of Purim—and Traditions

the story of purim art
The story of Purim | Image courtesy Etsy seller JudaicArtStudios

To understand exactly what we’re celebrating, we should briefly look at the story of Purim and its traditions. Sometime in the 5th-century BC, the Jewish people were ruled by Persia, whose vast empire spread out over much of the modern Middle East. The Emperor, Ahasuerus, had a much-loved young wife, Esther, who was Jewish (though no one knew that at the time, not even her new husband).

Ahasuerus was also close to his prime minister who ran the empire, a real piece of work by the name of Haman. Haman didn’t care for Jews, and ordered them all to be killed on a day chosen at random, in a kind of backward lottery. To block Haman’s destruction of her people, Esther courageously revealed herself to Ahasuerus as Jewish, an act of unity with her community as she could have hid her identity and saved herself from facing death instead of standing up for her people. But she was brave—and it saved everyone she loved. Her husband, the Emperor, didn’t take kindly to the idea of his wife’s people being harmed, so took care of Haman instead.

It’s not a fun story on the surface, of course, but the joy of surviving through cleverness, courage, and unity with friends and family is inspiring. Purim celebrates a day where people overcame their enemies by sticking together, by being unified in the face of a threat, and by following the bravery of people like Esther.

There’s a joy in that, a joy strong enough to now laugh at the ineffectiveness of Haman’s hate. In fact, the name itself is a Persian word for “lots,” as in Haman drawing lots to figure out what day to harm the Jewish community. That didn’t work out so well for him, though, and now on the 14th of Adar every year, we celebrate life, courage, and community instead.

“Perfect” Purim Gift Basket Ideas

hamentashen purim pastries
Everything starts with Hamentashen | Image courtesy Etsy seller cookiesncornbags

OK, so this subheading is a bit of a fib. There are no “perfect” Purim gift basket ideas. There’s only the gift basket that makes you, and the recipient, the happiest. Giving a basket of food and drink, also known as mishloach manot, or the sending of portions, is part of the traditions of Purim to ensure that everyone has the means to celebrate. It’s another recognition of the importance of community and lending your neighbor a helping hand. Of course, when times aren’t lean, you can incorporate some fun as well as food.

Some elements of a great Purim basket include:

  • Hamantashen: See? Still giving Haman the business. Hamentashen are triangular filled-pocket pastries, usually with a sweet filling inside. Sometimes they are closed so you don’t know what’s in them. That’s part of the mystery and joy of Purim—there are miracles everywhere. Sometimes, delicious miracles.
  • Fruits and nuts: A fruit and nut portion
    Purim mask for kids
    Esther removed her mask and saved her people | Image courtesy Etsy seller EbonyShaeDesigns

    isn’t symbolic of anything, but they are foods that people could store even in rough times and share with their community.

  • Chocolate: This is symbolic of chocolate being delicious—one of life’s simplest pleasures.
  • Masks: Purim masks look a lot like Mardi Gras masks. As traditions sometimes find difficult soil in modern times, it might be good to throw in some costumes to remind younger people that this is a fun holiday celebrating life.
  • Educational material: Speaking of kids, remind them what Purim is all about. If your basket recipient is a child, or has children, consider Purim-themed books or movies.
  • Noisemakers: A big part of Purim is Gragger, also known as the Ra’ashan or Gregor. This is a noisemaker. It makes noise. Parents might not like it, but kids…the kids will.

Purim Gifts Exchanged Online to Spread Your Joy

In the old days (the very old days) sending gifts maybe meant going across town. Everyone was close together, so actually sending things to people far away was pretty uncommon. But times are different now. We’re able to expand our community of loved ones out of town, across the country, and around the globe. We’re able to host a Purim gift exchange with people throughout the diaspora.

a nontraditional purim gift basket
A nontraditional Purim gift basket that still celebrates joy | Image courtesy Etsy seller Parcelly

One way to do that is by using an online gift exchange to arrange for a far-flung group of family and friends to send each other baskets, or at least the components thereof, no matter where they are in this big world. All you have to do is sign-up for free, and get your loved ones to do the same. You can even make it a mystery gift exchange, so people don’t know who they are getting their gift basket from. It’s like a basket-sized, closed up Hamantashen.

A really wonderful aspect of this is that you can make sure that everyone is taken care of. The online exchange is designed to ensure everyone has a match. It’s just like in the old days, when gifts were sent out to guarantee that everyone could celebrate this important community holiday together. A gift exchange helps keep that spirit of oneness alive, rekindling that huddled and warm sense of shared happiness no matter the globe-spanning distance between two people.

We give gifts at Purim to remember what was almost lost, and to celebrate what we still have. Haman tried to take everything away from the Jewish people, but he was stopped, and life went on, with all its absurdities and graces, all its sadnesses and joy, the terrors and the triumphs of the long millennia.

And through those centuries, throughout the world, Purim was celebrated, whether the basket had just two potatoes or was bursting with Hamantashen. It’s a way to celebrate being alive in the world with those you love. It’s a time to give, and to take joy in giving. It’s a time to remember the greatest lesson of all: that to be alive is to be blessed.

Take off your mask and dance! Tell us about your favorite Purim gift basket ideas on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting, browse our gift guides.