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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.

A Hopping Good Time: Easter Party Ideas for Toddlers, Kids, and the Young at Heart

A Hopping Good Time: Easter Party Ideas for Toddlers, Kids, and the Young at Heart

easter bunny eggs
You’re nobunny til somebunny loves you | Image courtesy Etsy seller Gnomewerkspdx

When we grow up, Easter tends to get unfairly short shrift. For one thing, it isn’t fixed in place like Christmas or always on the same weekend like Thanksgiving. Landing anywhere from late March to end of April, as adults in a life filled with responsibilities and hecticness, Easter can catch us by surprise.

But you know who loves Easter? Who looks forward to it every year? Kids. And what’s not to love? There’s candy, there’s the thrill of the egg hunt (because kids don’t know you can just go to the store for eggs, the adorable little goons), and of course, there are bunnies, the fluffy and cuddly kid-magnets synonymous with the holiday.

There’s more to it than that, though. I think kids just get excited by spring, with its atmosphere of warm renewal and crocus-pushing frost melt. Easter, both as a tradition and a time of year, promises a rebirth, the world unfurling again. Even toddlers, who might not fully remember the last holiday, know it’s important. They know it’s a season for growth.

So when throwing an Easter party for toddlers and kids, try to remember that feeling of awakening in yourself. Doing so can make for a party that’s fun for adults, too! We can all enjoy a good Easter celebration this year, with pastel traditions and egg-based humor. And that’s no yolk!

(Sorry.)

(I’m not actually sorry.)

Easter Party Theme Ideas for Toddlers and Young-At-Heart Adults

There’s more than one way to pet an Easter bunny. Throw a party the day of, or throw one beforehand. Either way, you’ll need to have some games and activities to make sure it’s one of the most memorable days of the year, and something to look forward to spring after spring.

Here are some ideas for parties that will leave both adults and children very hoppy, er, happy. Obviously, these can be mixed and matched any way you see fit.

The Easter Competition Party

One thing we love to do at our Easter parties is set up games for both kids and adults to play. Depending on how old the kids are, participation may vary, but they’re pretty suitable for anyone 3 and up.

pin tail on bunny game
Pin the tail on the Easter bunny | Image courtesy Etsy seller EmilyEntertains
  • The Egg Toss: This is the king of the Easter game because it combines the thematic importance of rebirth with people getting messy. Everyone pairs up and tosses eggs back and forth, getting farther apart each round, until only one pair has an unbroken egg. This is a lot of fun for adults and for kids because there is always the goofy tension of the egg hanging in the air. A variant for a younger crowd of toddlers could be having them toss a hard-boiled egg, or even rolling an egg across a table to each other.
  • The Bunny Hop Sack Race: All you need for this are enough sturdy bags (we prefer a good burlap bag designed for the purpose) and enough people who don’t mind falling down. You can have a kids’ race and an adults’ one, or just watch the kids hop around the lawn. This doesn’t even have to be a race, per se, it can just be an activity, with the kids hopping from tree to tree, each one getting a prize at various stops. For the adults though, it needs to be a race. After all, nothing inspires more fall down competition than ridiculousness.
  • Pin the Basket on the Bunny: All you need is a cutout of the Easter Bunny and some baskets to “pin” to his hand. There are a few variations on this. The basket could already be there, and the goal of the blindfolded participant would be to pin eggs to the basket. Or, you could even make it 3D, and have people try to drop eggs into a real basket while blindfolded (this is an outdoor game). Both kids and adults will enjoy this. It might be fun to see who is better!

The Crafty Easter Celebration

Part of the fun of Easter is that it is inherently DIY. From eggs to decorations, kids and adults can show off their creativity while celebrating the fresh, new season.

dyed Easter eggs
Coloring eggs is always a shell of a good time| Image courtesy flick’r user jriede
  • Egg decorating: This is wonderful no matter how old a kid is. Children as young as two can draw, and take their first fledgling steps at art. They know that eggs should be colorful, and as they get older, they’ll want to try different designs. You can use a classic egg-decorating kit, or use different crayons and markers or patterns. It’s an egg-cellent way to let imaginations hatch.
  • Build a Bunny: It’s like Build a Bear, only different. All you need are some felt or stuffed bunnies, and some patterns for clothes and accessories. Should Mr. Bunny have a top hat and a basket? Of course! Kids will have fun creating the Easter Bunny of their dreams.
  • An Easter-themed coloring book: Kids—and adults—love coloring books, and Easter, with its warm greens and bright pastels and daffodil yellows, is a perfect holiday for it. Get some coloring books for kids (and grown-ups!) and give yourself an hour of peace and quiet before or after the jelly bean-based sugar rush. Or, make your own customizable coloring book using your home computer and printer!

The Adventurous Easter Romp

Maybe you want to take your party to the next level of hip hoppity cool. Here are a couple ways you can do just that.

stuffed bunny
Are you telling me kids won’t be hoppy to see this guy? | Image courtesy Etsy seller SammieClarkArt
  • A scavenger hunt: Of course, you can do an Easter Egg hunt, which is always fun, but you can add more than just eggs. Hide items like coins, stuffed bunnies, toys, games, etc. If each child has a list of things to find, you can also ensure that everyone gets the same things, instead of the oldest kid hoarding 30 eggs while the rest of the kids cry. Let’s try to avoid that.
  • A visit from the Easter Bunny: A plush costume, a basket of eggs and candy, and a willingness for one of the adults to disappear for a bit are all that’s needed to make for a memorable Easter. It’s obvious that the kids will love this, especially the younger ones, and all the adults (or at least the ones who aren’t in the costume) will as well.
  • A petting zoo: This is obviously on the upper end, but there are a lot of organizations that will bring over rabbits for the kids to pet and play with. Who knows? It might end up sparking a lifetime of lepus love.

It’s funny. It’s easy for Easter to take us by surprise. Not in the Christmas sense of, “I can’t believe it’s only a week until Christmas where did the time go I NEED TO WRAP,” but in a literal way. We don’t always remember it’s coming. But when we do, it’s almost impossible not to get excited.

It’s spring again. Flowers are coming back. Birds are returning north. The kids know it; they know that life is about to start unwrapping itself. With these Easter party ideas, even us adults can remember what that was like, when we saw the world as new.

Bounce to social media and let us know about your favorite Easter party ideas. Tell us about them on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Imaginative Make Up Your Own Holiday Day Ideas That Celebrate Whatever Inspires You

Imaginative Make Up Your Own Holiday Day Ideas That Celebrate Whatever Inspires You

celebrate cake topper
Celebrate with this cake topper any day of the year | Image courtesy Etsy seller LettersToYou

Have you ever said something along the lines of, “Oh man, if I were president, I’d declare a national holiday for whoever invented string cheese.”  Well, it turns out that under a close reading of the Constitution, it isn’t only a president who can declare holidays. It isn’t even one of their primary duties. Anyone, in fact, can invent a holiday, and you should do so at the end of March.

March 26th is Make Up a Holiday Day, a day that celebrates the fact that we can celebrate whatever we want, even if we aren’t president. Think of something underappreciated, unknown, or just plain goofy that you think deserves to be celebrated. It’s a day to ask people what they think’s important, or talk to your kids about who they think should be recognized. It’s a day to reflect on what matters to you, whether it’s solemn and noble, or the concept of fun itself.

So this Sunday get together with friends and brainstorm on the kind of holidays you’d like to see. Who knows? Maybe soon enough they’ll be on the calendar. If Make Up a Holiday Day can get its own, well, day… anything goes!

A Quick Aside About Making Up a Holiday

pine forest mug
Arbor Day is taken, but what about “National Pine Forest Day”? Pine forests are outstanding! | Image courtesy Etsy seller TeideShop

It might seem weird to “make up” a holiday, but really all of them were made up by someone at some point who wanted to celebrate something. Arbor Day didn’t come to us from above, it came from someone saying, “Hey, know what’s awesome? Trees,” and everyone agreeing.

A holiday can be unofficial and still be celebrated (after all, it isn’t like National Talk Like a Pirate Day is recognized by Congress, though Michigan and California goofily honored it). Social media makes it all possible.

Great ideas are recognized, and build critical mass, and then suddenly everyone is celebrating something and adding their own touches. And really, it isn’t like you get Arbor Day off, so what is the difference between your new holiday and that one, aside from time and tradition. Nothing. And at some point, Arbor Day was new.  So go and start one.

(But also, really, plant a tree. You can even plant a sequoia! It’s a great gift for the person who has everything, and also 4000 years to watch it grow.)

Ideas for Quirky Holidays and Parties to Celebrate Them

So here are a few holiday ideas you can consider. Feel free to take inspiration from them, or even use them as your own, so long as you also propose a National Recognize That Guy Who Came up with This Holiday Day. (Oh, who am I kidding: St. Patrick’s Day is essentially already my holiday anyway).

millard Fillmore
This is Millard Fillmore. Not familiar to you? He was a US president | Image courtesy Wikimedia

Forgotten President’s Day

Technically, Presidents Day celebrates all 44 previous office holders, but most people only think of Washington and Lincoln, and maybe chuck in a Roosevelt or two for good measure. The others are forgotten, and having a day to remember them can actually make for a surprisingly fun party. This isn’t a celebration of truly bad presidents like James Buchanan or Warren G “Regulator” Harding. It’s more of a celebration of the weird quirks of history, that these people who were incredibly powerful, and who worked their whole lives for something, end up dusty and forgotten.

So for your party, assign everyone some obscure president. Have them dress up (your old-timey hat and wig distributor will be thrilled), and have them bring some trivia to do a brief reenactment. This will challenge your friends’ creativity, while also shedding light on the very real events that made us who we are. After all, history didn’t jump from Jackson to Lincoln. People like Franklin Polk made big differences, for better and worse. Who knew? Probably not even Franklin Polk.

National Weird Food Day

Not too long ago, my wife was babysitting my brother’s triplets (!) and when he got home, he made himself a peanut butter and cheese sandwich. No bread, just peanut butter between two slices of cheddar. She was stunned because she makes fun of me for eating that all the time. Neither my brother nor I knew the other one ate them because we never asked, because we both just think it’s normal. Because it is…

Tastes like chicken
Tastes like… | Image courtesy Etsy seller EvenInDeathArt

Every family has weird eating quirks that they take for granted. Same goes for every region and every culture. And that can make for a great party. Have guests come over bearing dishes that, as they grew up, they learned that not everyone eats. It’s a celebration of the strange ways our experiences shape us, and a joyful gathering of the differences that really make us all the same.

Some dishes will be weird to you, and some will be like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. “Where have you been all my life?” you’ll say to spaghetti and jelly.

OK, probably not that. But maybe? And that’s the point.

National Calvinball Day

If you’re making up a holiday, why not make up one that celebrates the very joy of creativity? Calvinball, for those of you who don’t know, is from Calvin and Hobbes, the greatest comic strip of all time (though I’ll hear arguments for Peanuts and Krazy Kat, of course). If you don’t already own the entire collection, Calvinball is a game where the only rule is that there are no rules. You can make it up as you go along, and force the other person to play by your rules as you make them.

Calvin and Hobbes quote
It will all make sense… | Image courtesy Etsy seller CountryHouseStudios

A typical game might involve Calvin hitting a badminton birdie into a tree with a polo mallet to go up Oogy to Boogey, before learning that the Vortex Zone he decreed Hobbes to be in is secretly a Boomerang Zone, so he has to spin. It’s a tough game.

So at the party, encourage people to make up their own rules. Everyone gets a turn. If they say that for the next minute everyone has to sing the theme song to Mr. Belvedere, everyone has to sing the theme song to Mr. Belvedere. If someone decrees that there is going to be a 30-second contest for who can make the coolest tower out of what’s on the cheese platter, it’s time to get all Frank Gehry on some dairy. If someone else decrees it to be time to go outside and play Calvinball, well, you know the drill.

Or rather, you don’t know the drill, and that’s what makes it so exciting. When you’re coming up with something new, it’s unformed. So many holidays have traditions that you don’t have to follow, but you feel weird when you don’t. If we didn’t have ham on Easter, I’d feel strange, even though there’s no real connection between ham and spring, you know?

But when starting from scratch, it’s up to you. But it is also up to the way people interpret your holiday. When you propose and promote a holiday, it might just be between you and your friends. But it might grow and catch on, and you’ll realize something amazing: what is important to you means something to other people as well, and they might want to celebrate it too. And that’s a real connection.

Isn’t that what holidays are all about? We celebrate these connections between us; they’re a joint sense that something is important, whether it’s as goofy as talking like a pirate or as solemn as honoring the fallen brave. Because they are a reminder that there’s something bigger than just ourselves, and that we are bonded in ways we don’t even realize. Every holiday is a raised glass to the threads that bind.

What holiday would you like to see become part of the canon? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

An April Fools’ Day Gag Gift Exchange and Prank Party Ideas That Are No Joke

An April Fools’ Day Gag Gift Exchange and Prank Party Ideas That Are No Joke

 

hollowed out book
What goes in is up to them | Image courtesy Etsy seller BookLoveGifts

Maybe the first recorded prank in history was when the Greek army hid themselves in a giant horse and pretended it was a gift to the Trojan people. While the Trojans slept, the Greeks slipped out, yelled “Surprise!,” and… well, it didn’t go too well for the Trojans. Not funny? Maybe the joke gets lost in translation. Maybe you had to be there (pro tip: you should not have been there).

Pranks these days are a little more about silly jokes and tricks, and less about pillage. We also usually reserve them for April Fools’ Day, a day so rife with mischief that everyone is on edge, wondering if everything they hear is a joke.

That’s what makes it such a great day for a party celebrating goofy fun with a gag gift exchange. A lot of people don’t like April Fools’ Day because they think it’s just a chance to be cruel—and to be fair, we all know the guy who says, “Hey, the boss wants to see you now… April Fools,” then yuks it up over your irregular heart palpitations. But it’s not meant to be a day for malice or mean-spiritedness. It’s a day to have a good time reveling in the absurdity of everything, of life. It’s wearing mustache sunglasses not to disguise yourself, but to show who you really are.

So have a celebration! Exchange gifts! Just don’t invite your friends for a party, and then claim it was just a joke. They might still make you provide snacks. Better use my party ideas instead.

No Fooling: Gag Gift Exchange Ideas

One year at my office, a buddy of mine decided it would be a good idea to have an April Fools’ gift exchange. At first, I was confused. Were we actually having an exchange? Or were we not? And if so, were we swapping real gifts?

handmade chocolates
Handmade chocolates are no joke | Image courtesy Etsy seller LaviniaWilsonsChoc

I didn’t understand the goofy (or dark) genius of it all. It was a real gift exchange, but you didn’t know if you were going to get a gag gift or a real one. You didn’t know if your gift was going to actually be a prank, or if you were just so worried that a nice, normal gift was, in fact, a prank that you didn’t want to accept it. It played with the very concept of pranks in such a way that anything was possible, making the unexpected the expected.

This was perfectly illustrated by my gift: a box of assorted chocolates. It’s well-known in certain parts that I love those old-fashioned assorted chocolate boxes. Also well-known is my almost heroic (Homeric) bravery. I never just nibble a chocolate or look at the maps and legends. No, I just bite right in. It could be sea salt and caramel (bliss). It could be coconut (terror). But the point is, you never know. And that’s what made it such a good gag gift.

I was terrified of what could be in them. Was the nougat somehow replaced with mud or castor oil? Was there a mouse? Or worst of all, were they all coconut? Could such evil exist? I couldn’t eat one all day, so nervous was I. Of course, it turned out to be just a perfectly delicious box of candies. But the joke was the very idea that it could be a joke. It was brilliant.

fake beetle
A terrifyingly unnatural beetle | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheAmateurNaturalist

Now it’s your turn to explore the boundaries of what makes a clever prank. Set up a gift exchange, so that whether you’re hosting it in your office or with friends across the country, you can be sure that everyone who wants to be involved can be in an easy and organized way. Save the uncertainty for the actual gifts.

Some other great gag gift ideas include:

  • A very realistic fake bug: Can also be used as a paperweight, regifted, or sent shrieking through the window!
  • Funny personalized plates: I like this one that says, “You’ve been poisoned by XYZ.” With this gift, you aren’t pulling a prank on someone, but giving them a way to play a trick on someone else.
  • A dribble glass: Is it corny? Yes. Is it old-fashioned? Yes. Is the dribble glass still funny every time? Of course it is.
  • A hollowed-out book: This is a great gift if the person is bookish because at first they’re excited about getting a book… until they see it isn’t actually real. Such a good gag! But then, they realize it’s actually still useful, and fun, and it’s something they’ll use—and think about you when they do. Maybe the perfect combination of a gag and a thoughtful gift.

Throwing an April Fools’ Day Party… for Real

As you may know if you read this blog, my wife and I don’t need much of an excuse to have a party; we’ve been known to throw them for such special occasions as “a new color of the year” or “the changing of the season into fall.”  So while having a party for April Fools’ Day isn’t totally normal, it isn’t completely unexpected from us either. The only surprise is what the celebration entails.

the patron saint of pranks
Philip Neri is the Patron Saint of Practical Jokes, if you want an inspiration for your party. That’s not a joke. | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

So, the party is a standard one. You don’t have to have costumes or an over-riding theme with it—and that’s sort of the point. It should seem like a standard get-together (chips, dip, some music), except that around every corner, there’s an opportunity for a joke.

Remember that you aren’t having a party to humiliate your friends with cruel pranks or a laugh at their expense. That’s sort of lame and pretty childish and only fun for a brief and acrid second. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun at all.

The nice thing about being an adult is that the stuff that’s silly and funny when you’re a kid can still be silly and funny now. You laugh at, just differently, at the goofiness and cheesiness of it. Such ideas like glow-in-the-dark eyeball ice cubes won’t actually scare anyone, but they might produce a quick start before the mark dissolves into giggles at how delightfully dumb it is. The realistic toy alligator in the bathroom will do the same.

If you want to go bigger, why not try putting toothpaste in Oreos? Not in all of them, of course. Just a few. You want it to be a surprise. I’ve also seen people put out a bowl where Skittles, M&Ms, and Reese’s Pieces are all mixed together. Throwing a handful into your mouth produces a very unusual taste sensation.

The whole point is to have fun, to laugh at yourselves, and to laugh with each other. Make sure you stay in people’s comfort zones. It’s true that the classic idea of “the fool” is to highlight the absurdity in others, but there’s enough that’s annoying and frustrating and downright scary right now. Use the day to highlight the silly laughter that comes from love, from dumb jokes, and from the kind of pranks that bring people together. The day might be about gags, but it’s really just a Trojan Horse smuggling in friendship.

It’s not a joke! Elfster wants to hear your favorite April Fools’ Day stories. Tell us about them on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Weight Watchers Members “Send the Love” on Connect Using Elfster’s Gift Exchanges

Weight Watchers Members “Send the Love” on Connect Using Elfster’s Gift Exchanges

Eleanor Roosevelt, who paved the way for so many strong and independent women leaders, famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Her statements were backed up a few years later by one Lady Gaga, who noted, “Remember there’s always someone fighting for you.”

send the love
#WWSendTheLove on Elfster

Both of these women are expressing that being strong, and gaining strength from other’s encouragement, are still relevant. When doing something difficult, it helps to have a strong community to back you up, keep you inspired, and help ferry you across those dark nights of the soul.

But that’s what can make changing habits and losing weight so difficult. It’s really one of the most personal and individual things you can do. It’s all about your body and your actions. It can be hard to make a community out of something so atomized. But that’s what Weight Watchers has done, and by using cool new social media technology, and the magic of gift exchange services, a group of Weight Watchers members have taken it even further.

Social media has made it easier than ever to find like-minded, encouraging people to help us through tough times and to help us summit difficult peaks. Healthy weight loss, which is really a sustained lifestyle choice, is one of those challenging summits. But by forming a community of support, and by sending each other gifts to help create a stronger community that knows each other better, a nationwide group has expanded exponentially. They’re connected by technology. They’re connected by a shared struggle. They’re connected by the victories that happen every day. And, in this sometimes autonomous world, they’re connected by friendship.

As the Lifetime Weight Watchers member who co-runs the group, Stephanie Keller, tells us: they hang together.

Finding Friendship Across the Country

The most amazing part about the group is that people are nice, and are almost unrelentingly positive and supportive—an enormous difference from so many other parts of the internet, which (spoiler alert!) can be mean. Anonymous online users on other sites are sometimes known for tearing others down for a quick anonymous thrill. That’s not conducive to healthy attitudes. But, as Stephanie explained to us, her Weight Watchers Connect group doesn’t have any of that.

inspirational sign
Finding others to help you stay strong can make your courage grow | Image courtesy Etsy seller PRINTANDPROUD

“Connect,” she explained, “is like Facebook, but it’s entirely positive. No one is ever negative on there. People share stuff and tell each other things that they can never share anywhere else. People admit to troubles and addictions. They share their stories. And the best part is that they’re supportive and motivational. On the internet, to virtual strangers, they’re sharing their before and after pictures. It’s safe. Nobody wants to see someone else fail.”

You could hear the excitement in Stephanie’s voice as she told us about the growth of Connect, which users join through the Weight Watchers app. She mentions that it’s “very hashtag based,” which can be intimidating to some users, but it’s also very user-friendly, and everyone is extremely helpful; Stephanie believes that’s the most important part.

“Everybody that’s on there struggles with their weight somehow, and some members have no one who’s supportive in their life. That’s where Connect comes in. I’ve made friends all over the country on there and we’re now friends offline too. Everybody is really, really kind on there.”

But some people have taken it a step further with a #WWSendTheLove group. We profiled them last year, talking to founder Stephanie Encin, when the group had really just started to get going. The idea was simple: members of the group would send each other motivational gifts to help each other with their journey. It was instantly a huge success.

Since then, Stephanie Encin turned the reigns over to Stephanie Keller and Davita Ritchie in October 2016, who before this technology would probably never have met (Stephanie is in New Jersey, and Davita lives in New Mexico). Their group has grown ever since, with as many as 850 participants. It’s something both incredibly simple, and emotionally wonderful: a gift exchange. It’s how they turn a community of like-minded, friendly, encouraging people into actual friends.

The Gift of Friendship

The group uses the Elfster Gift Exchange, which makes a nationwide program incredibly manageable and fun. It’s purely voluntary: you sign up to give and receive a gift box from someone else in your group every month. For about $25, people fill their box with 10-12 little, inspirational items. But the real heart of it is that you learn about the person you’re matched with.

Stephanie explained that it wasn’t just a matter of getting assigned a random person, and then sending them something. You may already sort of know them through Connect, or maybe they’re a total stranger, but, once matched, you start talking to them. You chat or exchange messages about what they like, where they live, who they are, and more. You discover their needs and wants, and then you send them something. For example, if someone you know was having a spring party, you might send them something green and seasonal.

And you get something too! “It’s like Christmas every month,” says Stephanie.

inspirational mug
Mugs are a gift that keeps on giving Image courtesy Etsy seller TheGiftableGoodies

Some gift ideas include:

  • Motivational posters: When facing challenges, it’s always good to have something that bucks you up, lifts your spirit, and gives you the strength to keep going. Posters can be moving or funny, but if they’re sent with your gift partner in mind, they’ll always be meaningful.
  • Inspirational calendars: I love 365-day calendars, whether they’re words or movie quotes or comics. But when faced with the daily challenges of healthy eating, a calendar with a different inspirational quote every day can be as fresh a wake-up as a cup of coffee.
  • Coffee mugs: Of course, real coffee is also as important as metaphorical coffee, which is why mugs are always a great gift.
  • Weight Watchers-inspired cookbooks: The best part about Weight Watchers is that you can make delicious meals while maintaining points and using the right ingredients. The organization has many cookbooks that make healthy eating easy and fun. It’s a great way to keep your friend on the path.

But one of the great joys is that this is a national group, so you get interesting gifts from all over the country. One of Stephanie’s favorite gifts was a genuine Alaskan Ulu knife.

Other popular gifts include water bottles or food items, like powdered peanut butter, and foodstuffs that can only be found in certain regions. Some members don’t have a Whole Foods, Aldi, or Trader Joe’s near them, but their gift exchange partner might. They might receive something they’ve been craving from afar, in a Christmas box in the middle of the spring.

A Few of Your Favorite Things

In January, Oprah got involved with the Weight Watchers Connect program, giving it that patented Oprah boost. But Stephanie thinks the Queen of Daytime should also get to know the #WWSendTheLove group.

gift ideas
Inspirational gifting ideas from the Send the Love exchange

“This is about people helping people,” she tells us. “This is a really great, motivational, positive program. People come back month after month. They don’t have to do it again, but they do. I get tagged and emailed all day long from people wanting to join. It was started by one person, and now it’s huge. It’s the power of people.” Stephanie believes that if Weight Watchers really got behind this—and who knows, maybe even Oprah—that it could be taken to the next level.

At Elfster, we can testify to their power. We’re proud to say that they’re the largest group we’ve ever hosted! Gift exchanges are a fun way to bring groups of friends closer together, or to turn groups of strangers into friends. It’s easy to get started, and as Stephanie and Davita show, they can be run by people on opposite sides of the country as if they were in the same room. That’s what makes them such a great tool for bonding; in a way, they bring the whole community into a big room.

And at the end, the bigger the community, the more people can feel loved. They can feel friendship and non-judgemental connections. It’s how strength is formed, and how real life changes are made. And it just makes life more fun! It’s the gift of being alive, and being a part of something. Stephanie and Davita’s group embraces technology, and relies on it, but it isn’t a technological solution. It’s people connecting to people. If more of life could come down to that, we’d all be better off.

Interested in joining the fun? Look up these hashtags on Weight Watchers Connect: #sendthelove, #wwsendthelove, #wwsendthelove(month), and #sendthelove(month). Stephanie and Davita can also be reached on Connect at @StephanieKeller65 or @LadyRoscoe.

Are you part of a community that uses a gift exchange? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.