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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.

National Read Across America Day Ideas for an Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party

National Read Across America Day Ideas for an Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party

“Dear dear, how queer everything is today. And yesterday things went on just as usual!”

mad tea party
Celebrate reading with an Alice-inspired party | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever had a Mad Tea Party? To do so, one has to be warned, is to abdicate any sense of rules or decorum. It is to embrace nonsense as the guiding principle: pure, anarchic nonsense of the kind that leads to sloshed tea cups and wild, wordy toasts, circumlocutions that never quite make a circle. It’s bonkers, of course, and you’ll be bonkers for joining in. But the best people are.

The worlds created by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass are celebrations of many things. They’re mathematical metaphors. They’re lovely and adventurous excursions into the gleeful jungles of language. Most of all, they’re an ode to imagination, wonder, and the persistent logic of children in a world that grownups make upside down and absurd with rules and customs. It’s why Alice, sweet and wonderful, stubborn and brave Alice, has persisted for over a hundred years. And it’s why we celebrate her, and Carroll, on National Read Across America Day.

Today, March 2nd, the National Education Association is proud to celebrate Read Across America Day, when educators, parents, librarians—anyone who loves the gift of books—shares that magic with children. One of the authors celebrated this year is Lewis Carroll, which is why we think that it’s the perfect time to have an Alice in Wonderland-themed party. Send out fanciful Wonderland-themed invitations to friends, and make sure the children are there. Have your amazing Alice in Wonderland-inspired bookmarks from Elfster for party favors. And, don’t be late, for the Duchess will be savage.

EAT ME and DRINK ME: Refreshments for the Party

“First, however, she waited for a few minutes to see if she was going to shrink any farther. She felt a little nervous about this. ‘For it might end, you know,’ said Alice to herself, ‘in my going out altogether. I wonder what I should be like then?’ And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.”

an alice mug
Let your drink slosh about | Image courtesy Etsy seller ArtsyPumpkin

The first thing you’ll need, of course, is tea. You can’t have a Mad Tea Party without it. At the very least, you’ll want to have some unexpectedly delightful teacups (preferably with a saucer to catch the sloshings). Not every kid likes tea, though, and depending on the ages of your party guests you might not want to have hot liquids, but you can fill a teapot with anything. Just remember that if you’re in the spirit of things, it’ll get messy. After all, they’ll be toasting with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse.

For nibbles to eat, they mostly had cakes and crackers, and little English sweet things. You might not be able to get the exact kind, so cupcakes and cookies will do. Make sure, though, that you have EAT ME signs and DRINK ME tags on all the sweets and beverages.

If you’re having a party just for adults, consider serving Mock Turtle Soup. It’s an English dish that was cheaper than actual turtle soup, using sirloin, eggs, chicken broth, and a lot of seasoning. It’s pretty delicious, and simple to make. It’s themed, of course, because Alice meets an actual Mock Turtle, who tries to regale her with his tale of woe, although he’s constantly interrupted by a Griffin, much to sweet Alice’s intemperate annoyance.

You might feel bad about eating Mock Turtle Soup, but Alice herself said that she’s seen it “at Dinn…,” to which the Turtle responds that he doesn’t know where Dinn may be. All the better, perhaps.

Playtime for the Imagination: Lunatic Croquet and the Lobster Quadrille

“The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo.”

With all the madness and the fun (and the tea and cupcakes), the kids at the party should be pretty revved up. Here are a few activities for them:

Lunatic Croquet

This is probably the most famous scene in the book: the game of croquet with the Queen of Hearts. The mallets are flamingos and the balls are hedgehogs and the arches are the Queen’s playing cards, and they all scramble around to help the demented and distorted old head-chopper win the game. Alice thinks this is dreadfully unfair, but the lawless nature of it makes it perfect for kids.

lunatic croquet
Don’t use actual flamingos and hedgehogs | Image courtesy Etsy seller TinyRed

Get a good children’s deluxe croquet set, set it up in the yard, and let them go nuts (employing proper mallet safety, of course). There doesn’t need to be any rules. They should take delight in the thwacking. There are just too many rules everywhere for kids. They can’t go here and they shouldn’t see this and they certainly can’t watch that. Before they become adults, with our imaginations limited by customs and shoved into these costumes of grown-ups, let them play.

Lobster Quadrille

If that’s not enough, maybe it’s time to dance the Lobster Quadrille. That’s a dance the Mock Turtle teaches Alice, and it involves throwing lobsters in the sea, doing somersaults, and running around. There are also snails involved. You’re not really going to be able to do it. And that’s ok. The whole point is for the kids to just…join the dance. Have them make it up.

Let each kid create a short dance to teach to the other kids. It could be to the tune of the Lobster Quadrille (the Franz Ferdinand version or the classic one), or whatever tune pops into their wild and unfettered heads when you read them the lyrics.

“Will you walk a little faster,” said the whiting to the snail

“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail”

See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance

They are waiting on the shingle- will you come and join the dance

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you come and join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you come and join the dance?

Reading Keeps Childhood Alive

“A cat may look at a king,” Alice said. “I read that in a book somewhere, but I don’t remember where.”

Will you, won’t you? Won’t you join? That’s what National Read Across America Day is all about. It’s about having kids join a magical club, one where the only limit is imagination, and in the mind of a beautiful genius like Lewis Carroll, that means there are no limitations.

vintage lewis carroll book
Vintage Carroll | Image courtesy Etsy seller PrettyHappyVintage

So make sure that you have everyone gather round, and read from the book. Maybe the kids have seen the movies. Maybe even in your head, the ideas are dominated by the Tim Burton renditions or, more likely, the classic cartoon. And that’s fine. Those are both wonderful.

But something magical happens when you start reading, and it happens to young and old alike. His words, and her thoughts and feelings, create their own images in your head. You see Alice as every child, as your children, or as someone close to you. Or maybe you reach back and put your own childhood in there. Because that’s what it is. Alice is who we are when we allow ourselves to be children, and she’s who children are at their most ferociously curious, when asking why is less a question than a driving need. It’s a time when exploring the next room means finding the entire universe. Alice chased a rabbit, and found a new world. Every day should be like that for children.

Reading allows them to do that, which is why after all the running and sloshing, the heart of the party should be the book. You give them that impossible galaxy of childhood. And that’s something they’ll keep—forever. By sparking imagination with Carroll’s words, you can help make sure that the sweet longings of childhood are never fully extinguished, and carry with them throughout their long and lovely lives. Lewis Carroll says it best, as Alice’s sister reflects on the dream her younger sister told her:

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

Don’t forget your Alice-themed bookmarks or our Wonderland Gift Guide! How are you celebrating Read Across America Day? What’s your favorite book? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Lewis Carroll gift guide.

Bring Your Brogue: Charmed St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas Inspired by The Quiet Man

Bring Your Brogue: Charmed St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas Inspired by The Quiet Man

the Quiet Man
The Quiet Man | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

There’s an Irish pub near my home that I frequent quite often. It was my dad’s favorite place, and we were often the only people there born this side of the Atlantic. Warm and homey, it was thick with brogues and resplendent with laughter. I once took my soon-to-be-in-laws there and a friend of mine introduced himself to them saying, “Many a times have I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in this very pub with Brian. And, a few of those times, it was even St. Patrick’s Day!”

St. Patrick’s Day has always been incredibly important to me. I’ve attended, and thrown, more Patty’s Day parties than I can count. But after a while, you begin to realize they’re all pretty much the same thing: shamrocks on the wall, maybe a green drink or two, and Irish classics on the radio. The holiday doesn’t seem to have much variety. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Last year, I decided to throw a party themed after one of my favorite movies, The Quiet Man. It’s a classic film starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara set in a small town in the countryside of Ireland. It’s wildly funny, sentimental, moving, and a great love letter to the Emerald Isle from director John Ford. Hosting a themed party challenged me in terms of decorations and events—and challenged my guests to come costumed. But it was worth it.

It turned out that throwing a party inspired by The Quiet Man was the loudest party of all. 

Transforming Your Home into Innisfree

To briefly sum up the movie, John Wayne plays an American boxer named Sean Thornton who decides to move back to his home country of Ireland where he was born before moving to Pittsburgh as a baby. Growing up among the “steel slag hills,” he was told of the greenery and beauty of his native town of Innisfree. So he moves there, soon falling in love with the fiery Mary-Kate Danaher—but the marriage is forbidden by her brother. Romance, drama, and comedy ensue. It’s all incredibly Irish, with outstanding dialogue and a comic master performance by Barry Fitzgerald. It’s a truly great film.

shamrock pallets
Painted pallet shamrocks | Image courtesy Etsy seller R2KPallets

To throw a party inspired by it, you first have to recreate the mood and feeling of a small Irish town before modernity took hold. Start with the feeling of the pub where, unsurprisingly, a lot of the action happens. Order personalized bar signs with your name, or perhaps the name of the main pub in Innisfree, Cohen’s. You can also put up an Irish flag, although Ireland wasn’t technically independent when the movie takes place.

But it doesn’t stop there. To give your home the feel of old Innisfree, consider making it more, well, rustic. John Wayne’s character lives in a thatched cottage; he redid the roof himself. So I bought some thatch that may have been meant for a tiki party, but, if you put it up on the ceiling, it creates a cozy, woody feeling (rather than a hot and tropical one). Your guests will feel like they’re beneath an Irish cottage’s thatched roof, freshly pulled from the fields and dried.

Finally, I blew up pictures of the lusciously green Irish countryside taken on trips, and put them in windowpane-style picture frames so that it seemed like you were looking out the windows into a still, misty emerald afternoon, even in the loud raucous of my basement.

Tweeds and Wools in Greens and Browns

tweed accessories
Tweedy accessories | Image courtesy Etsy seller CELTICFUSIONDESIGN

So you have your home the way you want it, but what about you and your guests? While I never require costumes at my parties (because I’d rather people came), I don’t mind throwing ones where costumes are encouraged. And this one is fun, and pretty easy.

For the Women

Maureen O’Hara has quite a few iconic looks in the movie, including a frilly green dress with a bonnet (ideal for a rain-soaked romp in an old cemetery), blue top and white skirt for the climactic “chase” scene, and of course the jacket and knit cap she wears when first she meets Sean Thornton.

Now, of course, you don’t have to emulate her look entirely. Any knit cap will do. You want tweedy and earthy, vibrant colors that aren’t too rich, but look like the countryside. This isn’t fancy dress. It’s homey and homemade, passed down through the years, and brought out when an American gentleman comes courting.

But remember: Mary Kate Danaher is no passive wallflower. Make sure the clothes can contain a proud temper.

For the Men

A lot of the characters in the film wear suits, but that isn’t as much fun as the wooly Irish cap, the biggest necessity for your outfit. Just pair it with a sturdy button-up shirt and pants that can be worn in the field, church, or pub. If you have the hat, nearly any look—suit, suspenders, overcoat—is automatically reminiscent of the Emerald Isle. Of course, there’s also always a kilt.

Music for an Irish Jig

st. Patrick's Day Party Ideas
Honorary Irish | Image courtesy Etsy seller MossandTwigPrints

There’s a saying by G.K. Chesterton:

“The great Gaels of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad

For all their wars are merry

And all their songs are sad.”

He’s wrong about all the songs being sad, but he does capture how music is an intrinsic part of Irish culture, and how you’ll be needing some for your party.

There are the traditional rousing pub songs (“Whiskey You’re the Devil”, “Whiskey in the Jar”), the sad songs (“Danny Boy”, “The Ferryman”), and the patriotic songs (“Up the Rebels”, “The Rising of the Moon”).

Maybe my favorite sad/rousing/patriotic song is “Wild Colonial Boy,” which is also sung by the characters in Quiet Man. And don’t forget, of course, The Quiet Man theme, which is melodic and rousing. You can go modern as well, with the quintessential sing-along song, ”The Wild Rover,” sung here by The Pogues.

plains of Ireland
Not actually the view from my basement | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Music is incredibly important to help set the mood. You can imagine people gathering in a warm pub out of the misty night, coming in from their fields and out of their homes, gathering around a fire, clinking glasses, and singing the songs of that tragic and poetic and merry and absurd land.

It’s that land The Quiet Man celebrates. Every character has their private sorrows beneath their open cheer, and everyone, even the main villain, loves their country with a deep and encompassing passion.

So make merry. Recite your favorite lines from the movie. And know that while shamrocks don’t always bring luck, when you have your friends gathered in your own private Innisfree, you already have all the fortune this life can bring.

How are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? Do you have any movie-themed party plans? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Celebrate Greenery, Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year, with a Return to Spring Dinner Party

Celebrate Greenery, Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year, with a Return to Spring Dinner Party

spring field
You can never hold back spring, or its greenery | Image courtesy Stocksnap.io user Allef Vincius

My wife and I live in Chicago, near Lake Michigan. We walk to the shore often to appreciate its wild beauty, an untameable giant abutting one of man’s great cities. And while it is beautiful, the howling and biting wind that whips off it this time of year reminds us that we live in a very cold area. Once Christmas passes, our thoughts and hopes immediately begin to turn to spring.  

This year, our longing for a change of seasons came a little early, partly because it’s been a mild winter, which makes me think spring is just around the corner (spoiler: it isn’t!), but also because we learned that Pantone’s Color of the Year 2017 is Greenery.

Pantone produces the best color guides out there. If you want Sky Blue to look exactly like the sky, you go to Pantone. Fashion mavens and manufacturing professionals, packaging businesses and graphic artists all turn to them. And, this year, they’ve decided we could all use a little more Greenery, described as a “fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when nature’s greens revive, restore, and renew,” as well as “life-affirming.” Honestly, we agree.

That’s why we’ve already started planning a “Return to Spring” party. We’ll be hosting our soiree as soon as March goes out like a lamb, which could be early this year. A spring party can have many themes, with many ways to celebrate, but here are some ideas to make sure your renewal celebrations feel like something new, fresh, and dewy, with earth-bursting hope.

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Greenery Sets the Tone

floral spring wreath
Open your party with something pretty | Image courtesy Etsy seller Leopard

The cool thing about Greenery is that it works well with so many other colors. Pantone calls it a “transition color,” as it fits on a bunch of different spectrums, everything from Forest Floor to Moody Blooms to Calm It Down. When choosing colors for your party, you have a lot to work with, and it comes down to personal choice.

Myself, I kind of like calmer spring colors, something bright, but still a little subdued, with a hint of winter’s cold still trapped inside. I usually lean toward darker violets, purples, and reddish-pink for accents. It feels to me more transitory, less abrupt.

Of course, you may prefer brighter paisleys, more explosive reds and yellows, or the pastel colors of Easter. Anything you choose will be great, but you should try to pick a dominant theme. And this might depend on if your party is simply to celebrate the changing of the seasons, or if you’re tying it to a specific date or event.

A Spring Fling Theme

There are so many reasons to have a spring party. My favorite is “just because,” as in “a party just because we’ve made it through the teeth of another Midwest winter, and, also, I’m bored.” But in case you were looking for more themed ideas, here are a few good ones:

spring derby hat
A Kentucky Derby party demands great hats | Image courtesy Etsy seller IrinaSardarevaHats
  • Spring Equinox: The Spring Equinox is officially on March 20th in the Northern Hemisphere this year, which falls on a Monday. For those of you who can’t host a Monday party (read: most of us), it’s ok to have it on the preceding or following weekend. Set up a fake Stonehenge. Honor Dionysius with wine and bread. Or, have guests make pledges for the rest of the year, fresh with the gift of renewal. For some reason, a lot of people also try to balance eggs on the Equinox, although the symbolism there is unclear.
  • Cinco de Mayo: This Mexican holiday happens on the 5th of May, which this year is conveniently on a Friday. If you want to have a party along these lines, make sure you have a good margarita set, plenty of delicious Mexican dishes, and, most importantly, a sincere appreciation for a wonderful and vibrant culture. This year, make a pledge to honor what makes the diversity around us so wonderful, and something to be celebrated, instead of just borrowed.
  • The Kentucky Derby: “And they’re off!” My wife loves the Kentucky Derby, and it’s hard not to. The raw power of galloping horses, the thrill of competition, the age-old traditions, and, of course, the hats. People love getting dolled up in seersucker and fancy dresses with eye-catching headwear while enjoying fine finger foods and mint juleps. This year the Derby is on the 6th of May.

The Many Colors of Spring

mason jar bouquet
Feels like a farm afternoon | Image courtesy Etsy seller EmpatheticElephant

But, again, you don’t need a specific date to recognize the coming spring, you just need to recognize it. Which is why this year we’re going to plan for a few activities for our dinner party, including making flower arrangements. After all, Greenery evokes feelings of a bouquet just waiting to bloom. Why not make a real one?

You might remember that my wife and I love rustic farm-style everything, like our rustic farmhouse-inspired dinner party last fall. Over the years, we’ve collected a bunch of mason jars of different colors, sizes, and styles that we’ll pull out for our guests to use, as well as a supply of thin rope and twine, and flowers of all different colors. Then, we’ll just encourage guests to play with and explore creating their own spring arrangements. Some of the flowers we’ll be providing include:

  • Daffodils (with their bursts of yellow and white)
  • Anemone (whose pale blue seems bolder against the green)
  • Tulips of any color
  • Lily of the Valley (normally late spring, but blooms early with a mild winter)
  • Witch Hazel (yellow or red and blooms late winter to early spring if we have an earlier party)

Set a Spring Feast for Your Guests

Our Greenery-inspired party is planned, but we’re still debating on the meal. We’ve narrowed it down to:

spring green onions
Bringing green to your table | Image courtesy flick’r user Eugene Kim

Roast Chicken with Spring Onions and Fennel: This is one of my favorite dishes, and is surprisingly simple, with the spring onions providing a buoyant and crisp, but not overwhelming flavor. Ideally, you can get the spring onions and the fennel very fresh, like from a farmers’ market, when both are still bulbing.   

Or

Rabbit Confit: Rabbits are a sign of spring’s renewal, so why not enjoy their bounty. That’s my argument, anyway, and this recipe, which finishes with a brief taste of barbeque smoke, makes spring feel like the prelude to summer, rather than just the end of winter.

And that’s sort of what it’s all about. Spring, to me, is a state of mind. When I start reading about pitchers and catchers reporting to training in late February, I already feel the warmth of a baseball game, even if it is snowy outside. I start to get the feeling of the grade-schooler who stares at the clock, knowing that each moment brings her a little closer to running around a playground.

That’s what a spring party offers. It reminds me that underneath these wintering layers, my friends are still there, still with their same jokes and excitement for tomorrow. I know that the scratchy skeleton trees will bloom again, occluding our windows with their glorious greenery. I know it’s coming. Planning for a party lets the colorful spring butterflies flutter inside me.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate the coming of spring? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Meatballs and Meditation: How to Host an Eat, Pray, Love Friendship Book Club Soiree

Meatballs and Meditation: How to Host an Eat, Pray, Love Friendship Book Club Soiree

Just after Valentine’s Day 2006, at a time when people thought print was dying and new books couldn’t move the needle, a comedic memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, at once both reverent and irreverent, cynical and romantic, hit the shelves. Despite (or maybe because of) the romantic holiday having just passed, it became an immediate best-seller. This was Eat, Pray, Love, a tale of divorce, frustration, and travel. It is, at its essence, deeply human. And that’s why it was, and still is, so celebrated.

eat pray love sign
Eat and pray and love | Image courtesy Etsy seller WoodSignStudio

To say it was a phenomenon is an understatement. It remained on the New York Times best-seller list for an astonishing 187 weeks. It was sanctified by Oprah. Its popularity only grew when the 2010 movie version, with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem came out. And now, it is a staple of book clubs and friendships, and people still have Eat, Pray, Love parties.

There’s a good reason for that. What do we do when we gather with friends? We eat, of course, celebrating the fundamental and the libertine luxuries of life. We celebrate the connection we have with each other, and the spiritual energy that flows within us. And, most of all, we celebrate love.

So if you’re thinking of hosting an Eat, Pray, Love party, here are a few tips. You want to offer a holistic experience, much like Gilbert did. You want to celebrate and laugh, you want to think and learn, and you want to be connected with your friends and loved ones. A well-thrown Eat, Pray, Love party doesn’t have to take you around the world. It just has to let you travel the universe.

EAT!

There’s a very good reason why Gilbert traveled to Italy to indulge her corporeal side: very few people celebrate the joy of eating well with more verve than the Italians. Food is a huge part of the culture—or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the culture revolves around the joy of eating. Large tables full of laughter, wine passed around, days spent cooking with the people you love, and amazing food as a result. The food and friendship blend together. It all gets passed back and forth.

Italian cook book
Who is your favorite Italian chef? | Image courtesy Amazon.com

You can use amazing Italian food to do the same at your own party. You can try modern cuisine, like a mushroom risotto or Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico, or classic dishes like a Panzanella. If you don’t feel like putting together a full meal, instead offer a couple appetizers:

  • Grilled octopus
  • Flatbread with prosciutto and fontina
  • Bruschetta
  • White beans and rosemary crostini
  • Margherita pizza

Needless to say, you don’t have to stick to Italian food. While their particular cuisine and gioia della vita plays a huge role, the point is acceptance, not accents. You have to accept that food isn’t something to be steered away from, but to be celebrated.

Our ability to enjoy a meal is part of what makes us human. We don’t eat on the run. We can sit back with a full plate of amazing food, laugh with the ones we love, and enjoy a slow, languorous meal as the evening turns into night. There’s nowhere to go, but everywhere to be.

PRAY!

mala beads
Meditative mala beads | Image courtesy Etsy seller TribeAzureFairTrade

After Italy, Gilbert, of course, goes to India, on a half cock-eyed, half-searching quest for spirituality, a kind of sincere expression of longing that is absent from her very modern life. She finds it in fits and starts, sometimes getting close to touching the divine, and sometimes feeling very far away.

But through it all, she’s learning more and more about herself, her capabilities, and how she can find her inner self away from the fleshy and honking confusion of the world. And, to many, that is a form of finding the universal.

You might not have time for all of that at your party, and you might not have the finest yogis in attendance, but you can still meditate or practice yoga. It’s a great way to get your body relaxed before the big meal, and to clear your mind. It’s a way to find a center in our busy lives.

yoga mat spray
Yoga mat spray to set the aromatic mood | Image courtesy Etsy seller DaveandAthena

Ask people to bring yoga mats, or provide your own. Even if you aren’t trained (or don’t have a friend who is), you can help walk people through beginner stretches. Some might be pros, some might be doing this for the first time. None of you will likely receive total enlightenment. But, everyone will be trying something.

You can also set time away to meditate. You’ll want to create a peaceful room where people can explore, and then silence, that insistent inner monologue. Turn off the lights, and light up some meditation candles. Use aromatherapy to relax people, helping them find their center. White noise, or crystal singing bowls, can get people in the right spirit.

Gilbert didn’t pack it in and become a shaman, and your guests won’t either. But you’ll have a new appreciation for stillness, which isn’t the opposite of joyful noise. It’s the perfect companion.

Never forget to LOVE!

So how do you celebrate love? Both of the other aspects—the libertine and the spiritual—were forms of love, of course. And they revolved around love. A meal is just food on a plate unless it is accompanied by love, and finding yourself is a way of connecting with the driving force in our life. But at your party, how do you celebrate like Gilbert? It seems impractical at best, and really pushy, to demand that people find a new love of their life by the end of the evening. So, I suggest a friendship book exchange.

Friendship is such a powerful force and, to celebrate your time with those you love, give each other your favorite books about this incredible and complicated subject as a way to remind others that they’re important to you.

Charlotte's Web
What’s your favorite book about friendship? | Image courtesy Amazon.com

A book exchange, which can be organized like a gift exchange to make sure that everyone gets exactly the book they most covet, is a way to celebrate friendship. The books can be modern or old, for adults or for children (indeed, children’s books are often the wisest about friendship). But they should be about that unique bond. Like what we eat, or how we find our center, friendship is a bond we choose. That makes it special. That this can also help spur the next book club meeting is a bonus.

Some of our favorite books on friendship include:

  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Giving Tree
  • My Brilliant Friend
  • Summer Sisters
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
  • Truth and Beauty
  • Circle of Friends
  • Let’s Take the Long Way Home
  • Into the Tangle of Friendship

These are fiction and memoir, for young and old. Really, for everyone. These are new books, or classics to revisit. They can always spur incredible conversation, and reflections on what matters in your life.

That’s sort of the whole point of the Eat, Pray, Love party: to remember what matters most. It’s a reminder that life is a constant journey, even if you are staying home. It’s a way to look inside ourselves and find who we are, and in the party, to celebrate it with those we love, whose company nourishes us as much as food or meditation.

You may not go to Italy to dine or India to meditate or Bali to find love. But you don’t have to. You can do that all at home, with the friends you love. You can find the universe that isn’t just within yourself, but is yourself.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate your favorite book? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Modern Paper First Wedding Anniversary Gifts for Couples Living in the Digital Age

Modern Paper First Wedding Anniversary Gifts for Couples Living in the Digital Age

When my first anniversary was coming up, all those long two years ago now, my wife and I had to look up what the traditional gift theme was. She had guessed it was paper, but I dismissed that. “Paper,” I scoffed incredulously. Turns out, as is so often the case, she was right and I was wrong.

paper heart tree
The roots of love | Image courtesy Etsy seller DayThreeCreations

My wife and I are not very traditional, so, paradoxically, we decided it would be fun to try to follow the spirit of the anniversary traditions. But paper is a hard one, especially in a world that is increasingly less paper-oriented.

I wanted memorable and in-theme so I had a decision to make. Should I do something with paper, but that’s original, interesting, and reflective of both our relationship and the digital times we live in, or eschew paper altogether, but still somehow try to fit the theme. 

I say you can do either. The point of these gifts is to exchange a thoughtful reminder of your love. I don’t think using the “themes” is constraining. Instead, it’s like a haiku. Sure, freeform poetry allows you to say anything you want, however you want to, but writing a haiku makes you think more about how to express yourself. The constraints, the form, force more thoughtfulness. And, like Hamlet’s nutshell—indeed, like within your heart—there is an infinite world inside those boundaries. And so, here are a few of my favorite ideas for a modern couple on their paper anniversary.

A Photo or Pushpin Map

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picture map
A celebration of where you’ve been—where you’re going | Image courtesy Etsy seller MemorableMats

One of the great joys in life is being able to see new things with the person you love. I often tell my wife she’s one of the greatest appreciators of things that I’ve ever known, which is why I love going places with her. She sees things I miss.

That’s one of the reasons I love putting pushpin or photo maps up in our house. We have pictures from the states we’ve visited, and a pushpin map of the world reminding us that we need to go out and see more together. Every time I look at the state map, I see a reminder of a great meal or an aching sunset or even that rainy night spent in a surprisingly creepy hotel on the lapping shores of Lake Erie. And every blank spot is a possibility for future memories.

Of course maps, in general, are a great anniversary gift. A vintage map of the town in which you met or were married or honeymooned in can be a visualization of that memory. They aren’t just pictures printed on paper: they’re representations. They indicate something real and solid, human and wild. People don’t have maps on the wall because they’re lost. They have them because they’ve found something.

An E-Reader (Loaded with Some Favorites)

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Even though we’re old-fashioned and partial to paper books, I’ve begun to accept that e-readers are just considerably more convenient, especially when traveling. They also make great gifts for an anniversary because you can give something very useful, that’s technologically redolent of paper, and that can contain so much in the way of thoughtfulness.

Maybe you can find books they read as children, and aren’t going to buy again, but hold a special place in their heart. Maybe you can find a collection of poems, or a reading from your wedding. Maybe you can get a subscription to that cooking magazine he’s been wanting. Whatever it is, your e-reader opens up a world of possibilities for the year ahead.

A Folded Book Art Sculpture

folded book art
Folded book art | Image courtesy Etsy seller Elysianthings

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Maybe books are still a huge part of your life, even if you have switched partially or entirely to an e-reader. In that case, a big trend now is book origami. This takes a full hardcover book and carefully folds each page to create an image, some letters, or a note.

I’ve seen a lot of couples use their initials with a heart in between. It’s a striking 3D image, jumping out at you like a personalized pop-out.

These are surprising, both as gifts and in the house. It takes a few seconds for people to appreciate the level of artistry and care. This can be a DIY, or you can have an artisan make one for you. You can select a book that might mean something to both of you (as long as it isn’t the last copy in the world) or a generic sort of Reader’s Digest compilation. What’s important is that you are using paper to create, and to celebrate, something unique.

Work on a Picture Frame Project—Together

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Gifts don’t have to be exchanged. They can be crafted together. A more handy friend of mine once built some montage-style windowpane picture frames, and she and her husband spent part of their anniversary putting in photos from their relationship. They went through albums and picked out their favorites, spending a pleasant and warm evening of reminiscing.

You can make one together. Or you can buy one. It’s sort of the inverse of the digital age, actually: sitting down with real, tangible photographs. They may not last as long, and they may fade, but there’s something less ephemeral about holding an actual picture, and putting it in a frame, and hanging it up. It’s something you’ve created together, out of paper, that can last a lifetime.

Plant a Tree in Their Honor

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plant a tree
Water with symbolism | Image courtesy Etsy seller MemoryGiftTree

As we move more fully into a paperless age, and one in which forests face unprecedented threats, you might want to move away from paper entirely. Indeed, you might want to do the opposite of using paper, which is to plant a tree. There are many services which allow you to plant a tree in someone’s name, usually in a federal forest, for a small fee.

You can do so for them, or for a cause they believe in, or in the name of someone they have lost. But no matter what you do, this is the most movingly symbolic gift.

The first year of your marriage is still a greenshot. It’s a promise and a possibility. You’re bursting out of the ground, looking for light and air, with years of growth ahead of you. You’ll grow and mature, and have lightning strikes and summers where children read beneath your spread branches. There will be darkness and falling leaves and there will be renewals. There will be long summers. There will be the full stretch of life.

You’re only a year in. You’re still so much potential energy, like that contained in the smallest seed. No matter what paper gift you choose, you’re honoring the short but life-changing past, and your life-containing future.

Paper may seem flimsy and smooth. But fold it over a few times. It may have more wrinkles, but it keeps getting stronger. It becomes nearly impossible to tear.

Tell us your anniversary ideas on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.

Relaxation Gift Ideas for Anxiety Prone Loved Ones to Inspire a Calm and Serene Mind

Relaxation Gift Ideas for Anxiety Prone Loved Ones to Inspire a Calm and Serene Mind

inhale, exhale
Inhale. Exhale. | Image courtesy Etsy seller GalaDigitalPrints

We all know someone who’s always anxious about, well, everything. While everyone gets nervous about this or that, for some people, anxiety affects their daily life. We often refer to them as “nervous” or “a real worrier,” but those labels simplify what our anxious loved ones experience, and even giving them a gift can create stress for both the giver and the givee. After all, you don’t want to give them something that will make their anxiety worse, like concert tickets if they have social anxiety.

Remember, you aren’t trying to “fix” them. So, when gifting to an anxious friend or family member, the hope is to support them, nourish them, and call out all the wonderful things you love about them while, yes, keeping their anxieties in mind. Gifts should ease stress, and help reduce some of the secondary symptoms or primary causes of anxiety. After all, giving a gift should never be about you, but about helping your loved one enjoy life to the fullest.

Gift Ideas for People with Anxiety

Many of these ideas can be helpful for people with normal, wholly explicable anxiety about specific things, such as being new parents or having your team in the Super Bowl (and no, I’m not comparing the two…really). But they’re also extremely helpful for people suffering from general anxiety disorders:

yoga mat
A home yoga mat can be a solitary way to find peace | Image courtesy Target.com

A White Noise Machine

Some of the symptoms of clinical anxiety include restlessness, fatigue, and an inability to sleep. The mind is always running, and it can be extremely acute. But white noise machines can help drown out that insistent inner voice, and are proven to encourage sleep. That shouldn’t be underestimated. Not sleeping right is downright unhealthy. A good night’s rest isn’t a cure, of course, but it can help mitigate some of the symptoms of anxiety and stress.

Yoga Classes or Accessories

One year, I signed my particularly anxious friend Mark and I up for yoga classes. I had never done it before, and neither had he, so we were able to be yoga newbies together.

Now, that doesn’t always work—the public aspect might be hard for people with specific types of anxiety, and you might seem like you’re forcing them into doing something.

But there are other ways to enjoy the proven therapeutic benefits of yoga without having to take classes at a studio. You can gift them yoga mats, DVDs or Blu-Rays (or subscriptions to streamed health channels), yoga pants, and much more. That way they can enjoy it without being out in public.

An Indoor Fountain

indoor fountain
The soothing sounds of running water | Image courtesy Amazon seller T&R Company

This is similar to the white noise machine, but for when your friend is awake. People love fountains. The sound of running water is inherently natural, and stands in contraposition to the unnatural way in which so many of us live, surrounded by pinging technology.

There is so much of the modern world that can cause stress or nervousness. Being able to sit on your couch, close your eyes, and feel that you are in a Tennyson-esque idyll can help some of that unnecessary anxiety to melt away.

Organizational Tools

One thing that Mark always talks about is being disorganized. So, for his birthday this year, I’ve been looking at easy organizational tools, like closet organizers or better shelving systems (which improve upon his careful system of putting whatever, wherever).

It’s not just a matter of buying things, either. I’ve sent him really helpful storage and organizational guides so that he can get a handle on what needs to be done, and my wife and I have volunteered our time as well. Well, she’s much better at it than I am. But I can take directions.

Soothing Bath Products

bath caddy
Baths can offer peaceful alone time | Image courtesy Etsy seller LoveYourselfBath

There are times when being alone can be uncomfortable for someone with anxiety. But, there are also times when it can be great, if the mood is right. And a warm bath always seem to help that mood.

People who fear disaster might be overanxious about dropping their book in the bath, or spilling their beverage, or knocking a candle in. But a bath caddy can prevent that, letting the mind be at ease. Bath salts and bath bombs are also great aromatherapeutic ways to relax, and let the mind be free of itself.

A Journal

Sometimes, with anxiety, the mind is an enemy, always working its way around to the worst case scenario. A mind that’s allowed to wander unchecked can find some dark corners. That’s where a journal can come in handy.

A journal can create focus and reflection in a more organized way, letting an anxious person work through their thoughts, rather than letting their thoughts work through them. It allows for creativity and personal growth. It lets the mind work for, rather than against, itself.

The Gift of Friendship

a leather journal
A journal lets the mind find itself | Image courtesy Etsy seller MedievalJourney

Really, the line running through all these ideas is friendship. Your friendship and your understanding are keys to helping an anxious friend cope with the world, whether it’s temporary, cause-driven anxiety over something specific, or a clinical condition.

You are being there for a friend, and are taking their anxiety not as something to be cured, or dismissed, or certainly not something they “should just get over,” but as something to live with in the best possible way. You’re helping deal with symptoms while working on causes.

You’re looking at your friend and saying you’re there for them. That, your presence, is the ultimate present any loved one with anxiety needs.

Let us know how you help friends with anxiety on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.

Last Minute Oscar Party Planning Ideas That Blend Hollywood Glamour with Glitzy Fun

Last Minute Oscar Party Planning Ideas That Blend Hollywood Glamour with Glitzy Fun

I have a confession: I don’t hate the Oscars. I know I’m supposed to grumble about how you can’t really objectively judge art, but my wife and I watch every year. I’ll also pretend I don’t know who everyone is, saying things like, “What’s a Hayden Panettiere,” or whatever, but I peruse the celeb clickbait articles. Sure, I’ll tell myself that my fingers did so on their own, but we know the truth. When it comes down to it, I still love the glamour of Hollywood.

oscar party invitation
Your invitation to the Oscars | Image courtesy Etsy seller KristenMcGillivray

What I don’t love, is throwing an Oscar party, because the Oscars are kind of weird, right? If you have friends over for the game, you can talk during it. If people are over to watch a movie, you don’t really talk at all (that’s not a hypothetical: you do not talk during movies at my house).

But the Oscars are different. You want to hear what the people are saying so you can joke about it, but you don’t want total silence, since hearing a millionaire thank their investment consultant can get a little tedious. It’s long stretches of tedium punctuated by drama and excitement.

But, I finally realized, that doesn’t have to be limiting for a party. In fact, it’s liberating. It gives you a chance to do some cool stuff as a host to break up the long stretches, and to make sure that everyone is having a good time throughout. I mean, I can’t promise that your guests are going to have as good a night as someone who wins an Oscar. But, they’ll have a much better time than someone whose idea of an Oscar night event used to be fake-complaining to their wife (and, it goes without saying, a way better time than the wife).

Here are a few ways to make sure your party is better-remembered than Crash. Envelope, please?

Oscar Ballots, Red Carpets, and Gift Baskets

Fruit basket prize
A Golden State variety gift basket | Image courtesy Amazon seller Golden State Fruit

This activity is a no-brainer. Have everyone fill out a form picking the winners—but not just the standard categories. Feel free to be creative! Some ideas include:

  • Longest speech
  • First person to mention politics
  • Jokes made by the host that no one laughs at
  • Most revealing dress
  • Times the camera cuts to George Clooney grinning ruefully

Of course, the winner needs a prize. A gift basket is the way to go here, like the bags every attendee of the big show gets to take home. It’s no different than studios wining and dining voters.

And, you can present the prize on its very own “red carpet,” or, basically, a fancy red table runner. This is also where your snacks and appetizers can be shown off, along with whimsically framed photos of celebs, if you’d like. The size differential will let movie stars know that, no matter how famous and beloved they are, pigs in a blanket are always more important.

Elegantly Dressed Appetizers

fondant cake toppers
Fondant makes it easy | Image courtesy Etsy seller SugarDecorByLetty

OK, maybe pigs in a blanket aren’t terribly Hollywood, although they have a permanent place at any of my parties. Here are a few more elegant options:

  • Spinach and goat cheese tartlets: You can change the name of these to “starlets,” if you want to make it more movie-like.
  • Seared steak lettuce cups: The steak makes you think of the decadent glamour of old Hollywood, while the lettuce reminds you of the health-conscious stars of today.
  • Blue crab beignets: Old ideas made fancy. Sound familiar?
  • Ham and cheese croquettes: Every year there’s a movie about a hardscrabble blue-collar family rising above it all. Here’s a tribute to them. Also, it’s ham and cheese, and you literally can’t go wrong with it.  

And, for dessert, just add pre-made Hollywood inspired fondant toppers to homemade (or store bought) cupcakes for an easy way to make them shine brighter than the faux diamonds on all those dresses.

Popcorn: Since the Dawn of the Movie Era

It’s sort of weird that there’s one food explicitly connected with movies, right? When we’re in a movie theater, we feel we must get popcorn. Frankly, I love that. I love movie popcorn to a (literally) unhealthy degree. And so do most people, which is why you should have it at your party.

popcorn bar
Make your Oscar party pop… sorry | Image courtesy Etsy seller penandpaperflowers

Get a popper, get some butter and salt, and, if you’re me, that’s all you need for popcorn bliss.

However, other people seem to want more varieties, which is why popcorn bars have become so popular lately. You’ll need sweets, lots of different seasonings, and classic treat bags. People can have all the popcorn they want, and can really feel like they’re at the movies.

And then, when everyone is settled in their seats, snacks at hand, ballots counted, surprise one or two of your friends with a custom-made Oscar. This has to be planned in advance, of course, but it’s a great way to round out an evening.

The winner of the ballots gets the fruit basket, but you can also pick friends for idiosyncratic awards, like your friend who eats popcorn one kernel at a time, or the friend who shushes everyone at the end of each commercial break. My award would be “Most Likely To Pretend Not to Like Something He’ll Spend Four Hours Reading About Tomorrow.” Everyone can go home with a trophy. And everyone can be a winner, without having to appear on the cover of Us Weekly every time you want to buy some hot dogs.

You can have a great Oscar party at your house, with people whose company you enjoy, to celebrate one of the more harmlessly goofy things in American life: being genuinely happy or upset for people who will be jetting to Paris the next day. You’ll realize, when it’s over, that you may have been reluctant, but it was worth it. It’s an honor just to have friends to spend time with. And you can nominate yourself for that.

Tell us your best Oscar party stories on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for carefree gifting inspiration, browse our gift guides.