By Eddie Pipkin
Just in time for the final flurries of the holiday gift-giving season, I’m here with a few ideas for stocking stuffers. You know, not the big, boldly boxed and beribboned packages that are bound to steal the headlines, but the funny little treats packed into those colorful holiday socks hanging from the mantle. It’s time to let your ministry partners know how much they are valued – not necessarily with a grand gift-giving gesture, although those are always welcome, of course – but with a thoughtful small thing or three (physical stockings optional).
My family has a long history of doing the stocking thing. I’m not sure if yours does or not, but it’s a fun tradition. My mother-in-law famously insisted on giant stockings, one for every person who showed up at her house for her Christmas morning breakfast extravaganza, each stocking individually emblazoned with the name of the recipient. Over the years, as more grandchildren and then great-grandchildren appeared on the scene, you could hardly see the Christmas tree for the profusion of big, bulging stockings. We all exchanged regular gifts, too, but the grand finale was the moment that everyone plunged into those overstuffed stockings, revealing a trove of candy, oranges, and small, whimsical gifts specially chosen for the recipient, the funnier the better – and the punchline to inside jokes, always the best. Oh, and socks. Always socks! Because everyone can always use socks.
That’s the point of the stocking: small, unexpected surprises, little bundles of fun (or little bundles of something essential and useful). A good stocking stuffer component should . . .
- Be Personalized: Each selection should be curated for the individual to whom it is being presented. It’s great to have a series of small things, whether in a traditional stocking, or a nicely wrapped box, or even organized in the form of a scavenger hunt. But one thing, creatively presented, is fine, too. Or even if the one thing magically appears in the “mail slot” in the work room, if the timing is right, it can be perfect
- Be Thoughtful: The stocking stuffer(s) / small gift should be a reflection of and response to the personal passions of the recipient. It is, among other things, a testament to the way you have been listening and paying attention in the past year. It can be a callback to a story you have shared together or a nod to the faves your friend celebrates (but maybe not the same-old same-old; dig a little deeper if you can.)
- Be Playful: Make it fun! Definitely do something that is emotionally meaningful and don’t shy away from doing something on a more serious note if you have a good idea for that (and context is, of course, important, depending on what season of life the recipient is going through), but whimsy is always appropriate when it comes to stuffers / small gifts.
- Be Simple: You’re not trying to break the bank here. We’re focusing on simple ideas that hit home for the recipient (because of the factors listed above).
I don’t mean to rain on your parade if you have already wrapped up those authentic olive wood Christmas ornaments that you haggled for in the Jerusalem market on your recent trip to the Holy Land. By all means, give those tokens to the staff and volunteers you love. But (aside from the fact that they are a bit of a humblebrag about the cool trip you got to go on that they probably didn’t) they are heartfelt but generic. Supplement them with a personal touch.
Here are some ideas – feel free to add your own in the comments section.
Just like you did for your parents when you were 12-years-old and had no gift budget but got excited about making a colorful coupon book filled with promissory notes good for car washes, pancake breakfasts, and shoulder rubs. Make a coupon for your staff members or key volunteers that gives them a gift beyond the mere material.
- A “Day Off” Coupon – How about a promise of a day off that they can take whenever they most need it?
- A “Complaint Free Week” Coupon – How about a promise of a week with no complaints, critiques, or criticisms that can be exercised right when they most need the mental respite?
- A “Get Out of Late-Jail” Coupon – How about a coupon that they can submit when they’re late to a meeting or event and have no questions asked or excuses needing to be made. A free offering of grace for being late!
- A “Freaky Friday” Coupon – Do you remember that Disney classic where the teenager and the parent swapped bodies and lives with hysterical plot developments as a result. Well, perhaps you can escape the hysterical plot developments, but how about a coupon good for switching job assignments on a given Sunday morning or other day of the week? Maybe you’re the one who sets up the chairs in the room for a change while your coupon recipient ‘tests’ the coffee and treats at the hospitality station?
- A “Dinner’s On Me” Coupon – This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but how nice if you distribute coupons good for a home-cooked meal or a night out together with families in tow. Really great to do for a whole team. If you have 12 recipients, that one featured hosting gig per month is a great way to deepen relationships and build team spirit. You could do variations on this with a “Coffee with Me” coupon or “No Excuses Lunch with Me” coupon for those times when someone really needs time with you to work some things out but doesn’t want the drama of requesting a special meeting fraught with heightened expectations.
Small Physical Gifts
- A Key – If you don’t own a beach condo or mountain retreat yourself, somebody you know does. What a treat for a staff member or volunteer to be offered a long weekend at a ‘vacation home’ for free. This is actually a great suggestion for partnering up with some of your ministry supporters who want to give special acknowledgement to staff members or key volunteers who have impacted their lives.
- A “You Don’t Suck” Succulent – Having a little fun here, but everyone needs something alive and green in their work cube, succulents are near impossible to kill and require a minimum of effort, can come in cute (and personalizable pots), and with a funny sign or card that winkingly makes the point that yeah, the recipient is, after all, a little bit special.
- A Thank-You-Note Wreath – Have people write simple thank you messages on sticky notes or sticky-note-sized pages in appropriate Christmas colors, then string them together creatively to make a wreath filled with appreciative messages.
- RFID Locator Tag – This one involves spending a little, but not much, and can be funny. Get your person a locator tag for use with their smartphone to attach to that one item they are always losing on Sunday morning! For me – and I know I’m not alone here – it was always my coffee mug, usually left in some conspicuously embarrassing place like on the altar.
- Favorite Candy – Everybody’s got an off-the-wall favorite candy, and you can never have enough of that edible happiness. Show them you’ve been paying attention! (Works also for any number of snack and treat options.)
Small E-mailable Gifts
- A Playlist – E-mail or text a playlist curated just for the recipient. Songs selected can reference your previous year of adventures together, be a collection of their favorites (or new selections suggested by their known favorites), or a selection of tunes you find inspirational or thought-provoking. Can be tunes or podcasts! (Please don’t make it a bunch of sermons, haha!)
- A Stocking Full of Links – Send along a curated selection of links you think might fill their browsing time with inspiration, purposeful reflection, or holiday-related laughs.
- A Christmas Photo Album – Families send out those photo collage Christmas cards, sometimes with the infamous Christmas letter included recounting their various adventures for the year. You can do an e-version of that by building a photo album and including comments reflecting on your year of ministry together.
There are so many ways to make use of small gestures and thoughtful gift giving to make people feel noticed and valued. Your ideas are going to be even better than mine, I’m sure, so don’t be a Grinch! Take a minute to share the small but essential gift of your comments below! What was a favorite stocking stuffer / small gift you received, something that really had impact and made an impression? And do you have a story of something in this category that you gave to someone else that received a noteworthy reaction?