BIG thanks to those of you who played along on The New Black Friday and created Love Lists as gifts for people in your life. Wow-oh-wow, did I ever love reading your stories of making them!

It is so important to me that we continue to redefine the way we look at gift giving. I want us to give gifts that show what is really important to us — connecting to the people we love. Gifts with imagination, impact, and spirit. I also want us to remain debt-free and stress-free so that we can be present to ourselves and the people around us. Isn't that more important than feeling an obligation to give material gifts just because that's what convention dictates?

This time of year has held a special place in my heart for a number of years now. I'll tell you why. My West Coast family (my son, my ex-husband, my ex's dad, and my long-time beau) and I have all traveled as one big motley group to spend ten days with my mom and her long-time boyfriend in Ohio. Usually one or both of my nieces also stays there with us. And when we're extra-lucky, my sister and her husband join us, too. Yep, that's between seven and twelve people all staying under one roof. (My mom is a saint!)

My son's paternal grandpa is Jewish, so we plan a special Hanukkah Celebration, complete with prayers, a homemade menorah, latkes, and noodle kugel. My mom is Christian, so we traipse out to the farm to pick out a Christmas tree (and pummel each other with snowballs!), hang the 312 ornaments on the tree, and listen to all the classic carols. 

My mom loves to give gifts at Christmas. And we sure do appreciate her generosity. But the whole "making a list and checking it twice" thing has never really rung true for our lifestyle/beliefs. And so here's what we do: we create a Hoopla. Our Holiday Hoopla is an experiential, memory-making day-o'-fun gift to our family.

The first year we did our Hoopla it was a carnival, variety show, and dinner held in my mom's house. The various carnival booths included a "Validation Booth" (i.e. "you're an amazing mother with a big heart!") and Alter Ego Photo Booth.  The show included magic, Kung Fu demonstrations, juggling, and piano playing. The last couple years we've done spoofs on the reality show, "Survivor." Events include Extreme Gingerbread House Decorating, Standing on one Foot While Ringing Christmas Bells, Chocolate-Kiss Eating Contest, Treasure Hunts, Solving Personalized Crossword Puzzles, Dance-Offs, and more.  

What makes this such a joyful and amazing event is that it was so much fun to plan, so much fun to host, and so much fun to attend. My son loves brainstorming events, making signs, and decorating the house. Our family that attends gets to be a part of something that brings us all together in a new, creative way. It is festive and full of vitality. And the memories are ours forever. (Uh, yeah, I take gazillions of photos/video!)

Maybe you want to consider this as an alternative to buying lots of gifts? The Hoopla is a great idea for occasions besides the winter holidays, too — birthdays, anniversaries, and nearly any other occasion! People love sharing in creative experiences together and it makes memories that last a lifetime!

Let's replace the saying "money talks" with a much better one: "it's the thought that counts." And is this case, it is also definitely the time together that counts!

Happy celebrating and connecting!

P.S. Sure do wish I could invite you all. Or be invited to YOUR Hooplas. Hope you'll send me some photos, though!