Gifts to let your family members know you’re thinking about them, even if you can’t be together in person this season.

By Emily VanSchmus
October 20, 2020
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Christmas celebrations are likely to look a little different this year, and that’s OK. While you may not be able to have a traditional Christmas cookie exchange or have the big holiday parties you’re used to because of social distancing guidelines, you can make the season extra special by giving sentimental gifts this year. 

2020 has been hard for a lot of people, and after being away from our loved ones for many months, this season is the perfect time to let them know how much you love and appreciate them. I love giving sentimental gifts (I pride myself on being able to choose the perfect gift for everyone on my list), and after the year we’ve had, it seems fitting to shop for gifts that are especially meaningful. Whether you’re having an intimate in-person gathering or mailing your gifts from afar, these sweet gifts will let your family and friends know how much they mean to you.

The best part? You don’t have to spend a lot of money to give a sentimental gift. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite thoughtful gift ideas (starting at just $4!) to help you get started. 

Credit: Courtesy of Artifact Uprising

Artifact Uprising is my go-to for photo book gifts, and this season they’ve pulled out all the stops to help you create something special. They’ll show you how to put together a custom cookbook full of handwritten recipes from family and friends using one of their high-quality photo books. Use code BHG20, and you’ll get 20% off any photo book (offer available through October 27).

Buy It: Everyday Photo Book ($59, Artifact Uprising)

Credit: Courtesy of Made by Mary

Made by Mary has dozens of customizable jewelry pieces for a truly thoughtful gift. Add her kids’ names to a stamped disk necklace, or give her a charm stamped with her birth month flower. This gift is perfect for anyone from your bestie to your grandma.

Buy It: Nora Disc Necklace ($68, Made by Mary)

Credit: Courtesy of Chalkfuloflove

Let them know just how thankful you are to have them in your life with this gorgeous ceramic earthenware mug. This inexpensive gift doubles as a practical Christmas gift, too, because they’ll think of you (and remember how much they mean to you) each time they pour a hot cup of coffee.

Buy It: Thankful Mug ($20, Chalkfuloflove)

Credit: Courtesy of Uncommon Goods

As we spend more time indoors and with perhaps fewer people around this winter, we’re all looking for ways to stay occupied and sane. This Christmas, give them a custom puzzle designed to match the cover of the New York Times on the day they were born. It’s a thoughtful gift that’ll keep them busy as the chill sets in outside.

Buy It: Custom Front Page Puzzle ($50, Uncommon Goods)

Credit: Courtesy of Etsy / ProperLetter

I love giving ornaments as gifts because you know they can be reused year after year. This Christmas, order a set of custom ornaments hand-painted with names and dates. You can request a family last name (great for newlyweds!) or place an order for first names and dates to represent the children in the family. The ornaments are available in 19 colors and you can choose from 10 customization options to create something truly special.

Buy It: Custom Christmas Ornament ($23, Etsy)

Credit: Courtesy of Shutterfly

Shutterfly is my go-to for personalized gifts, because you can easily turn family photos and memories into keepsakes. Order a custom canvas for mom, or get a coffee cup printed with dad’s favorite photos. This year, I’m making gifts with travel photos from years past. We weren’t able to go on a family vacation this year because of the pandemic, so I made custom gifts for my parents using photos from our favorite vacations through the years.

Buy It: Easel Back Canvas ($20, Shutterfly)

Credit: Courtesy of West and Willow

If you're shopping for someone with a pet (or two!) consider a framed illustration of their four-legged friend. These custom portraits from West and Willow are easy to create: Choose from one, two or three pets per print. Send over a good photo of the furry friend to be featured, and choose how you'd like it customized.

Buy It: Framed Pet Poster ($60, West and Willow)

Credit: Courtesy of Pottery Barn

We may be stuck at home, but that doesn’t mean we can’t commemorate a favorite vacation with something functional and reusable. Think of it as a post-vacation souvenir! These Mickey-inspired holiday mugs from Pottery Barn are one way to commemorate a visit to the happiest place on earth. Or you can order a beach-themed art print to remind them of their favorite summer vacation spot.

Buy It: Mickey Mouse Lidded Mugs ($25, Pottery Barn)

Credit: Courtesy of Urban Outfitters

This activity book may be perfect for that someone you don’t know all that well, or for the person who already has everything. The book includes five years' worth of questions (one every day!)  about subjects ranging from their day-to-day hobbies to deep philosophical questions. At the end of the book, they’ll be able to look back on how their answers changed over the years.

Buy It: One Question a Day ($17, Urban Outfitters)

Credit: Courtesy of Box Babe

A one-of-a-kind gift box from Box Babe is an easy way to make someone feel special this season. Choose one of their curated boxes (we’re loving the cheery Box of Sunshine), or use the ‘build a box’ feature to completely customize your own. Plus, each box is delivered in a gorgeous patterned box, so you don’t even have to wrap it!

Buy It: Box of Sunshine ($50, Box Babe Gift Co.)

Credit: Courtesy of Birthdate Candles

One of the reasons I love giving sentimental gifts is because you can usually be sure they don’t already have it. This year I’m giving friends these unique birth date candles, so everyone will get their own candle that’s been completely customized based on their birthday and zodiac sign. You can shop by specific date or by astrological sign, if you aren’t certain of the exact date. Since all 365 scents are different, you can be sure they don’t already have a similar scented candle in their collection.

Buy It: Birthdate Candle ($38, Birthdate Candles)

Credit: Courtesy of Rifle Paper Co.

During the pandemic, I’ve gotten back into sending snail mail, and I’ve realized what a thoughtful way it is to keep up with your loved ones. While the modern conveniences of FaceTime and Skype are great, there’s nothing quite like seeing Grandma’s handwriting on a letter in the mailbox. This set of gorgeous notecards from Rifle Paper Co. will help your recipient send their own snail mail in the coming year.

Buy It: Mixed Florals Card Box ($30, Rifle Paper Co.)

Credit: Courtesy of Shutterfly

I love giving photo gifts because it’s such an easy way to give them something that captures a memory—but there are only so many times you can get away with a plain framed photo. This year, Shutterfly has stepped up the photo gift game with a huge selection of gifts your recipient will actually want. This customizable candle is a unique way to commemorate any favorite photo.

Buy It: Design-Your-Own Candle ($27, Shutterfly)

Credit: Courtesy of Barnes & Noble

After a year of canceled vacations, it’s safe to say we’re all looking forward to being able to travel again. If you’re planning a family vacation next year (or rescheduling one you had to cancel because of the pandemic), give a gift that’ll help your vacation cohorts prepare: a travel-inspired cookbook of your destination.

Buy It: <em>Jerusalem:</em> <em>A Cookbook</em> ($31, Barnes & Noble)

Credit: Courtesy of Echo Park

A scrapbook kit is an ideal Christmas gift for family members, because it doubles as an activity you can do together. This season, grab a scrapbook, a selection of themed papers (this Cozy Christmas kit from Echo Park is a festive option for an at-home holiday celebration), have a few photos printed, and wrap it all up into one big gift. Once they’ve unwrapped the box, you can spend time creating the scrapbook together. 

Buy It: Echo Park Cozy Christmas Kit ($15, Joanns)

Credit: Courtesy of The Night Sky

If you’re not usually the sentimental gift type, it can be hard to know where to start looking for ideas. One of my favorite things to do is give a gift inspired by an event in my recipient’s life that year. Whether they got married, had a baby, or bought a new house, you can usually find a gift to commemorate that occasion—like these totally customizable night sky prints. They’ll turn the date and location of any event into a print of what the constellations looked like at that exact moment. It’s a heartfelt way to acknowledge their life event, while giving them something they can display for years to come. 

Buy It: Custom Sky Print (from $50, The Night Sky)

Credit: Courtesy of Rifle Paper Co.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to put together an ultra-sentimental gift. If you’re on a budget this year, consider giving them a recipe tin filled with handwritten recipes from family and friends. You’ll have to buy the recipe tin (I like this one from Rifle Paper Co. because it comes with matching recipe cards), but you won’t have to pay for any customization! Simply take one recipe card to each family member you’d like to include and ask them to write down their favorite recipe. Once you’ve collected the cards, fill the tin and wrap it up.

Buy It: Citrus Floral Recipe Tin ($34, Rifle Paper Co.)

Credit: Courtesy of 23 and Me

Over the past few years my family has gotten into genealogy, and it’s been a fun way for us to connect while learning about our roots. We even took a trip to Germany to see where our ancestors lived in the 1800s! If your family has been interested in learning more about where they come from, consider giving them a kit to a service like 23andMe. With the Ancestry + Traits service, you’ll have access to a map of where your ancestors came from, a family tree you can build and fill out, and a DNA relative finder, so you can connect with other people in your family.

Buy It: Ancestry + Traits Kit ($99, 23andMe)

Credit: Courtesy of Free People

A sentimental gift doesn’t necessarily have to be personalized. A gift like the We’re Not Really Strangers game is a thoughtful way to help your recipient dive deeper into their relationships. The game holds 150 cards filled with questions and wildcards, so they can play it with anyone they want to connect with and help them learn more about each other with deep and thought-provoking prompts. This one is a great gift for couples or best friends.

Buy It: We're Not Really Strangers Card Game ($30, Free People)

Credit: Courtesy of Vicky Barone

This gift is actually free—you just have to pay postage! Artist Vicky Barone is offering this set of 30 ‘kindness cards’ for free, to encourage people to give them out to friends, family—even strangers. Each card is printed with an encouraging, uplifting message and is ready to send out to someone who could use some extra holiday cheer. The amount you pay for postage depends on where you live (mine was about $4.)

Buy It: Kindness Cards ($0, Vicky Barone)

Credit: Courtesy of Crane & Canopy

This cozy gift is practical and thoughtful (my favorite kind to give!) It’s so soft, you know they’ll be wrapped up in it all winter long. Plus, the monogram option makes this a great gift for a newly-engaged couple or anyone who has recently gotten married and changed their name. I’m all about a practical gift, especially if you can find a way to dress up something you know they need or want.

Buy It: Plush Cotton Bathrobe ($79, Crane & Canopy)

Credit: Courtesy of Legacybox

Every year, the montage of Clark Griswold watching old family movies in Christmas Vacation gets me a little teary eyed—there’s nothing quite like watching old family movies to get you in the holiday spirit. And this year, you can turn your old home movies into DVDs or digital files to easily share with the whole family. Just box them up, send them to Legacybox, and get back your physical copies with a set of digital copies.

Buy It: Starter Kit ($54, Legacybox)

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