Yes, You Can Still Gift Fun Experiences in 2020—Here’s My Favorite Way

published Dec 16, 2020
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Credit: Viv Yapp

When it comes to holiday gifting, there are two general camps: “stuff” people, who want new things, and “activity” people, who would rather have new experiences. I’ve spent most of my life as a “stuff” person, but being with my minimalist boyfriend—a man who once told me he needed no more than a total of two forks—has given me an appreciation for “experiences” people. In fact, I might have even become one?

For the years we’ve been together, we’ve mostly exchanged gifts for birthdays and holidays that give us an opportunity to do something together. We’ve done a cake-making class, a beer tasting class, a grilled cheese-building class, a paint-and-sip night, digital art lessons, wine tasting, dumpling making, play watching, axe throwing, escape rooms, and more. They’ve all been fun activities to try, and more often than not, we come away with practical skills that we both enjoy putting to use in our everyday life. (For instance, I now know how to make my own dumplings from scratch and chop my own wood by flinging axes at my neighbors’ trees. Only one of these is a lie.)

But this year, of course, things are different. When most everything you’d do in-person is shut down, it’s awfully hard to give an experience. But! It’s not impossible—and, I’d argue, it’s maybe more important and valuable than ever. Confined to the triangle of my bed, desk, and couch, I’m certainly not making a ton of exciting new experience-based memories this year. In fact, every month has kind of bled into the next.

That’s why I was so excited when for my birthday this year, my boyfriend gifted me (us, really) a private watercolor class. While we’ve done pre-recorded online art lessons before, both of us appreciate being in an environment where we can stop and ask, “Hey, am I doing this right?”

The session itself—booked through a site called Take Lessons—was with an artist who usually books weekly classes, but she agreed to do a one-off for us on a Friday night. Of course, in a regular art class, you’d be able to show up and use already-curated supplies—not so over Zoom. However, our teacher was able to send us a supply list to buy in advance, so we ordered everything straight to our door. And fortunately, the supplies needed for watercolor are super affordable. Here’s what she had us get:

Then, that Friday night, we covered the table in newspaper and settled in for our class. Our teacher was set up with a camera for her face and one that was aimed at her work station; that way, we could follow what she was doing while still being able to feel like we were being taught by a human, and not disembodied hands.

Credit: Megan Baker

Like a paint-and-sip class, we were following our instructor’s guide to create more or less identical paintings; unlike a paint-and-sip, though, we were able to learn actual techniques (and choose the painting we’d be doing, based on our teacher’s pre-prepared offerings).

Our teacher led us through the basics of watercolor, and we started with a warmup piece that allowed her to guide us through some essential techniques. After that, we moved onto a more intricate landscape that built on the skills that we learned in the first half of class. And all the way through, we were able to check in with our teacher and ask questions about mixing colors, loading paint onto brushes, and more.

In the end, we got two sets of watercolor paintings in my requested “autumn landscape” theme—plus, the skills to attempt to take on more paintings at home in our ever-present down time. I’ve broken out the watercolors a few times since to follow floral tutorials online, which I felt a lot more confident doing having had some actual instruction from a live teacher.

Experience gifts aren’t relegated to painting classes, either: The internet is full of private or semi-private classes that range from cooking to tasting, knitting, music, language, and more.

A unique shared experience that helps develop skills for a relaxing and low-pressure hobby? In a year when so many events and activities were thrown out the window, it’s hard to imagine a better gift, actually.