The attempt to discover unique Christmas gift ideas is a holiday tradition, though certainly not the most beloved. The warm feeling that comes over people when they find the perfect gift for a special person helps to enhance the Christmas spirit within all, and enriches the concept that "it is better to give than to receive." How can this be done, however, when the recipient is a person with unknown taste (such as a teacher), a finicky friend, or a person who has everything?

A donation of time, money, or goods that is made in another persons name is a wonderful gift idea, especially when the personality and traits of the person inspiring the gift is kept in mind. Here are a few suggestions to ignite donation creativity.

Local Animal Shelters. Animal shelters, especially no-kill shelters, will not only welcome donations of money or food at any time of the year but also appreciate donations in the form of time. Rarely will a shelter turn down people willing to spend some time taking dogs for a walk or visiting with a cat or five. Animal lovers will be touched when a person willingly offers to help homeless animals in this way - and in their name. Note: many shelters prefer to keep animals eating one type of food to prevent stomach upsets, so if you choose to donate food it would be a good idea to call first and find out if there is a particular brand they will accept.

Christmas Hampers. A sad reality is that many families will awake on Christmas morning knowing that they could not afford to stretch an already taut budget to celebrate the day. A Christmas Hamper is a generous way to not only enable a family to share a special meal, but also to give a child the wonder and surprise of finding a Christmas gift under the tree; an experience they would otherwise do without. The favorite Christmas tradition one family started a few years ago, and one they look forward to most, is to create an entire hamper filled with food products, stocking stuffers, and gifts for a family in need. They provide everything the family might require to have at least one very special day in the year. These donors explain in handwritten notes that, rather than purchase gifts for extended family and friends, they use the money they would have spent on those gifts to help erase the constant stress of poverty - if only for a single day. Note: Details for specific hampers (ages, sizes, gender, etc...) can be found at most churches or charitable organizations that are aimed at helping families or children.

Heifer International. I am reluctant to promote one charity over another, but I do feel Heifer International does deserve special mention. Operating under the principal of the old proverb "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" this organization is dedicated to just that. Any person with an interest in helping others to help themselves will feel a gratified glow when they find their unique Christmas gift is the donation of a flock of ducks, a trio or rabbits, or even a heifer. The chosen animal gift is given to a family in an impoverished area of the world. They are also provided with training in the ways the specific animals can help feed, cloth, and/or improve the conditions of their land. Heifer Int'l will also send a card to the person the gift is on behalf of explaining how the contribution helped.

Other Charitable Organizations and Projects. There is a vast list of groups that would benefit from a donation made as a Christmas gift. Picking a charity or organization can be specific to you (This year I am donating x amount of dollars to this foundation in lieu of buying Christmas gifts) or specific to each person (Dear Teacher: I am making a donation in your name to "this" organization that promotes literacy.) A mere glance at a local directory opens up a world of donating opportunities.

When these unique Christmas gift ideas are opted for it is important to set the amount dollars and/or time you are willing to, and can reasonably, spend on the undertaking, and to follow through on it. If the donation is one of time, sending a photo of the volunteer in action is a nice reminder of the gift and shows the gift was made in earnest. The addition of a personal touch such as hand-made tags or cards, as well as information on the organization chosen, is an essential way of letting people know that even though they will not receive a gift that can be held in their hands, they are thought of and remembered during this special time of the year.