New York Times: Memories to Fill Their Stockings

LONDON — Alexandra Sommer understands the gift of time.

A decade ago her husband, a Polish journalist, died suddenly of a stroke, leaving her with their 2-year-old daughter, Julia. Three years ago her only brother, a physician based in Norway, also died unexpectedly.

For almost 12 months Ms. Sommer and her daughter spent most of their time at home in Malmo, Sweden, unable even to visit Ms. Sommer’s parents in Warsaw. While the isolation of the pandemic was difficult, Ms. Sommer, a schoolteacher, said it reinforced her belief that being together and making memories are the greatest gifts.

So this year, for a combined birthday/early Christmas gift, Ms. Sommer gave Julia exactly that. They traveled to London a couple of weeks ago to visit friends, go to places like Trafalgar Square and Madame Tussauds, and see the musical “Hamilton,” which coincidentally has a number of songs with time as a theme.

“Time is the most precious thing that we have,” Ms. Sommer said in a video interview. “For sure those life events have affected me and made me reflect that material things are really not that important. And that it’s very valuable to spend time to experience new things together because that is what you remember in the end.”

Tara Pepper Goldsmith, a child and adolescent psychotherapist based in Britain, said families found that spending more time together during the pandemic lockdowns deepened their bonds, “and they’re holding on to that now as restrictions have eased.”

And, she noted, there are no shortcuts “to developing these richer relationships.”

So during this holiday season, the gift of time — and some new shared memories — may be the best present of all. For some, like Ms. Sommer and her daughter, it could be a few days’ sightseeing, while for others it could be travel tied to a hobby or favorite pastime. (Most destinations still have travel restrictions of some kind, even for fully vaccinated travelers, but an official tourist site or airline website usually can provide up-to-date guidance.)

Yoga enthusiasts, for example, might enjoy the new property that Six Senses opened this past summer at Cala Xarraca, on the northern tip of Ibiza. It offers a yoga program that includes two yoga sessions per day, movement meditations and breathwork classes. (A four-day program and accommodation in a sea view junior suite, for example, would be 4,560 euros, or $5,290, per couple.) The Euphoria Retreat, amid olive groves in Mystras, Greece, also offers several yoga programs and, in reaction to the pandemic, recently introduced a three-day Feel Alive Again program (€890) combining group yoga classes, spa treatments and personalized meal plans. And for those wanting to experience yoga where the practice is thought to have originated, the Taj Rishiskesh in Uttarakhand, India, opened in late 2019 and offers meditative yoga that combines elements like trataka (steadily gazing at a flame) and restoring the body’s chakras. (The wellness program’s daily rate starts at 38,000 rupees, or $507, plus taxes for a double-occupancy deluxe room).
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If your loved ones are more into adventure, Smithsonian Journeys is offering several new trips in 2022, including a voyage to the tropical ecosystems of Costa Rica and Panama. The eight-day cruise includes a daylight crossing of the Panama Canal and a visit guided by scientists to the Punta Culebra Nature Center, operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. (prices start at $4,650 for double occupancy). And Biosphere Expeditions has said it will resume trips in July and August to track snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan’s remote Tien Shan mountains. With lots of hiking and camping, it would not be luxurious but it likely would be unforgettable (€2,540 per person, plus transportation).

If your loved one is more interested in culinary topics, the Art of Chocolate’s daylong classes in Brussels could be appealing, with instruction ranging from where to buy beans to how to produce bulk chocolate (€408). In London, the Danish-born baker Maria Mayerhofer offers a variety of in-person and virtual baking classes, including Scandinavian baking and a 4.5-hour introduction to sourdough (as well as a six-day Tuscan culinary trip for €1,800; transportation to Tuscany is not included). “Some of my most engaged and appreciative customers are family members who take my class together,” Ms. Mayerhofer wrote in an email. “Something special happens, for example, when a mother and daughter learn the secrets of a great sourdough — they bond in a new way while building a lifelong skill and creating a special story to share with others.”

For a street art enthusiast, there are day experiences in a number of cities across the globe. After a 1.5-hour walking tour of the street art in Berlin, the Original Street Art Workshop invites participants to spray its walls (€15 per person). And in the Newtown neighborhood of Johannesburg — known as South Africa’s street art capital — the Talking Vandal offer three-hour classes to visit street art locales and be taught the fundamentals of graffiti (500 rand, or $34).

In the age of online communication, just knowing that someone took the time to pen a handwritten note can feel like a gift in itself. The Italian stationer Il Papiro Firenze, which sells a range of paper goods, calligraphy sets (€160) and a bespoke stationary service, also offers classes in Florence such as marbling workshops (€110 for groups of five) and bookbinding workshops (€70 per person).

And if it just isn’t possible to give an experience or activity, there can be the gift of time itself: a watch.In late October the Detroit-based Shinola brand released the 30-millimeter Derby, a women’s watch inspired by the bend of a horseshoe (from $650). It comes with a leather strap or a five-link bracelet, each of which can be bought separately to add versatility. And to mark its 100th anniversary, Vacheron Constantin’s heritage team reinterpreted its American 1921 watch, with its diagonal-reading dial and crown between 1 and 2 o’clock (starting at $30,400).

A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 20, 2021, Section S, Page 1 in The New York Times International Edition.

Photos: 1) Credit…Yam G-Jun/Getty Images; 2) Credit…Maja Hitij/Getty Images