by Rachael Rifkin


One of my all-time favorite gift ideas  comes courtesy of Holly Burns’ blog, Nothing But Bonfires. For her  dad’s 60th birthday, Holly collected friends and family members’ favorite memories of him, presenting them to him as  a bundle of 60 letters.

Here’s the email she and her family sent out to everyone, asking for their help:

Hello everyone!

If you’re receiving this email, you probably know that our dad, Patrick Burns, is turning 60 next month (much as he would hate us to be reminding everyone, I’m sure.) To celebrate his birthday, we’d like to put together a little surprise to let him know that his nearest and dearest are thinking of him. We’re going to try and create “60 Years of Memories” by filling 60 envelopes with a memory his friends and family have of him.

And this is where you come in! 

If you have a spare moment in the next few days, we would be so grateful if you’d jot down a favorite memory you have of our dad and put it in the post. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – you can just write it down on a piece of paper and sign your name. You can mention anything you like – although the more nostalgic the better! Please absolutely feel free to send more than one memory (in fact, we welcome it – we’ve got 60 envelopes to fill!), but make sure you write them on different pieces of paper (and sign your name to each) so we can split them up.

Thank you so, so, so much for participating– we know everyone is busy with their own lives, and we do appreciate you taking a few minutes to do this; it will be so worth it when he reads all the memories people have of him! (Please don’t forget to keep it a surprise until then, though!) 

Thank you so much again. –Holly, Tom, Luke, and Susie 

As you can imagine, Holly’s dad loved it. He spent a long time reading each letter,  reliving each memory. It was a wonderful way to reflect on a big milestone.

This is a great idea for a lot of reasons. It’s beyond thoughtful, nostalgic, fun,  and gives you a multifaceted look at  someone’s life. Best of all, it’s one of the few life story projects that can be given as a surprise since it doesn’t require the giftee’s participation.

This kind of project also works well for a holiday like Father’s Day. Each child could write their father a letter with some of  their favorite memories of their dad. Young kids could write (or get help writing) some  of the reasons they love their dad.

I’m planning on doing a modified version  to learn more about my mom, who passed away in 2013. I’m going to start by reaching out to some of the close childhood friends she kept in contact with for years. I’ve already composed a letter explaining the  project, I just have to send them out. I can’t wait to hear their memories of her.

No matter what the occasion, memories  are the perfect gift.


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Rachael Rifkin is a ghostwriter/ personal historian who blogs about the traits we inherit, whether genetically or environmentally, and the qualities that we find only in ourselves. Her favorite things are reading, random acts of kindness, high fives, playing with her dogs, and laughing with her husband.