Silver pillow with red tag

The Gift of Time: Why We Start Planning Holiday Gifts in July

Preparation and planning are the key to finding a relaxed joy and creativity to gift giving.

by Jennifer Jerde

From its earliest days, Elixir has brewed up New Year’s gifts for our friends, families and, of course, clients. This is now an almost twenty-year tradition. The gifts are our way of thanking the people who mattered in our year, although we also always include on our list a handful of companies with whom we’d love to work. We apply the same criteria every year: – Will the gift delight the people who receive it more than the people who concocted it? – Can we afford to produce and assemble it in the way that we would like? – Is it something so fun or useful that we wish everyone could have one?

Given that we don’t have lots of money laying around and we don’t have vast tracks of time, we start early.

Dark gray box with stormy sky shipping label

If you think about gifts far earlier than you want to send them, you have time on your side. You can get goods and supplies far more affordably. Things that might be on sale or out of season are available to you without incurring rush charges. You have the time to assemble them betwixt and between things over many weeks.

If the gift is super easy to procure and is ubiquitous, it is not going to resonate for the receiver as much. As with everything, there are exceptions.

Tom Fong who owns the Chevron Station near where I live gives out Blackberry-flavored wine to his favorite customers and I have to tell you, it knocks me out every time although I’ve never drank it. – Jen Jerde

If a gift is useful, novel and communicates that we have put time and care into it, the receiver will feel the love. Here are a few of our favorite gifts we have made:


They say if you put things in writing you are more likely to make it a reality so we thought these “official” forms would help to that end. The forms we created are printed in triplicate–one copy for your mother. We all signed with a festive thumbprint.

2 stacks of custom resolution forms


If you give a client a cookie… they have one snack. If you give them a treasure box of favorite family recipes with accompanying cookies, they have sweet treats to share and the secrets to make again. Everyone contributed a favorite cookie recipe, and we all baked together in one marathon day. We each signed on our respective cookies’ index divider. Truly handmade with love.

3 cookies with green separators and 1 glassine cookie envelope
Wooden cookie file box with green separators


We had planned to give a large container of kosher salt, back before salt became gourmet. Post-economic downturn, the wounds seemed too deep for this to be good. Instead we gave silver satin pillow liners with a card for each pair that read: A sign of hope. A bright prospect. Rest your head. Rest your head.

Silver pillow with red tag
2 folded silver pillow cases in an open dark gray box with red tissue paper


In 2011, we had the curious pleasure of sharpening over 1,000 pencils in preparation for our annual holiday mailing. The inspiration was a favorite quote, “Luck favors the prepared,” which has been attributed to Louis Pasteur. We had the quote foil-stamped on custom-made boxes—to house a single Blackwing pencil and the shavings we made while sharpening it. We outfitted everyone on our list with a sharp pencil and a compassionate eraser as we all headed into the new year and whatever it held in store.

The serendipitous backstory: Jen has a distinct childhood memory of a seemingly magic pencil with replaceable rectangular eraser that was used by a successful and industrious grandfather figure. Having searched for them over the years, Jen was delighted to learn that the pencil had just been brought back into production this Fall by CalCedar. (The original Eberhard-Faber Blackwing 602 was made for over 60 years, from about 1933 until 1998, when it was discontinued.) Many pencil enthusiasts will tell you it’s arguably the best pencil ever made.


Sometimes the inspiration starts with what the receiver might like best, sometimes the inspiration comes from a need of our own that we are sure others share. Such was the case for 2014’s gift. After having been to one presentation, okay maybe more than one, embarrassed of a dirty monitor, we thought, surely there most be others who have this problem. We set out to solve the problem of dirty screens and keyboards and offer the new year a “clean start” in a concrete way.

2015 is in the works now. A little July San Francisco fog is helpful to get us in a wintery holiday mood.

Jennifer Jerde graduated from Tufts University in 1988 with a BA in Art History, and from CCA in 1991 with a BFA in design, and founded Elixir Design in 1992. Focused initially on donor communications for non-profits, this expertise expanded into direct mail—leading to long-standing relationships with Sundance, Williams Sonoma, Restoration Hardware, and Body Shop, among others. From 1998-2004, she founded and launched the women’s athletic apparel company Athleta, and served as Creative Director for Sundance Catalog, growing the business from $8m to $180m. Jen currently serves on the adjunct faculty at CCA.