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Redefining The Holidays

Snowflakes with Greenery by twnklmoon on Flickr

For a year now, we’ve been in a Recession.  Last month, the United States lost over 500,000 jobs.  Many families are relying on credit cards to survive.  Many businesses are struggling.  Many jobs are tenuous.  And the prospects over the next several months look like the worst is yet to come.

I don’t mean to say those things to depress you or shut down your emotions. On the contrary, I think emotions and our ability to create magic in our minds will get us through these tougher times.  I think we just need to change the way we think about the holidays.

I know these discussions are not easy.  Contemplating not giving gifts, or giving fewer gifts, is not easy in our society.  We have social expectations – Scrooge is hovering in the shadows, and we fear of being seen as him.  I feel these pressures.  I walk through downtown Seattle, and see the beautiful store displays, with the festivity of shopping in the air.  I think of my cousins who enjoy new things, who need and want stuff for school and stuff for play.  I think of the smiles good gifts can bring to my friends and family.

And of course I fear the discomfort of receiving a gift and not returning one, too.

So what can we do about these feelings?  How can we create a celebratory feeling of the holiday season, how can we spread cheer and good will, how can we brings smiles to our loved ones’ faces – and not break our finances to pieces, and not take off years of our lives as we stress about the debt gifts bring?  And furthermore, when other families are struggling to survive during the holidays, how do we not feel guilty that instead of helping them, we buy stuff that we really really want, but maybe don’t need?  How, how, how?

This is not a small dilemma, it is not a simple dilemma, it is not an easily solved dilemma.  But we must figure out a solution!

Redefining The Holidays For The Current Economy

We can begin by redefining what the holidays mean to us, and redefining what they mean to our families.  Bring your families together and be honest about the economy and your personal finances.  And then brainstorm to find a way that you can all come together to have a happy holiday without breaking your banks.  If you all put your heads together and become part of this solution, feelings won’t be hurt and each of you will feel invested in your family’s new way of celebrating of the holidays.

Ten Frugal Ideas For Holiday Gift-giving:

1.  Have a gift exchange, where each family member picks a name out of a hat, and gives a gift only for that person.  You can create a maximum value for the gifts as well – eg, gifts must cost less than $25.

2.  Pool your resources together and go on a fun family outing.  If each person pitched in $20, what fun thing could you all do together?

3.  Buy gifts only for the children in your family.

4.  Make a rule that all of your gifts will be gifts of time and skill, rather than money or things.  For example, Matt and I may give my parents the gift of helping them put their home back together after their remodel.  If you sew, offer to mend clothing or help make new curtains, towels, pillow cases, or whatever they might need.  There are many, many opportunities here!

5.  Create a family gift-giving budget – you may want to use the envelope budgeting system here – and STICK TO IT.

6.  Keep traditions that don’t cost money.  One tradition my family has is to read out loud “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” before bedtime – with each person taking turns reading it as the book is passed around the room.  These are important traditions, for children to be sure, but also for adults.

7.  Buy sustainably.  Buy used, make gifts if you can, buy from local small businesses who are probably also struggling right now, and make sure to buy things that are useful and things that will last.  Think hard about what the gift receiver needs.  And if you can’t think of anything, buy gift cards to the local market or a favorite store, or buy coupon books for local businesses.

8.  Think about pooling part or all of your gift money to help those who are in greater need.  If you do this, make sure that each person in the family plays an active roll in choosing the recipient(s), and if you can visit the recipient(s) on a pleasant and meaningful trip, all the better.  Make this a meaningful and happy experience for everyone involved!

9.  At the very least, think about a one-gift rule, where you give each person only one gift that is not very expensive but is very thoughtful.

10.  What do you do?  Please let us know what solutions you’ve come up with for the holidays!

Above all else, remember that the true spirit of the holidays is the celebration of all that we have – our families, our friends, and our dreams.  I hope that you are good to yourselves this holiday season, and allow yourselves to set economic and physical limits as you nurture yourself and those around you – in mind, body, and spirit.  

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17 comments to Redefining The Holidays

  • We did most of those things last year and are doing even more of them this year. I can’t even think of anything that you didn’t already have on that list, that’s how good your list is. Handmade/homemade always seems the best route to go, especially if you use found items, or at least stuff you already have on hand from other projects that were left-overs or never got completed.

  • This is a really important topic to me. What a great list you’ve created!

    My solution has been to make gifts, buy pre-loved items (my family loves old stuff-the antique mall and junk stores are favorite places), or give certificates for events/meals (one year I gave the gift of breakfast of lemon curd and scones as a certificate for one of my brothers.). I make my own cards too. I wrap with recycled things, and decorate with recycled things. I also host/cook one of the holiday meals for my family as a present for my mom. I think one of the things I like best about this time of year is it challenges my creativity.

    The hardest part really is the emotional stuff that comes with holidays. I think talking to family and friends is one of the keys to making a frugal, green holiday season work and having it be joyful. That and staying out of malls!

  • I find that a lot more people are going frugal this year, and for a variety of reasons. If ever there was a moment when the message was clear, it is now.

  • On one side of the family, we pick names. We tried to opt out this year, since there is nothing we “need”, but SIL threw a FIT and we gave in. On the other side, we only give gifts to our parents (not siblings).

    This year I am also giving out copies of Kathy Harrison’s emergency preparedness book “Just in Case”. We had a big ice storm last year, with electric out for a week, so people won’t think I’m too strange. :)

  • N.

    This year we tried to stay around $20-25 per family member or couple. So instead of getting my mother in law and father in law something I created a combo of local Vermont foodstuffs. I always asks for gift requests well in advance in order to shop sales. I tried to buy used this year but never found what I needed, or I found it by the seller flaked out on me. When people asked what we wanted we kept our requests small, “green”, and ones that would be well used. I don’t know that our parents will get us used items but I did ask that they try to find things used.

    We also gave more money to our Church and picked five children off our churches giving tree and bought presents for them.

    For the past couple years I’ve sent care packages of baked goods to friends and they love it. I make a couple different things so everyone gets a couple of each items.

    For each other my husband and I are selling a bunch of items from around the house that we no longer need or use and whatever we make will be spent at a local restaurant and show as our gift to one another. So far I’ve made $80.

    With shipping we will have purchased gifts for 10 family members for about $150 and yet everyone got something they would use and enjoy.

  • I have to admit that as the economic situation is no where near as bad over here one thing I decided to do was start changing familial expectations early. A has a really large immediate family, over 20 members, which meant for us something needed to give as we are not people to go into debt over gifts.

    Talking to the people involved about what you are planning to do well in advance of the event, I started talking about this stuff in around May or June, allows people to adjust their expectations gradually. I find this reduces the amount of displeased shocked looks that you have to cope with on the day and reduces my general stress over the expectation/obligation side of the equation.

    Personally I have always felt as long as I have communicated what we are able to contribute if people choose to go excessively above and beyond or make us feel that our gift isn’t appropriate that really is their issue. For me the most precious gift of the day is the feeling of togetherness, gifts are nice but if they are getting in the way of that feeling I would rather it all just stops.

    Kind Regards

  • More and more people are getting on board with this – I think – which makes it easier to do family wide.

    White elephant: my family does this every year that we get together. Adults only at this point bc kids are pretty young. This is a blast! The rules are something you already own or a consumable under $10. No other gifts for the adults.

    Kids: 1 gift each if celebrating together (grandparents are limited to three each).

    As far as traditions that cost little, we’ve started quite a few. A nature walk during the Xmas season. Decorating cookies together. A yule log or other festive cake on Xmas eve – we turn the lights out, sign carols and look for Rudolph’s nose.

    There are so many wonderful things about Xmas. My hope is that, with money tighter, some of the commercialism will be stripped away and we’ll truly be able to enjoy the magic and generous spirit that is Xmas.

  • What I would like to do: Pour seven cups of homemade mulled cider and each of us hands one other a cup. Then we drink it down, slowly, chatting, around the fire.

    And … that’s it. Who needs all that other stuff??

  • Melinda,

    My mum instilled in me the value of shopping early. I start my Xmas shopping December 26th. I put things into a couple of storage bins I have in my place and then a few times a year I take things out of the box to see what I have purchased and who I’ve over/under bought for.

    I also try and make a few home made gifts — I did this more for Xmas ’07 as I was unemployed for several months, had little money and plenty of time on my hands! One year, again, unemployed and broke, I knitted everyone hats and matching scarves.

    My parents and siblings have no qualms with used gifts, I love receiving second hand books to add to my collection. And this year I did something different by shopping through World Vision for a few people on my list who don’t really need anything but would appreciate the thought.

    As someone else mentioned I ask for gift ideas months in advance to assist with my shopping.

    For me personally I find the whole concept of ‘Christmas Shopping’ extremely stressful. Anything to reduce my stress levels, such as the year round shopping works perfect for me.

    My boyfriend, on the other hand, is a last minute shopper. Granted he’s better this year than last. I don’t mind tagging along to help him with his shopping because that i find rather amusing to people watch at the mall.

    Phew! I think thats it.


  • deb

    We have been drawing names and setting $ limits for a few years now. This is a little easier for us. We did scale back on the kids christmas haul.

  • I saw you mentioned Dave Ramsey’s envelope system! He’s my hero. :) Well not really, but I am a big, big fan. Nice to see him mentioned, his ideas are especially helpful nowadays.

  • I was a little disappointed that this post is entitled “Redefining the Holidays”, but it’s mostly about frugal gift ideas. I’m the biggest scrooge I know but this year I am redefining the holidays for me: instead of about being annoyed about getting useless stuff (which I hopefully won’t get this year) I’m going to spend as much time as I can with my family, playing games and hanging out with them. It’s going to be more than just immediate family members here for the first time in my life, so it’s an extra special holiday for us. For me, that’s redefining the holidays, not worrying about gifts at all.

  • [...] wrote about Redefining The Holidays For The Current Economy on Thursday. Stephanie called me on the fact that while I was writing about redefining the [...]

  • Risa, what a wonderful tradition.

    Stephanie, I agree, time together is taking a far greater precedent in our family than the buying of things. This year, we’re celebrating with time – we had the neighbors last weekend to bake and decorate cookies, instead of buying small toys for one another. For my son’s birthday, we’re celebrating with a pizza party and cupcakes instead of things. Yes, the pizza is an extravagance currently for us, but it’s about camaraderie, particularly in a time that is difficult and when news is generally negative.

  • [...] gets way too full too quick) and read a post I was looking forward to from One Green Generation, Redefining The Holidays. As my own personal definition of ‘the holidays’ is changing this year, I was really [...]

  • Thank you all so much for your fabulous suggestions!! I love reading what traditions and solutions others have come up with – thank you so much for sharing them.

  • Stephanie – and all of you – thank you for pushing me to think about this more.

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