Create a More Meaningful, Less Expensive Christmas

by Virginia Brucker

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For many families, the expenses of the holidays create additional financial stress. Are you wondering how you will manage? Plan your time carefully and incorporate some of the less expensive activities and traditions your family treasures most. Put your time and energy into creating a Christmas that focuses on people rather than on gifts. You can create a joyous, magical holiday for your children and your own parents. And in doing so, you will leave a loving legacy of special memories that will linger long after the holidays end. The very best presents we give and receive are those very special "gifts from the heart." Here are some inexpensive ideas to help you create "more Christmas with less money."

  1. Set reasonable limits for expectations for gifts. If Santa brings everything on your child's list, he won't have room for other kids' presents.
  2. If you are broke this year, provide very specific suggestions for well-meaning relatives to consider. Perhaps grandparents could provide the gift Santa usually brings and put a smaller gift from Grandma and Grandpa under the tree.
  3. Give the gift of family traditions. Leave a small scrap of torn red velvet somewhere in the living room like near the chimney (or front door if you don't have a chimney). Tell your children this is the patch that was torn from Santa's pants when he went back up the chimney or out the door. Sprinkle some glitter around the fireplace or doorknob after your children have gone to bed on Christmas Eve. The next morning, tell your children this is the magic dust Santa has to use to make himself fit in small places.
  4. Give gifts that develop children's interests and abilities. An inexpensive craft kit, blocks or a homemade puppet theatre and puppets can keep them happily engaged for a long time. Choose gifts that don't require batteries but do require imagination.
  5. Many of the best things about Christmas are free. Spend a lot of time outdoors. Make angels in the snow while you look at the stars together. Be thankful for the stars and the trees.
  6. Choose a family charity or service project each December. You might organize a pet food drive for the SPCA or encourage your children's school to collect winter coats to donate to other children. Your own kids will realize there is more to Christmas than presents for themselves.
  7. Make a holiday "fun jar." Write down activities such as "read a Christmas book together" or "bake your favorite cookies" or "play a board game" on small slips of paper. Put them in the jar and take turns choosing one each night.
  8. Give some coupons in your children's stockings that promise a chance to bake cookies with Mom or Dad, an opportunity to choose the menu for dinner or breakfast, an hour of Barbies or Lego with Mom or Dad, sledding and hot chocolate, a trip to the library, etc.
  9. Make the opening of gifts last longer Christmas morning. Write gift tags that give clues about the recipient or the gift inside. Each clue must be read and guesses made before the gift is opened. You could plan a Christmas treasure hunt where gifts are hidden and written clues are left all over the house.
  10. Think of a silly rule for this year's gifts, such as all presents must start with the same letter as the recipient's name or must cost less than an arbitrary amount such $3.94. The focus will be on fun rather than on the price of the gift.
  11. Instead of exchanging expensive presents, have a family potluck dinner and gift exchange. Each family member brings a gift that costs less than $5. It should be suitable for any member of the family. One person reads The Night Before Christmas aloud. Every time he or she reads the word "the," everyone passes his or her gift to the person on the right. At the end of the story, each person opens the last gift they were passed.
  12. Think carefully and creatively about what your own parents really want or need. Most grandparents want to be needed, to feel appreciated, and to be included. Think of the holidays as a time to give older relatives special memories. Write a letter for your parents. Tell them why you love and appreciate them. Wrap it up with a big red bow. It will be their best present! Include them in your family's activities whenever you can.
  13. Ask each family member to tell grandma and grandpa what they love about them. Reminisce about your favourite childhood memory of the holidays. Capture it to share with grandparents on a video, a cassette tape, or written out carefully in a booklet complete with family photos.
  14. Save some of your children's Christmas artwork from year to year to give to your relatives. It makes young artists feel very special. Pick up inexpensive frames at garage sales or the dollar store.
  15. Consider pooling your resources with other family members in order to give your parents one really special gift.
  16. Make a coupon that entitles the bearer to homemade baking once a month for an entire year. This is a gift that is especially appreciated by seniors, who will look forward to your visit as much as your baking. That sounds like a lot, but it's easy to make a few extra muffins or cookies when you are baking some for your own family.
  17. Recycle last year's cookie tins and baskets by filling them with your mom or dad's favourite cookies, bars, or muffins.
  18. Make a coupon and tuck it in a beautiful Christmas card. You can offer help with housework, yardwork, cooking, or snow shoveling. When Christmas is over, make sure you honor your promises.
  19. Wreaths make wonderful, inexpensive gifts. Make your own from natural materials. Buy or make a loosely woven grapevine wreath and tuck lots of cedar or fir boughs between the twigs. Wire on some pinecones and a big bow.

Virginia Brucker is the author of Gifts from the Heart: Simple Ways to Make Your Family's Christmas More Meaningful After print costs, Brucker donates her portion of the book's sales to the Canadian Cancer Society for research. Gifts from the Heart has raised $98,500 for the cancer research and an additional $138,000 for the schools, daycares, churches, service organizations and other groups who have used the book as a fundraiser. A newly revised edition is now available. You may reach Virginia at or visit her website at

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