Instead of Gifts

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Ideas for New Christmas Tradition Needed

This year, our family is considering beginning some new traditions as an alternative to gift giving. We want to have special family time that will be meaningful to all. We have what we need and even what we want in many cases. It's not that we are unable to afford buying gifts; we are striving to move beyond all the hype. Any suggestions?

Christmas Tradition Idea: Once Upon a Time…

Have a gathering where each person brings one gift for a person whose name they drew in advance. Set a dollar limit like $10 or even $5. The rule is that the gift must be an item you think that person would have liked as a child, such as a toy, a children's book, etc. Wrap them up, and then let the recipients remove the gift-wrapping. Then, gather up all the goodies and donate them to Toys for Tots. It's fun because you have to put some thought into it, considering the person's interests, and but it ultimately benefits a worthy cause.

Everybody Loves Traditional Christmas Cookies!

A cookie baking day could be fun! Each member can pick their favorite recipe and make enough for everyone to take home. You'll have good food and family time in one!

Idea for a Take Home Christmas Memory

One family I know gets together to make Christmas ornaments to exchange. They have a fun day using lace and fabric scraps, glitter, markers and other craft supplies to make ornaments. They number the collection and put the numbers in a hat and draw for their exchange. Everyone takes home a great Christmas memory.

Being Together the Best Christmas Tradition

My suggestion is to use money that would be spent on gifts to get all the relatives to come together somewhere. It could be a Hawaiian vacation or just someone's house (if big enough). Whether people are traveling by car or plane, it costs money.

Giving Face-to-Face

A very good friend of mine began a new Christmas tradition last year. She and her family have all that they need and were looking to recapture the spirit of Christmas they felt was missing from their lives.

For the second year in a row, my friend has purchased 20 good quality fleece throw blankets on sale the day after Thanksgiving at the best price she could find. This year she found her best buy at Mervyn's. They were selling three blankets for $10, so she bought 21 blankets. She will then go to Costco and local grocery stores to purchase water and various non-perishable food items and will make up a bag to go with each blanket.

Then, on Christmas Eve, they go into San Francisco (our nearest large city) and give the bags and blankets to any homeless people they find on the street. These people have been very grateful. They never force a bag and blanket on anyone unwilling to accept them, and for the sake of safety, they never approach groups of people, only individuals or those in groups of 2.

Giving a small gift to someone they know won't get anything makes them appreciate the joy of giving, and unlike donating to charity, they are giving face to face.

Another great suggestion is to participate in the distribution of toys with an organization like Toys for Tots or see if a local organization has an opportunity to sponsor an under-privileged family for Christmas, providing gifts and a holiday meal.

United in Giving to Others

For several years, my family (siblings, spouses, children, and their spouses) has made a substantial donation to some useful organization rather than exchange gifts among ourselves. On Christmas Eve, we gather for our celebration. The host provides a large paper bag and we each deposit into it the amount of cash that we are individually able to give. No one ever knows how much anyone else has given. Then we sit in a large untidy circle and discuss what to do with that year's donation. Several members of the family will propose their ideas for recipients and we will discuss at some length and eventually vote. One sister takes the cash, writes a letter, and sends a check. We give in memory of our parents/grandparents, who are deceased, and one of our considerations has been to choose causes we believe they would have favored. In this way, we are able to make a single gift that is significant to both the givers and the receivers.
Jeane in Minneapolis, MN

Christmas Tradition Idea: Sharing "Off" Time

Three years ago, we decided we didn't much enjoy the holidays. We were asking our grown-up children what they wanted and then buying and wrapping what they had asked for. It ended up in a flurry of opening presents with not much quality time.

We came up with the idea that we would give our kids some much needed "off" time. We rented a house on the beach for a week before Christmas and invited the kids and grandkids. We did not get gifts for the grown ups, just a gift for each grandchild to open. We brought all the food, most of which I had prepared and frozen. They were officially "on vacation." Each family came when they could. We took care of most of the chores (they tried to help of course) and even added a couple of surprises to the week, such as massages for the girls and a day of fishing for the guys. In reality, it didn't cost much more than buying gifts and we got the biggest present of all, wonderful memory-making time with our family. Everyone seemed to have a great time and asked to keep up our new tradition.

We are planning to find something away from the beach next year as it is getting too pricey for the rental. Since it isn't the location so much as just time together that's important, a clean, comfortable place with enough beds for all of us will be fine.

Christmas Tradition Idea: Ornament Exchange

I come from a very large family. Several years ago, we were faced with the same dilemma. One of my sisters suggested we exchange ornaments instead of gifts. Each family gives every other family a new ornament each year. Some are handmade and some are purchased, but all are memorable. Plus, it takes the stress out of the holiday exchange as we can shop for just the right ornament with a whole year to do it. I love decorating my tree with the treasures my sisters and mother have given me. Over the years, these special ornaments have been replacing the shiny glass balls and give us a chance to reflect on the loving family we have been blessed with.
Valerie in Chesapeake, VA

Christmas Tradition Idea: "Adopt" a Child

For the past few years, our family has "adopted" a child at a local home for abused kids. Everyone in the family buys something for this child instead of for each other. The children in the family learn the lesson of giving to the less fortunate, nobody busts their budget, and we focus on the true meaning of the season. We are giving in a way that is meaningful!

Christmas Tradition Idea: Dwell in the Joy of the Season

When my children were young we had very little income. Plus, I worked multiple part-time jobs to avoid the cost of childcare and so I could be home when my children were not in school. A pricey Christmas was just out of the question.

We always went caroling. If you live in a cold climate, wrap up warmly, with mittens, earmuffs, scarves, warm socks, and take some easy lyrics with you. You can find these in books at the library. If you feel funny going to homes of people you don't know, call local nursing homes. They love visitors.

Sit down together and make up Christmas stories. These can be all new or you can start with a traditional one and make up silly endings. One person starts and each other person adds in a few sentences and the game moves on until the story ends. You'll be amazed at the family's combined creativity.

Adopt a family for Christmas. Call the local Salvation army. They'll give you general details of ages and needs. Fill a big laundry basket full of foods, clothing and toys for someone needy.

Invite people to your home for the holidays who have lost a loved one, suffered a breakup, or are just plain lonely. Go all out to make them feel there is joy in just being together. Let them know you appreciate their presence. Prepare special dishes. Holidays can be anxious and difficult times.

Volunteer to cook or serve at a local soup kitchen after the holidays. They are often overwhelmed with volunteers during Hanukkah and Christmas, but volunteers are in short supply come January and February. Celebrate the spirit of giving your gifts to others all year, not just a few weeks out of the calendar.

Practice random acts of kindness. Last year, while Christmas shopping, my son bought a big bag of chocolates and just handed them to people as he shopped at a mall. A few were actually suspicious, asking what he was selling. But most stopped, slowed down, took time to talk with him, thank him, and wish a happy holiday. He doesn't remember most of the presents he bought, but he still remembers some of the people he spoke with that day.

Christmas Tradition Idea: Be Santa's Helpers for a Day

Where I used to work a group of us collected items to go in gift bags for adults in the hospital, nursing home or veterans home. Many charities at this time of year remember the children that are in the hospital, but not the adults. It's best to contact the hospital, nursing home or veterans hospital to see what items might be needed or appreciated.

Some items we collected included pen and paper, puzzle books, decks of cards, toothbrushes and travel sized toothpaste, bottles of lotion, etc. We even got one of the local grocery stores to donate apples and oranges. Just remember that if you include mouthwash, it must be alcohol free.

Once the items were collected and the bags were assembled, we all dressed up in Santa and elf hats to deliver the bags. Not only were the patients surprised and happy, but the nursing staff was thrilled as well. It was worth the time and effort to see their faces light up at being remembered. Also, it is best to schedule a date and timeframe for delivery so the hospital staff can be alerted.
Jennifer in Clarendon, NY

Christmas Tradition Idea: Put Together a Family Newsletter

It would help to know what sort of family you have (ages of children, etc.), but in the absence of that, here are some ideas:

  1. Have a tradition of reading a favorite holiday story each year. One of my favorites is A Child's Christmas in Wales (Godine Storyteller) by Dylan Thomas. Tailor it to what the family prefers.
  2. Write each other letters of appreciation and package the letter as a gift. Small children who can't write can draw a picture or paint, and have an adult put a few words on it that expresses the idea of the drawing.
  3. Everyone pitches in and cooks a meal that has at least one of each person's favorite dishes.
  4. Spend a day together volunteering.
  5. Put together a family newsletter with stories and/or photos by the whole family, then send it out to family and friends.


Christmas Tradition Idea: Have Some Fun

With my husband's large family, it was impossible to get everyone a gift. We tried drawing names, but it still didn't work. Instead, we had everyone bring a gift, something silly that was laying around the house, garage, yard or barn. The first person chooses a gift and opens it. That person can either keep that gift or give it to another person, and so on down the line. The last person is obviously stuck with the gift they have after all gifts have been opened, unless he can convince someone to trade. We had such fun with an old velour bedspread that everyone hated! The last Christmas we used the bedspread, someone made a stuffed animal with what was left of it. Some of the family got very creative with their gift wrapping to tempt others to choose their gift, which might have been something as silly as a rusty horseshoe and a piece of baling wire! It's a very fun way to celebrate Christmas!

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