Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover

Celebrating the holidays without shopping

So here we are. Holiday season 2012. Thanksgiving has been overshadowed by Black Friday and people’s wallets and budgets are hurting in order to make sure that underneath the Christmas tree is brimming with presents. It’s also the time of year when people are extremely generous, giving to all different types of charities.

It can get very expensive.

For me, though, I’m having to scale back a bit this year. My husband and I began living on one income about 6 months ago and there isn’t as much money to go around. Our daughter also has a December birthday and we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah in our house. While we do a good job of managing December without incurring any debt, this year, we’re trying to focus on activities that provide as much joy as receiving gifts but cost a whole lot less money.

Because for us, it’s about the whole spirit of the season rather than receiving gifts (I know that sounds like a crock but I promise it’s true). We really do enjoy the whole atmosphere of the holidays and we’re trying to focus more on spending time as a family rather than buying a tremendous amount of gifts. To do that, we’ve compiled a list of activities for us to do together:

  • Read. There is an abundance of holiday books, particularly for kids. Our daughter loves to read so we’ve been going to the library to pick out some books featuring her favorite characters (Marley, Dewey, Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious) in holiday settings. My husband also has his childhood copy of “T’was the Night Before Christmas” that we read together.  Each night we take turns picking out which stories we read and sometimes, we even make up our own.
  • Bake. One of my hobbies is baking. I love to do it and I love to find new recipes (my husband enjoys this as well). For this holiday season, I’ve been exploring fun, creative ways to bake some favorite holiday treats like fudge and cookies but I’m also trying out some new ones. My daughter is the best kitchen helper I can ask for and the time we spend baking is much better than time spent shopping for yet another Barbie doll.
  • Tour the Christmas lights. I heart Christmas lights. A lot. They’re so pretty and festive and fun. Fortunately, my family also enjoys the lights as much as I do so it’s not unusual for us to get in our car and drive around, looking at lights. In years past, we’ve also gone down to Ocean City, MD to explore their Winterfest of Lights. It’s relaxing, inexpensive and really, really beautiful and well done. When we’re done, it gives us something to talk about as well as ideas for what we might like to do with our house the next year (which we never actually do. Our house is way too small).
  • Take advantage of free activities. I suppose we’re lucky. Where we live, there is an abundance of free family activities during the holiday season. For instance, we can go to our local library and build a gingerbread house (cost—cans of food for the local food bank). We can go to a local apple orchard and meet Santa (outdoors and way less crowded than the mall. And there are no stores to tempt us). There’s a free Christmas music concert. The list goes on. It’s a way for us to enjoy some activities as a family without spending any money. And it’s fun!
  • Establish our own traditions. Every year, we have a Christmas movie marathon. We have a number of DVDs and we’ll have a day or two where all we watch is Christmas movies (poor Hanukkah gets left out. I refuse to watch Adam Sandler’s “Eight Crazy Nights” and I don’t know of any other Hanukkah movies). All of that culminates with “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Yes, it’s a lot of TV but it’s a family tradition. Just like eating spaghetti and meatballs on Christmas Eve and opening one stocking gift. It may be quirky but it works for us and these are the memories that are most important.

The commercialism of the holiday season really does annoy my husband and I. As parents, we feel that we have an obligation to teach our daughter those same values. By finding alterative activities that we can do as a family and don’t cost a lot of money, we feel that we’re off to a good start. And by occupying our time this way, it’s less time we think about shopping and more time creating lasting family memories.



  1. CindyCF

    We did well with my son until 5 years old. We had the religious traditions and family traditions leaving out commercialism. Then some little punk at preschool told him about Santa and gifts. Until then he didn’t know the whole getting presents thing.
    I think we’ve kept a pretty good handle on it though. He’s 15 now and we exchange presents but it isn’t crazy. Birthdays are a bigger deal materialistically. Christmas is still more about family time and giving.

  2. Pauline

    My best memories as a kid were time spent as a family, seeing my cousins, making crafts and getting unlimited TV and sugar rushes. Strangely I don’t even remember many present opening sessions. No need to spend millions to have a magical holiday.
    Pauline recently posted…Friday recap, a panoramic view and a blogging tipMy Profile

  3. John S @ Frugal Rules

    We love looking at Christmas lights! There’s nothing quite like hearing our 3 & 5 year olds ooh and aah in the back seat because they think the lights are so cool. It’s free and loads of fun, plus we get to be together as a family…not much better. 🙂
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted…Frugal Friday: Posts That Ruled This Week, It’s December Already Edition!My Profile

  4. Christian L.

    All stellar ideas here. My family used to drive around to look at lights, too. We went to a certain neighborhood that collaborated on their decorations. I was little and the first word I thought of to describe the neighborhood was “bazooka.” So we coined the neighborhood Bazooka Town and went back for years.

    We also used to read “A Christmas Carol” from December 1 through Christmas Eve. We’d eat pies, drink cocoa and have a fire going.

    These are things I remember growing up; not the presents, most of which I probably don’t have anymore. So you’re wise to invest in memories and no matter what your daughter says, she’ll remember how much fun she had with her parents during the holidays.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

    1. Jana (Post author)

      Even though I’m Jewish, my parents took me every year to this one house that was, for lack of a better word, incredible. It looked like what I imagine Santa’s house would look like if he decorated for Christmas. It’s probably my favorite childhood holiday memory. Oh, that and the potato latke contest 🙂

  5. Christa

    I’m not big on the commercialization of the holidays either. I’d rather spend time together than spend tons of time and money finding the perfect gift. I do like seeing the Christmas light show set up at a local park — one of my favorite seasonal activities ever, and very reasonably priced.

    Enjoy your holidays!
    Christa recently posted…Investing in Sanity: Baby Sleep TrainingMy Profile

    1. Jana (Post author)

      I heart Christmas lights. They’re so beautiful. Especially if they’re done right!

  6. Jon

    Any activity that brings the whole family together is great in my books! Enjoying treats that you can only at xmas time like egg nog and playing board games with the family is definitely one of my favorites.
    Jon recently posted…Grad School FundingMy Profile

  7. SMD @ Life According to Steph

    The commercialism of the season drives me totally insane. I finished all of my Christmas shopping already because I try to avoid stores in December – people are insane and it’s tempting to spend $$ on things I don’t need.

    I love that you guys are teaching your daughter to enjoy the season itself and everything that comes along with it and not just the gifts.

    1. Jana (Post author)

      Steph, there’s just so much else to enjoy besides presents. And I don’t want her thinking that gifts are the most important thing. I can’t imagine that would turn out well.

  8. Jenniemarie @ Another Housewife

    Don’t even get me started on the commercialism of this holiday. I mean we still do the Santa thing and give gifts (3 per kids) but it is NOT the main focus. Your list is fantastic but then again we do everything that is on it so I might be biased.
    Jenniemarie @ Another Housewife recently posted…It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like ChristmasMy Profile

    1. Jana (Post author)

      You are not biased; you are a genius. Honestly, your family is a model for how to celebrate the season. But I think you already know that 🙂

  9. Aloysa @ My Broken Coin

    I stopped giving gift to friends and family a few years ago. My family and my friends decided that gifts don’t really matter but experiences do. So we just get together and do something fun. Together. We have great memories. Because of that, I am finally looking forward to the holidays. I used to dread them and my bank statements. Not anymore!
    Aloysa @ My Broken Coin recently posted…Things I Learned About Myself in NovemberMy Profile

    1. Jana (Post author)

      I love that idea! I don’t typically give gifts to friends (although this year I am making an exception) but my family is big on gift giving. I just try to keep to a budget and spend a few minutes each day appreciating the stuff that’s free, too!

  10. Lynne

    Christmas doe not mean spending a lot. You can still give gifts but the most important thing is to do things that makes the family happy. Quality time with the family is the most important thing for me.
    Lynne recently posted…Why I Become a CoachMy Profile

  11. Pingback: A few holiday memories and one important lesson | |

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge