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.