Christmas is my favorite time of year, but I know it can be a difficult time of year when finances are tight. I want to share with you how you can celebrate Christmas in a big way by shifting your focus towards great family traditions.
I have been getting a lot of questions on how families can celebrate the holidays when they don’t have the money to have the Christmas that they have been dreaming of. It can be stressful as a parent to not be able to have the holiday that you envision for your children, but a change in perception for the holidays can go a long way. You see, regardless of the economic turmoil, the holidays will never change for our family because our focus has turned to traditions rather than gifts.
When you make the switch to focusing on family traditions, there is a lot less stress in your life worrying about the gifts under the tree. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about? For me, it is all about family, about creating memories for my children that they will never forget, and it is about the love that they feel from us as parents.
Here are some of the ways we have have simplified the giving process and our family traditions that have shifted our family focus during this financially stressful season.
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Simplify Your Gift Giving
Several years ago I ran across an idea for buying four gifts for your kids in the specific categories of something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. It has been a tradition that has stuck and I hope that my kids will continue the tradition with their own children someday. The kids love getting to help in the selection of the gifts from these four categories and I love the simplicity of shopping for these gifts We are blessed with a big family of generous givers so my children never have expressed disappointment that there are not enough gifts for them. In fact, this year they struggled to come up with four gifts that they really wanted.
Next year, we plan to give our children a Choose Your Own Adventure gift where they can select one fun family experience or a learning experience. Art classes, dance classes, a trip to a local museum, going to a fun show in town, going to a restaurant and a movie with mom or dad, or another coveted outing will be on the list.
We do this often with money gifted by relatives (last year was a family outing to the Nutcracker and cocoa at the local chocolate shop) to cut down on the excess in our home and to create a purposeful experience with our kids.
Christmas to me is all about the food and traditions that can be created (and consumed) in our house.Some of our favorite traditions happen to be making a batch of our favorite sugar cookies to decorate, baking up gingerbread donuts for a surprise treat, or consuming gallons of hot cocoa with homemade peppermint marshmallows on cold wintry mornings.
In our family, each Friday night in December, we make a homemade pizza and bundle our children up for an evening of looking at the holiday lights in the neighborhoods. We blast the Christmas carols on the radio and bring along popcorn for them to snack on while they enjoy all the beauty of the Christmas lights. To make it more fun, we let them pick their favorite pajamas to wear and they think this is hilarious to get to wear their pajamas in the car. This year I am also looking forward to a little Christmas Lights Scavenger Hunting on our tour of the lights.
On Christmas morning, I make cocoa and gingerbread waffles for the kids. As a special treat, I shape the tubes of store-bought cinnamon rolls into a Christmas tree shape and tint the icing green for the tree. We eat this together after we open the presents and the kids look forward to it each year.
While these traditions might not sound like much, our children look forward to them each year and we get just as excited as them for these special meals.
Caring for Others
Instead of focusing on ourselves, we try to do things for others around the holidays. This year our family’s holiday project was to create homeless care packages for the homeless in our town. It was such a great experience to do with our children that I hope to repeat a project like this each year with them.
Even if you are short on funds there are so many ways to give back that don’t cost a lot. Gather items for a donation to your local shelter, serve a meal to those in need, use your talent for crafting to benefit someone in your community, or take a peek at these painless ways to give back this season.
When my son was small we would take them to the fire station with a box full of goodies. I loved seeing the faces of the firefighters light up when they saw our treats, but more importantly, is the light in your children’s eyes when they take them around to show them the fire engines. This is one of the best days of playing Santa I had ever had.
Filling the Stockings with Love
On the first day of December, I try to set out a basket and small slips of paper. Each person in the family is supposed to write something about someone else in the family that they appreciate about them and stick it in each other’s stockings. On Christmas morning, we have something fun to look forward to opening, which centers on family rather than gifts. If you have smaller children, have them draw pictures for each family member and jot down the sweet things they say about their family members. It is truly a highlight of my Christmas morning and brings us all closer together.
We have always counted down the holidays in fun ways with our kids. When my children were small we did a Christmas Jar full of fun activities for each day of December. We would fill it with fun and free activities- making a snowman, watching a holiday show on television, making a holiday ornament- anything that is inexpensive and fun for us to do together as a family.
As they have gotten older, our “use what you have” advent calendar still gives us the opportunity to do these fun activities, but fits a little bit better around our busy life. I wanted to create our own countdown to Christmas in a creative way, but I didn’t want to spend any money on it. I decided to use what I had to create our homemade Advent filled with fun activities and you can grab an idea list for activities over here.
Wrapping It Up With An Inexpensive Bow
These are just a few of our suggestions for ways to make the holiday more special and more focused on your family rather than a store-bought Christmas tied up with an expensive bow.
Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to document these memories in some way so you can share them with your children. I started a holiday journal for the children and tucked in a copy of their sweet letters to Santa, their favorite holiday recipes, our holiday photo each year, and jotted down their favorite memories from the year.
My goal is to only leave my children a legacy of holiday memories, not a legacy of stuff under the tree.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs
- ⅔ cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
- 1¼ cups milk
- ½ cup molasses
- ½ cup (1 stick) melted butter, plus some to butter the iron
- Syrup, whipped cream or fresh fruits for topping, to pass at table
- Preheat waffles iron. In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until fluffy, then beat in pumpkin, milk, molasses and melted butter. Stir the wet into dry until just moist. Do not overstir the waffle batter. Brush the iron with a little melted butter and cook 4 waffles, 4 sections each. Serve with toppings of choice.