By Sarah Hamaker, Crosswalk.com
Need a little Christmas spirit that doesn’t break the bank? Check out these low-cost and free ways to commemorate the reason for the season.
In these times of economic uncertainty, many of us yearn for a simpler, less stressful holiday season. “There is a universal wish to end the year with a festival of renewal that rekindles our faith, brings us closer to the people we care to ward off the commercial excesses of the season and create an authentic, joyful celebration in tune with our unique needs and desires,” write authors Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli in Unplug the Christmas Machine.
How can you accomplish this? First, think about what children really want for Christmas, such as time with family, an unhurried holiday and family and cultural traditions. Then keep your focus on the real meaning of Christmas.
Pick a few of the following low-cost and free ways to celebrate the season with our families and friends, or use the ideas as a starting place to create your own unique holiday traditions.
Christmas is More Than One Day
Want to enjoy Christmas all month long? Then check out these ideas for celebrating Dec. 1 through 25 and beyond.
Marking time. Advent calendars are a great way to help children count down to Christmas Day and to interject the true meaning of Christmas in the process. Have your children count off numbers and then rotate those numbers to avoid squabbles over whose turn is it to place the star of Bethlehem in the heavens. Cost: Low-cost or free.
Reading Christmas. Each Dec. 1, we get out our Christmas books and holiday movies. Each day during December, one child picks a book or movie for the entire family to watch or read together. Variations of this include wrapping the books and movies separate and having the kids pick something sight unseen. Rebekah Hammer of Tijunga, Calif., does this with her family. “Books can be gotten free or cheap on eBay, Paperbackswap or used book stores,” she says. Also consider a holiday-themed book swap with friends to get an influx of new material or visit your library to snag some books to read. Cost: Low-cost to free.
Deck the Halls
Decorations can bring cheer to any occasion and Christmas is no exception. Check out these fun ideas that revolve around decorating your home.
Decorating party. Get the whole family involved in putting up the tree and other Christmas decorations by planning a specific time. Serve hot chocolate, play Christmas music and turn lose your decorating muse. Cost: Free.
Remembering our animal friends. Pop plain popcorn and string the popped kernels with fresh cranberries. Place the ropes on an outside tree or bush near a window and watch the birds enjoy their Christmas treat. “Paint” pinecones with peanut or other nut butters, attach a string and hang up in a tree for the squirrels to enjoy. Cost: Low-cost.
A Musical Season
Music has a way of lifting hearts and getting everyone into the Christmas spirit. Here are some musical ways to enjoy your holiday season.
Caroling, caroling through the neighborhood. Gather together a group of songbirds from your family and friends for an afternoon or evening spent serenading neighbors. Practice four or five Christmas hymns and end the concert with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Consider visiting area nursing or retirement communities, hospitals or hospices and even your local mall (with permission!) to spread some holiday cheer. Cost: Free.
A musical Christmas evening. Sit by the tree and sing Christmas carols, have children or adults play Christmas favorites on instruments and read “The Night Before Christmas” or other holiday poems or short books aloud. Serve holiday cookies and wassail to get into the spirit of the evening. Cost: Free.
Attend a Christmas concert or play. Many churches put on free, beautiful productions of the Christmas story in songs and plays. Call area houses of worship, check local newspaper listings, and ask family and friends for recommendations of performances. Cost: Free.
Christmas also can cheer up our lives with the many light displays that range from the simple to the eye-popping. Here are some suggestions for enjoying the brightness of the season.
Neighborhood lights. One evening, have everyone get into their pajamas and pile into the family car for a drive around the neighborhood to ogle the handiwork of your neighbors. Wrap up a plate of holiday baked goods to give to the owners of the house voted by your family as the most Christmasy. Cost: Free.
Light shows. Most localities have a light show within easy driving distance. These shows are generally in a park and feature large and innovative light displays. Weekends are peak visiting time, so if you don’t like crowds, pick a weekday evening. Our family has a tradition of going to see the local light show after Christmas to avoid the crush. Most venues charge by the car-load. Cost: Low-cost.
Handmade from the Heart
Here are some ideas for spreading Christmas cheer you can make yourself.
Ornaments. Tree ornaments can be made from almost anything, including things you have around the house. Most of the raw materials are inexpensive to purchase and instructions for a variety of homemade ornaments abound on the Internet. (Here’s a craft site with dozens of ideas.) Some ideas of things that can become tree decorations include clothespins, Mason jar lids, pine cones, lightweight photo frames, buttons, fabric scraps, etc. Cost: Low-cost.
Holiday cards. Have your little ones get creative and draw festive scenes, scan and print on card stock for handmade Christmas greetings. Using holiday stamps on card stock will work, too. Cost: Low-cost.
Homemade wrapping paper. Turn your kids loose with stamps, glitter, markers and their imagination on a roll of butcher paper and use it for wrapping presents. Cost: Low-cost.
Video cheer. Record an original family Christmas presentation with skits and songs. Make DVD copies and sent to far-off relatives and friends. “We live quite a distance form family,” says Deborah Tate of Lake Worth, Fla. “So to compensate, when our children were young, we always starred in our own homemade, family Christmas video production. The grandparents and everyone else always enjoyed seeing our family Christmas show.”
Christmas is Giving
At this time of year, it’s also important to focus on those who are struggling. Helping others can boost our own holiday spirits.
Adopt a family. If you’re able, consider sponsoring a family in need this holiday. Area nonprofit groups like food banks often have programs that link a needy family with a sponsor. Our family does this each year and our children love to go shopping for that family’s children. Cost: Low-cost.
Volunteer. Soup kitchens, food banks, and other nonprofit groups have need of extra hands during the holiday season, so consider signing up as a family to help out. Cost: free.
Smile. Just having a cheerful countenance can make someone’s day. Try to smile as you go about your errands. Treat each sales clerk and cashier with kindness. Don’t be a Scrooge with your face—smile. Cost: free.
When December 25 finally arrives, here are some ways to keep the true meaning of Christmas front and center.
Read the Christmas story. No matter which Gospel you pick, reading the Christmas story with your family around the tree can be a special time. Hearing the story of God incarnate becoming man sounds as fresh today as when it was new more than two centuries ago.
Birthday of Jesus. Singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus or baking Jesus a birthday cake can help everyone remember Dec. 25 is celebrated as his birth date. Nancy Swarthout of Kasson, Minn., bakes a cake for Jesus at Christmas. “It reminds my family that Jesus is the reason for Christmas and it is not about Santa. We also say a special prayer before we have the cake thanking God for sending us his son,” she says.
No matter how you celebrate Christmas, keep in mind that your family is not like anyone else’s—and your holiday traditions don’t have to be, either. Use these ideas to develop your own Christmas traditions and cherished holiday memories.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired @ Home: The Christian Mother's Guide to Working From Home. She lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children, and loves to see the Christmas lights each season. Visit her at www.sarahhamaker.com.
If you want to explore more ideas about simplifying your Christmas holiday, these books might be a good starting place.
Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas by Bill McKibben
Redeeming the Season: Simple Ideas for a Memorable and Meaningful Christmas by Kim Wier and Pam McCune
Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back Into the Season by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli
Visit Crosswalk's Christmas Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LuvChristmas.