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family christmas choosing tree

With Black Friday comes a yearly reflecting on purchasing habits. After all, this is supposed to be the holiday season, not the debt season.

Whether you’re religious or not, “Christmas” has universal appeal as a time when we should be kind and generous to everyone we meet. “Kind and generous” isn’t only achieved if we bankrupt ourselves. There’s no law saying a gift is worth nothing if it didn’t encroach on your credit limit. And yet, year after year, many find themselves spiraling into a spending whirlwind, losing sight of what the holidays mean, and getting shackled by debt that often doesn’t relent until February and beyond.

This year, give yourself the gift of simplicity. Turn to a kinder, gentler, debt-free holiday, and remember what it was you loved about Christmas as a kid.

Here are a few ways to reconnect with Christmas, while skipping the credit-shock that often follows.

Christmas is for kids

boy and christmas treeUnlike Ralphie and his quest for “an official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot range-model air rifle,” most of the gifts we get at Christmas are just another thing in an already-cluttered life, even as a kid.

What we really remember, though, are the great memories. Like the time my family stood around in a rare heavy snowfall, pouring hot taffy into the fresh-fallen snow for “snow taffy” — a $5 memory for the whole family, or those times we searched for the perfect Christmas tree to cut down on a farm, fingers so frozen that hot chocolate was a necessity for circulation to return. A lifelong memory for under about $40 for the whole family, even today.

Sure, we remember one or two wonderful, perfect gifts — like my first BMX bike in 1979 — but mostly, I think we all recall the magic and fun of the holidays.

Fewer gifts, more memories

If you’re a parent, or beloved aunt or uncle, have a talk with your kids about why there should be fewer gifts (but more meaningful or useful ones), and how instead you’d like to use that extra money for special memory-making together.

Hayrides, skiing, snowboard lessons, a Christmas carol cruise, matinee movies, a science center day, a horse ride — there are all kinds of unique ways to bring traditional activities back to Christmas, indoors and out. Many are not free, but you’re much more likely to remember the times spent having fun in your years to come.

The maker Christmas

Whether you knit, bake, do woodworking, create music, or do photography, there’s something really rewarding about giving something you’ve made.

By taking your time, making a plan, listing all the people you can include, and even finding the packaging for your homemade gifts, there’s a lot more personality and commitment involved in the holidays when it’s something you’re having to accomplish rather than just pay for.

Christmas crafts kids

I have a lot of fun finding the “right” packaging for all my homemade gifts, most of which are homemade candy. It’s fun getting something that’s cute and suits my hard work. As a photographer, too, I’ve even planned ahead for Christmas, trying to take the perfect picture of friends’ kids over the course of the year, so I can give them a special framed 5×7 of some wonderful day they had together. It’s often a $10 gift, but one that really pulls on heart-strings.

The antique gift

Sometimes you just don’t have the time for making your gifts. If you’re stuck buying gifts, it’s easy to do the online thing or buy something from regular stores, it may not feel that special for you.

My two favourite gift-giving Christmases were the time when I’d been unemployed most of the year and made homemade candy for everyone in my life, but the second time was when I had a little money, just not a ton, and decided to take a different tack — I hit up antique malls in the country, searching for the perfect gifts.

Among my favorite gifts I gave that year — which never exceeded $40 — were a red “nuclear panic” rotary-dial phone from 1955 and a set of mint-condition Burger King Empire Strikes Back glasses from 1980. The glasses are cherished even still by my friend, a decade later, who’s now protecting them for his children, 6 and 8. I still remember that day I spent looking for all those gifts, when I drove from shop to shop in the country. It was a lovely journey with great reward, and from the start of the quest through to giving the gifts, it’s memory-filled for me.

The giving Christmas

Is there really anything you need? For many of us, the answer’s actually no. Most of it, we can get ourselves or can make do. If that’s the case, consider adopting a local family and pairing up with friends and family to buy those folks everything they need in a time when they’re strapped.

Some of my wealthy relatives do this. With no kids, they pick a family and buy everything from slippers for the Mom to a turkey for the big day. One cousin has made it a personal tradition, and on the same day every year, a couple days before Christmas, she makes sure a poor family is given what they need for a happy holidays.

When my mother was a child, she and her parents received such a box. On Christmas Eve day, they awoke to find someone had left them everything they needed on their front stoop and she remembered it warmly till the end of her life.

A day of kindness

Last year, I was challenged by a friend to have a “day of kindness,” and I hatched a plan to say thanks to local men and women in the military. I thought I’d make them a few pounds of candy and that’s that. But when I approached local business people on a whim, I found myself securing nearly $3,000 of donated gift certificates, wine, coffee, and more.

It was a wonderful experience and made me feel like it was a magical Christmas at my end, though I gave it all away. It cost me nothing but time.

The crafty side

From paper-link tree garland to paper snowflakes in the window, up to more complicated tasks like wine-cork reindeer and more, there’s a lot of fun to be had in making your own Christmas decorations. Some can be incredibly cheap to make, but they’re wonderfully heartwarming to pull out of the decorations box year after year, remembering who made it and when you first saw it.

Pinterest is loaded with all kinds of beautiful ideas for crafts. Maybe there’s something you can come up with that’ll be fun for you and a great gift for your friends and family to bring out every holiday for years to come.

Christmas is what you make it

This Christmas, remember what it’s about — fun, people, visiting, eating, and laughing. The gifts are a perk, but even with simpler and smaller gifts, the season can still be a really magical time for kids of all ages.

Maybe if you give more of yourself and less of your wallet, you’ll not only enjoy your holidays better, but also feel more positive and in control of your immediate future when the New Year dawns. I know I do.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.