5 ways to have a simpler Christmas

Remember that one time my family budgeted twenty-five bucks for our family’s Christmas gifts? Yeah, twenty-five dollars total. Luckily, my kids do not remember this grim December. Celebrating was a teeth-gnashing experience: we meant to put more energy and emphasis on the advent and Christmas narrative. Instead of shopping, we’ll go caroling! Instead of plastic toys for our kids we’ll donate toys for someone else’s tots!

Sounded great. Noble, generous.

Instead, we ended up frustrated going through thrift store racks, tired of sewing yet another stuffed animal, and oh-so-ready to be done with the holidays.

So, twenty-five dollar Christmases, we don’t do anymore. But I still … I can’t go back to the days I knew as a child: the mountains of gifts, those gift exchanges where we’d text “What does (some dude) want for Christmas?” from the mall because we and dude didn’t know each other well.

I suspect this might sound familiar. Perhaps you’ve found some kindreds in The Year of Small Things because you want something different — starting with Christmas.

Me too. Let’s do this together.  

I’m issuing a Small Things Christmas Challenge! 

How will you err on the side of generosity this season?

How will you give differently? How will you refrain from buying too much stuff? Here are some ways that’ve worked for our family since our Grinchy Christmas:

  1. Experiences over gifts: My inlaws start asking for Christmas lists before we’ve even trick-or-treated. So, I needed ideas. I’ve started a conversation in our Facebook group (join us!), where the general consensus (hear me, grandparents!) is that experiences are better than stuff. Zoo memberships, movie gift certificates, trampoline park passes, a promise to go camping, and yadda yadda.
  2. The “want, need, wear, read” list: Something they want, something they need … You get it. We’re doing this in a shortened version; please don’t tell my kids all four of these categories or we can’t be friends anymore.
  3. Pay to play: my kids want to do soccer but the fee is ridiculous. Same with swimming, a music class, or whatever sport they choose (that doesn’t meet on weekend morning and only practices maybe once a week).
  4. We “adopt-a-child” through the local children’s home. The kids get to shop and learn how to pick out items other kids would like (not just “CAN I HAVE THIS”), and it generates a lot of conversation.
  5. We talk at the table about our budget, especially letting everyone choose which nonprofits we’ll donate to (besides our church). Generally, we give more away than we spend on our own gifts, and the kids hear that, even if they don’t quite get why yet.
  6. I’m still looking for a new monastic orthodontist. That really has nothing to do with Christmas, but I want to throw it out there.

TAKE THE SMALL THINGS CHALLENGE: Share ONE small way you’re celebrating differently this year.

Join us on Facebook to talk about it, or comment below! 

One thought on “5 ways to have a simpler Christmas

  • November 24, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    Some experiences mainly cost a grownup’s time and transportation costs. The Capital area is blessed with free or by-donation things to do:
    –my favorite: for the littlest ones, take them to the toddler time story hours at the local library or any number of other Great Start Collaborative events where they’ll sing, dance, play, and create craft items with the other kids… at no cost!
    –on any time with the libraries are open, bring them to play with the cool learning toys that are there. Check the events calendar to see if a magician is performing sometime soon.
    –For kids of all ages, and families, too, bring them to a nature center: Waldumar, Harris, and Fenner. There are learning activities in the buildings and also trails to wander. Comment on the trees that are there. See if you can spot a deer, or some wild turkeys. Point out how different the leaves are in summer–maple and oak and apple. Are those some wild strawberries over there? Or blueberries? Excitement!
    –Preteens and teens can learn a lot from visiting the self-guided, interactive learning place in the Supreme Court building. Tours of the Capitol building are fascinating, too, if they didn’t already visit it on a class tour.
    –Take a walk down the river trail and check out the Brehnke fish ladder.
    –Grandparents might be able to start a good conversation with school-age children by visiting an antique store to show them the kind of table our family ate at when we were growing up, or the kind of schooldesk we sat at, and what a 45 rpm record is for, and how a rotary dial phone works, and what a party line is. 🙂
    –Visit any number of art galleries and ask them which genre they like best–landscapes, still lifes, portraits, modern, photographs. Then ask them why! The Broad offers tours and sometimes, multi-media events, all by free-will donation.
    –Find out when you can visit a Maker Space to learn what tools are available there. It’s bound to spark your creativity. Grandpas especially will like the woodworking and welding tools. See how a 3D printer works. So much to learn!
    –The Children’s Garden at MSU is great, again by free-will donation. Beal Gardens are extensive, and free. There are international gardens. My favorite is the Japanese Garden off Service Road.
    –The University has many free events, too. Probably a recital every night that school’s in session. In summer, there are outdoor plays, by free-will donation, or buy a chance for tickets to plays in the Auditorium. The first one to get there each evening gets a prize, too.
    –There’s a fantastic Japanese garden on LCC’s campus and in summer, there are free outdoor plays there, too.
    –music venues abound. Wander around Mighty Uke Day in Old Town, as well as Jazz Fest, and Blues Fest. East Lansing offers Folk Fest, with arts and crafts, all by free-will donation.
    –Be a Tourist in Your Own Town. When it happens, buying one ticket will get you a ride on a bus and entrance to all kinds of Lansing attractions.
    –Take the kids to one of the Farmer’s Markets and tell them they can choose one locally-grown edible that you’ll pay for. Hint: chocolate doesn’t grow in Michigan. 🙂
    –Is there a community garden near you? Maybe they’ll offer free training in good growing techniques in exchange for some volunteer weed pulling, or seedling transplanting.
    –There are plenty of playgrounds for the kids to climb on, swing on, or slide down. Join them and give them a good laugh!
    –Give everyone a coupon for a free hug, a chance to play a board game, or lessons in euchre or dominos. Offer the little ones an hour of story telling–maybe from a book and maybe where they get to set the stage–where does it happen? Who’s there? What are they doing? What did they bring with them? When did it happen? Fun! Just make sure it has a happy ending.
    –resurrect some of those fancy toys you gave them last year that are in the back of the closet. Chances are, they still have some fun in them. Does Twister ever grow old?
    –teens, college students, and adults might enjoy LCC’s Cafe Scientifique, a once-a-month lecture at Schuler Bookstore where professors describe fascinating and cutting-edge research in many different areas.

    …whatever you do will get them away from those electronic screens, and that’s a good thing!


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