I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard to tell everyone we wouldn’t be giving or accepting gifts, unless they were for the kids. I would be lying if I said it was easy to turn away from something I saw at a store that I knew would make the perfect gift for one of my friends or family members. But I would also be lying if I said it hasn’t been a bit of a relief! We have already been able to focus more on spending time together, on building traditions, and less on spending money.
This is actually our second “simplified Christmas” as we took some baby steps into it last year. And what brings us comfort in those tougher moments of essentially saying “no” to gifts is reminding ourselves what we love about Christmas, what the important parts are, and what we want our kids to understand about this time of year. In short, we wanted to bring the focus of the holidays back to quality time with family and friends and as long as we kept our eyes on that prize, we didn’t feel like we were missing out or depriving our boys of anything.
I’ve always loved the traditions and the family time during the holidays. While I LOVE giving gifts, my favourite parts of the holidays are: Christmas and Boxing Day activities (skating, tobogganing, card games, snowshoeing); the messages, photos, and letters I receive from my friends; and of course sitting down to eat Christmas dinner with family.
What do I think is important about the holidays? Family and friends being home, the catching-up, the quality time, the gathering for meals, the rest, the recharging, the laughs. I will also note here that clearly faith is a massively important part of the holidays to many, regardless of what that looks like in your home.
And what do I want our kids to know about Christmas? The togetherness, the love, the special excitement and magic that comes at this time of year whether it’s through the music or the lights or the time spent together or your faith or a combination of all of those.
Notice how none of those things involved gifts?! So first, I’m 100% not an expert at this, but here are my top 5 alternative ways of enjoying the holidays without feeling like you have to spend a fortune:
1. Limit physical gift giving.
This could mean many things – doing away with gifts all together, cutting out gifts except for the kids, $10-20 limit gift exchange (secret Santa or taking turns picking and stealing, etc).
2. Give experiences instead of gifts.
Tickets to a show, do a paint night together, plan a trip or staycation, try out a new leisure centre pool, take a cooking class, a fitness or workshop enrolment, ANY VOLUNTEERING EXPERIENCE (choose a local organization that is doing something you believe in, call them up, and ask what you could do that would be helpful this holiday season, then do it – who knows, this may even become one of your family traditions).
3. Handmade gifts from the heart or second-hand gifts.
Write notes or letters, give family photos or photo gifts, bake something delicious to gift, really anything handcrafted/baked/created gifts (Hint: Pinterest is fantastic for ideas). Another idea is offering up some of your skills as a gift, like offering to help with a family member’s website or setting up their smartphone for them, offering to help plant a family member’s garden in the Spring, offering to take family/graduation/engagement photos, offering to do someone’s taxes (ummm who wouldn’t love to get this gift?!), etc.
Second-hand gifts – There are so many shops/businesses opening that offer curated second-hand items. This gift option checks off a few boxes by being more environmentally friendly, often cheaper, and potentially supporting local too! Both handmade and second-hand gifts add that sentimental aspect to gift-giving that you just can’t beat!
4. When you need to buy, buy local and/or from a small business.
If you are going to spend your hard-earned dollars, why not support the community you live in? Those around you busting their butts to produce quality items while facing the uphill climb of running their own business? Trust me when I say, your purchases from small local businesses will be much more appreciated than if you’d bought from that place that rhymes with “smallmart” (bear with me, I was not an English major). This goes for supporting local businesses that offer services as well – offering an opportunity to combine supporting local with gifting an experience.
5. Focus on traditions that don’t revolve around gifts or spending.
Christmas Day tobogganing or skating or having a bake off at home. Start a holiday memory book, take silly family photos, spend all day in your pjs watching movie marathons. The world is your oyster here with endless possibilities! Story time – When I was growing up, my one side of the family would get together every second year on Boxing Day for a massive (it’s a big family) curling bonspiel where everyone was encouraged to wear the wackiest outfit they could come up with. The teams included kids as young as 3, and adults well into their 90s, and many who had never played, so the caliber of the curling was sub-par to say the least, but the memories made and the laughs we had were seriously the BEST. We stopped that tradition about 15 years ago and I miss it SO much! It definitely made up some of my absolute best Christmas memories, and I wish my kids could experience it too. But anyway! Do whatever you and your family enjoy. The fact that you’re all doing something fun together will make the gifts not matter at all, I promise.
Lastly, I just wanted to give some tips on where to find local businesses to support. Last year I gave a big run-down of all of my favourites, but I’ve learned of so many new favourites this year and honestly we just have some of the best makers and small businesses in Saskatoon, so it wouldn’t be fair to try to name them all in this format. Ask Mum Saskatoon has an amazing local business directory and also posts about these businesses frequently on Facebook and Instagram so that you don’t miss out on any fun events or upcoming deals! Joyne Marketplace and the Saskmade Store are great places to find locally-made gifts, and for both local makers and service-based businesses, searching some common hashtags (#shoplocalyxe #supportlocalyxe, etc) on social media can often help you find great local businesses too! We would love to hear your favourite local businesses in the comments too!
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