With the economy in crisis, 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 made traditions more important than presents:
Special Holiday Meals
For me, the holidays are when I get to spend oodles of time in the kitchen with my children. We do special holiday meals that the kids can really look forward to and enjoy participating in. We go to lots of holiday gatherings and do our own holiday food traditions where we center our time around activities in the kitchen rather than time spent in the stores. My hope is that my children will remember getting to be a part of this time spent preparing food together, just as I remember spending time in my grandmother’s kitchen making her Christmas cookies.
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.
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. We are gathering items for a donation to our shelter and we plan to bring the children there to help be a part of the giving. We are trying to teach them just how good giving feels and how fortunate we are to have what we have. Growing up, we used to donate our time to serve Thanksgiving dinner to those less fortunate and I have never forgotten this. The gratefulness in these people’s eyes and the rush of euphoria I felt when I could do something for someone else has always stuck with me. I want my children to experience this just like I did and realize how much better it is to give than to receive.
We also do boxes of treats for people who have been good to our family or cared for us in some way- our teachers & staff, our extended family, and even service workers.
I highly recommend, if you have little children, taking the time to visit your fire station with a box full of goodies. First of all, seeing the faces of the firefighters light up when they see all of your treats is a treat in itself. More importantly though, 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 have every year.
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.
Countdown to Christmas
Each year, I collect Little Golden books all year long for a countdown to Christmas for the children. I wrap them in newspaper with ribbon and we open one for each day of December. The books are bought at the thrift store for a quarter each and we read them each day until Christmas. Similarly, you could do a countdown to Christmas with a small treat or candy, an Advent calendar countdown, or another small token to let the kids know when Christmas is coming.
We also do a Christmas jar of fun activities for each day of December. We 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.
These are just 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
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs
- 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/2 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.