I hear you saying, “Really? We need a new tradition? What’s wrong with the old one?” Okay, it is true that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But really, the modern idea of celebrating the holidays might actually be broken. I am not made of money (I can’t believe I have turned into my parents!) and the reason for the season is love others more than self, peace on earth and good will toward all, not “he-who-has-the-most-stuff” wins. So if your old traditions still work, cool. You can keep the ones you like, but try a few of these on for size and see if they don’t feel pretty right at the end of the day.
1. Give your time and experience, instead of throw-away bobbles
I have said it before and I will say it again: Memories last so much longer than things—and I have a terrible memory and take care of my things. Several years ago our family went through financial difficulties and couldn’t afford our old holiday spending. We discovered we enjoyed our time as a family just as much—maybe even more—when we planned inexpensive or free events as opposed to buying gifts with a “everyone-needs-their-own” mentality.
What could this look like? Do a cookie swap or build a snowman. Do a family hike or play a game of toss as a whole group. It’s fun. Have a family game night where the parents really play, too. Take the kids to a local playground or park or go for a bike ride together. Shoot hoops. Kids will remember the time they spanked you in Parcheesi way more than that video game or gift card you bought.
2. Take the kids caroling or on a candlelight stroll
Yes, these things do still happen. Do a Google search in your area and if you don’t find something, do your own thing. A Providence, RI neighborhood has an annual caroling event that rocks the entire West Side! Your stroll can be as simple as walking through your neighborhood as a group singing holiday songs. Maybe you know a few parents who would like to do something old-fashioned and simple with their kids, too. Maybe some of your neighbors will love it and join you. Or maybe you could call to see if the local children’s hospital would let you sing in the halls. If that’s too much for you to envision—no judgment here—take the family ice skating. Yes, on the ice, most likely an indoor rink unless you’re lucky enough to have huge outdoor rink like me. We have a tiny pond, too, but pond ice is inconsistent and not always good enough for skating.
3. Donate time (not money) to a really good cause
Far be it for me to tell you what to do with your hard-earned money. I know, your schedule is just as tight as your wallet. However, it might be far more meaningful for your family to see real charity in action. Just this once, keep your money in your pocket and put your feet and hands to the task. Check with your local food pantry, homeless or women’s shelter, veteran’s home or visit volunteermatch.org and see where there’s a need near you. Apparently, volunteerism is distinctly American and we should embrace this as families trying to raise responsible, engaged adults. There is probably something you could do to help in your area; your kids will gain invaluable lessons. You might too.
4. Exchange only hand-made gifts
Crazy, right? Let’s be honest. As Americans, we usually buy what we need when we need it. The holidays have become a free-for-all of spending for the sake of spending. Make your list as usual, then try to think of something that person could really use or would really enjoy that you could create. Maybe it’s food if your family likes to cook, or some kind of hand-craft or uses a skill of yours like photography. Maybe you write poetry or can draw well. When your gift-giving-creativity becomes deeper than what you see as you walk through the mall, it’s not very hard to come up with some cool ideas.
5. Visit an elderly, a handicapped or shut-in neighbor
You probably don’t have to think very long to think of one, two or even more people you know (or know of) who fit that category. I’m not talking about strangers here. Perhaps the mother of an old friend lives alone now and your friend lives out of her town. You know she is home alone because her car never moves. Stop in and visit with the kids, even for 20 minutes. Maybe you know someone who has been ill or has just lost a loved one. Holidays are the hardest for them and a short visit might be just what the doctor ordered. You don’t need to bring a pie or cookies, but that would be extra sweet (as long as you’re not visiting a diabetic). You might just make someone’s day, or their entire season!
My ideas might be too over-the-top for you and your family. I get it. But just try just one of these wild and crazy ideas and see what your kids think. Tweak my ideas to fit your lifestyle or family interests. Get out of your old “spend spend spend!” rut and engage with your kids. Your kids will love your new holiday traditions and might even have some ideas of their own for next year. Whatever you celebrate, peace and happiness to you and yours!