The holiday season is upon us, and so is the temptation to buy, buy, buy! At least that's what retailers are marketing for. The holidays are about eating too much,decorating too much, and just plain spending too much. Here are some tips and ideas I've learned through the past few years that have helped us to make our celebrations more centsible.
I have broken it down into 3 categories:
Shopping, Tradition Building, and Feasting.
I pray that they will help and inspire you to ignore what the retailers say,and come up with your own definition of what the holidays really mean to you.
So much of the holiday season has become focused on the shopping experience. Maybe you are someone who absolutely hates the hustle and bustle that accompanies this time of year. However, you may be someone who, like me, actually appreciates the festive atmosphere and Christmas carols being piped over intercom systems. I am one who actually enjoys certain aspects of the Black Friday shopping scene, while it's the worst nightmare for many people I know. Whichever side of the shopping fence you are on, the following are some tips to help you gain more purchasing power with your money.
*Get prepared early. As with most things I teach in my Centsible classes, the worst time to begin preparing for the holidays is at the holidays! Now this might be a little late for you to change this year, but that's okay, because the season for holiday preparation actually begins in January. You can be ready for Christmas 2012 very shortly! Everyone knows that retailers run sales the day after Christmas, and you can actually get decent deals at 50% off decorations and gift sets. However, the time to really begin to save on holiday décor is after New Year's when all the companies are trying to offload merchandise before they have to count their inventories. They do not want to account for, and store, all the left-overs until next year, so this is when you can begin finding holiday gear 70-90% off! Now that's my kind of deal! Excess toys will usually start being clearanced out around President's day in February as the stores need to make room for spring and summer gear. This is when I do the bulk of my birthday and Christmas shopping for my children and nieces/nephews. As mentioned in my other classes, don't forget to keep a spreadsheet/log of what you've bought for whom as well as where you've stored it. You think you won't forget, but you do not want to be buying extra gifts (and forfeitting your savings) 9 months down the road!
Would you like an example of these saving I am touting? Well, I just happened to have found two of my biggies last year. Our church was finishing an extension onto the Sanctuary, and so we knew that this coming Christmas would be our first in the large, spacious room. I happened to be at our local Joann's store, and what did I find, but a 12 foot, pre-lit tree at 90% off! In real numbers, this tree was priced $399, and so we were able to get it for $39! But that's not all: Joann's also offers a discount card for teachers and homeschool Moms. They don't specifiy what you can use it for, and the cashiers advised me to just use it with every purchase, and if there is any item that doesn't apply, the computer won't allow it. Well, in this case it was allowed, and so we saved an additional %15 which worked out to $6 off. So for planning ahead, we were able to save $354! Plus there's the whole idea that our church would not have paid $400 for a tree, so it's a gift in that we were able to get this one at all.
Also, at that same store, they had the large nutcrackers that stand 3' tall. My daughter is a fledgling ballerina, so she adores the Nutcracker ballet and anything that is slightly reminiscent of it. This nutcracker that was normally $100, was now $8.50! This year we will have that handsome soldier guarding our stairwell and warming a little 7 year old's heart.
*Look for versatile deals.As you are out shopping post-holiday sales for décor, gift wrap, and cards, keep in mind what items could be used for other holidays. I have found sparkly red/pink bushes that were great in Valentine's centerpieces for our church banquet. I look for neutral gift-wrap (reds, blues, greens)and tissue paper that can be used for birthdays. I have collected remaining stuffed animals, make-up and bath sets, and other stocking stuffers to be used as prizes for our birthday gift bags, church carnivals, future Christmas prizes, and my Sunday School treasure chest. (After Easter is a great time to find these items.) I especially love to buy sets that can be broken up into separate gifts.
*Edible decorating? Do you want to give your Christmas tree a makeover without blowing your budget? Here are a couple of options. One is to be patient and wait for décor to go on sale after Christmas so that you can revamp your tree next year. Another idea is to try an edible tree. This year, our family has voted to keep the ornaments packed away in favor of decorating in all things food. We plan to include popcorn and cranberries strung on wire, gingerbread characters, candy canes in a variety of colors, and even a gingerbread star or angel (haven't decided which yet) at the top.
Are you a historically minded bunch?Then what about a 1940's era tree? This tree includes more popcorn and cranberries, but also involves making lots of paper ornaments and chains. During war-time plastic and metal were precious and could not be 'wasted' on ornaments, so people made their own. See if you can track down used strings of lights with the extra-large, primary colored bulbs to really complete the retro look.
*Use inexpensive fabrics like muslim or burlap to make impromptu table coverings and tree skirts. Another great fabric for a tree skirt is white tulle. Buy 10 yards (usually 50-80cents/yard) of it and bunch around the base of your tree. It looks like very elegant snow.
*Avoid the emotional trap of keepsake ornaments. I do have a few myself to mark the years when we got married, bought our first home, had our babies, etc. Those are ornaments I will probably keep. What I am cautioning against is the urge to buy the cute ornaments that represent every year of your child's life. Many people buy them with the romantic notion that they will give them to their grown child someday to use on their own tree. But you know what? I have heard a couple of now grown children talk about how they resent those ornaments! Even more so, their spouses resent those ornaments! Rather than being free to decorate their tree how they want, they feel obligated to use the expensive ornaments purchased by their in-laws.
*Ship gifts early so that you can use parcel post instead of priority or UPS. I sent three very large boxes to Oregon, Wisconsin and Texas last week (from Alaska). If I had sent them priority rate, it showed that they were going to cost $40-50 apiece for shipping and oversized fees! However, since the fees are calculated differently for parcel post, I spent $44 to send all three! I figure I saved around $100 simply by shipping our gifts a little early. If possible I will try to look for gifts that I can fit in flat-rate priority boxes, but in this case I was able to send my large boxes for the same price as 3 large flat rate boxes ($14.95 apiece), and fit much more in!
*Why do you shop on Black Friday? I'll admit, I have my own tradition of listening to Christmas carols, getting a white chocolate peppermint mocha and a scone, while hitting the stores. However, I don't think I go for the same items most people do. What do I look forward to buying? Socks. Socks?! Yes, socks and pillows! You see, Fred Meyer stores traditionally have all their socks/tights and bed-pillows half off on this day. So I go to stock up for a year's worth of socks for the kids, fun tights for my daughters, wool hiking socks for my hubby and I, and any pillows that need replacing. They usually have fun, Christmas socks out on display this day, so I try to get a pair (or some Christmas tights) to bring home to each child for the holiday season. They love this and get so excited to see what Christmas sock I brought them for this year!
I also go to the mall, mainly because Radioshack generally has DVD-R's and other computer media on deep discount, and Joann's will usually have a coupon for 20% off my total purchase. This is a great time to stock up on thread and basic notions that I may be running low on. After that, I pretty much head home. Since most of my gifts are already bought, there's no need for me to go fight the herds at wal-mart, or stand in line for hours anywhere else! So, yes Black Friday can be fun and a good time to be frugal. Just make sure you're strong enough to resist impulse buys. If not then just stay home, and stay off the computer!
*Perishable gifts are often preferable gifts! When it comes to gift-giving with other adults and familes, many people appreciate gifts that are immediately useful and do not require permanent storage. As a nomadic family (military) we really try to limit how many knick-knacks we hold onto simply because we never know if we'll have space for them down the road. I love to give gifts that I can make in my kitchen (preferably in large batches), and then personalize for friends and neighbors. Some examples are:
Make home-made biscotti (super easy!) and divide among pretty bags tied with a ribbon. Bundle with a bag of nice coffee beans or home-made coffee syrups. (Melt peppermint candies with a little water in a saucepan for a pretty pink, peppermint syrup.) Or put a few biscotti in a smaller bag and place inside a Christmas coffee mug. You can usually find inexpensive mugs for $1-$3 at major retailers and dollar stores.
Make a batch or two of my Semi-Fresh Salsa (see hand-out for CHM class #1) and divide into jelly jars. Label and bundle with a bag of tortilla chips. (To save even more, get a wholesale-sized bag of chips and divide into smaller bags.)
Make items that can be used for holiday breakfasts. Pumpkin-cranberry muffins, banana bread, or aluminum foil trays of raw cinnamon rolls (that they can let rise in the fridge overnight and throw in the oven in the morning) can be such a blessing-especially to the chef who has to worry about the main meal later in the day.
Make a large batch of marinara sauce. Divide into jelly jars and give with a package of gourmet noodles and breadsticks. You could water-bath can it so they can store it in their cupboard, or you can label it for the refrigerator and let the recipient know it needs to be eaten soon.
Make a batch of homemade bread. Give a loaf and a jar of homemade jelly or jam with it.
Make homemade hot cocoa mix and include a package of homemade marshmallows. You can cut the marshmallows with cookie cutters into festive shapes. Throw in a couple of candy canes so they can make peppermint hot chocolate if they wish.
Get some pretty little spice-sized tins, and make a collection of your homemade spice mixes. For an example, I make my own taco seasoning, ranch dip seasoning,cocoa-cinnamon-sugar mixture, etc. Add them to other themed baskets, or make a flavorful gift of themselves.
Don't forget 'gifts in a jar'! These are dry mixes that you put in pretty layers in a jar. Be sure to include the recipe and what wet ingredients will need to be added. Or, if you don't want to use the layerd jar technique, just use a bread bag and put a bow on it.
Make and give items that are notoriously specialized and time-consuming, BUT can be made in large batches and divided. My main two examples of this are homemade raviolis and tamales. I put them in a ziploc bag with a bow taped to the top (when the bag is laying flat on it's side) and cooking or freezing directions attached. People LOVE these type of gifts because they usually don't have the time or know-how to make them personally.
Not all consumable gifts are edible! Some of our family lives in tight quarters on a sailboat with 3 teenagers. The last thing they needed was 'stuff' laying around, but we couldn't afford to get the kids the high-tech gifts that are more appropriate to that age group. So, we began getting them a gift card to the movie theater so that they could go see a matinee together. During Christmas time, there are so many family movies out, and the children were on vacation and able to go on a weekday. If money was an issue and we could not afford the gift card, another option would be a $5 gift card to a video rental store bundled with packs of popcorn, candy bars, soda, etc. ( Note: I have also done this twice for Valentine's give-aways, and in one instance I was able to throw in a micro-plush blanket that I had purchased on clearance after Christmas. The other time I included cute bowls that said 'popcorn' in retro lettering that I had found on the clearance aisle. )
*Re-define how your family exchanges gifts. Do you really need to buy for every single member of the family? My hubby and I found that we didn't enjoy it at all, especially knowing that many of our family members were financially struggling, and thus going into debt to buy us trinkets. On my side of the family, we have agreed that we will not buy for the adult siblings, just something small for the children. On my husband's side of the family, we buy for the children and draw names for the adults. Maybe you all need a financial 'breather' and mutually decide to not exchange gifts at all. One family I know had a great time with their added challenge to gift exchanging; they made a rule that everyone's gifts had to come from garage sales! So, all summer long they were out scouring garage sales on the hunt for fun treasures. They made great memories that year with the shopping experience, as well as when opening their presents. Get creative and see how you can spice up your holiday exchanges with out driving up the cost.
*Consider exchanging 'family gifts'. This year, two of our siblings are getting us DVD's. One is getting us the 'Little House On the Prairie' set that is season 1&2, and the other is getting us season 3&4. My children will be thrilled since we are currently studying the books. If we divide the $20 price by the 5 of us, it breaks down to $4 a person that was spent on each of these gifts. We all know $4 doesn't buy great quality in the way of toys, so this will be a much more appreciated gift that can be enjoyed for many many years.
*Consider giving 'Experience Gifts'. One of our friends is a single mom with a tight budget. For childrens' birthday and Christmas gifts, they will often give a voucher with some sort of experience on it. It might include taking the friend on a picnic, to the museum or some other local venue, to the beach to explore a minus tide, camping (for older), some sort of cooking experience, etc.
*When it comes to children, avoid trendy character-based toys/goods and go for more generic classics. I am learning that these definitely have more staying power for the money. Some examples are legos, tinker toys, lincoln logs, rock tumblers, magnetic builders, board games, baby dolls and accessories, books, puppets, doll houses/miniatures, puzzles, art kits, cars, toy guns, instruments, erector sets, etc.
*Give children non-toy gifts! What about getting your child a nice cooking bowl with some utensils and a nice apron along with a sincere promise to teach him/her how to cook? How about a nice tool box and a set of basic tools? A sewing machine and/or a sewing basket with basic notions along with lessons? A set of hair accessories and a styling book for practicing on a doll? A fun umbrella? A rocket launching kit? A craft box with all sorts of glitter, pom poms, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, jingle bells, fabric scraps, patterned paper, watercolors, etc.? Fun pajamas? The ideas are endless... For a more specific example, I noticed last year that the department store was clearancing out all their slippers for 75% off in February. I got a pair for each of my children and my nieces. Since I roughly know what their shoe sizes are, and slippers conveniently are sized in ranges (i.e. 9-10, 11-12, etc) I jumped up 2 ranges for them to fit the following winter. For about $3/child, they will have fun, cozy slippers for their tootsies this Christmas!
*I do not ask my young children what they want, nor do I have them make Christmas lists. I am with them all the time and know (probably better than they do) what will make really nice enjoyable gifts for them. I keep my eye out for these items all year round, and collect them throughout. As I write this, all the Christmas catalogs have started arriving in the mail, and so as the children are perusing them with eager eyes, I kindly remind them that I have already bought all their Christmas gifts. They know that if they really want an item, they can either save up and buy it themselves or wait for their birthdays. If it is something they continually talk about, and I think it has lasting value, I will remember and keep an eye out for future gift-giving.
I know that when my children get older, their desires and needs will change. At that point we'll probably be having more open discussions about those kinds of purchases.
*While we're on this subject, let's go all out and talk about used gifts. Now I'm not referring to re-gifting, I mean truly used gifts. Since my husband and I have been so honest with our children about money, value, and depreciation, they understand that if we buy them a used gift, it leaves money available for other things. Last year, we got our daughter's karaoke machine off of our local freecycle yahoo group. It was barely used, came with cd's, and retailed for $299 at Costco! Many consider it tacky to give her a gift that cost us nothing but time. We consider it a blessing!
This year each of my children are getting 3 gifts: a pair of slippers, a toy, and a video game for their hand-held player. We already talked about the slippers above. They are new, but were clearanced. As for the toys, my 4 year old daughter is getting a set of plush marionette puppets (new, clearanced) and a set of regular hand puppets designed as various princesses (used, garage sale) along with a hand-made puppet stage (a piece of long fabric sewn to accommodate a tenstion rod that she can stick in a doorway for an instant stage). My 7 yr old daughter is getting a doll salon chair (used, garage sale), and a hairstyling kit for her American Girl (new). My 7 yr old son is getting a discontinued robot that I was able to find used on ebay. As for the games, I got my 4 yr old's leapster games at a garage sale and the thrift store (used, $1 each). I got my each of my twins a Nintendo DS game from our local pawn shop for $8 each (used).
Will my kids know that their gifts are not new? Yes, but as far as I am concerned, they are each opening 3 nice gifts that I know they will love and get many hours of use out of, and I paid well under $50 for all of it! Even better? We will not have to mess with all the twist-ties, staples, and zip-ties that elevate the grown-ups' frustration level! (Note: Since we have shown our children the value of buying used with their own money, they understand the purchasing power of buying second-hand goods. They see it as a completely logical thing to do if the benefits outweigh the risks.)
*Be honest with your children about your economic situation. If you have normally spoiled your kids with mountains of presents before, but cannot afford it anymore, then it is time to be honest with them about realistic expectations. Explain to them about your past mistakes (if you were charging the presents on credit cards) or changing finances (loss/change in income). It may be hard to do this, but at some point you have to look at the messages and values you are communicating to your children. If you do not want them to repeat your mistakes or think that it is okay to “Fake it, 'til you make it,” then this is a prime opportunity to teach them real-world economics. Maybe it is time to study other time periods or people groups that did not/do not have extravagant Christmases. Reading books such as Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, The Family Under the Bridge, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and Little Women show examples of people being appreciative and thrilled with what we would probably consider 'lame' gifts. Sponsoring and learning about a child through Food For the Hungry or Compassion International can help your child find contentment in their many blessings. Have your children fill a shoebox or two for Operation Christmas child, as well as browse their gift catalog which includes basic necessities and small livestock. You may think you are ruining your child's 'Christmas magic' by interjecting a healthy dose of reality, but keep in mind what makes Christmas a truly magical time. It is not about the babes getting presents; it's the presence of the Babe in a manger.
*Remember that any money you spend towards gifts and luxuries, rather than towards debt payment still has finance charges attached. If you are carrying a balance, any dollar you spend ,in essence, has those finance charges attached if you are not putting it towards your debt. You might not be running up higher balances, but if you continue to carry a balance on your cards/loans rather than pay them off, you are still accruing charges and fees. Keep this in mind as you plan how much you are going to spend this year. I am not saying to spend nothing at all, BUT understand that paying cash doesn't necessarily mean you should still spend a ton of money and keep up past precedents. If you have debts that need to be paid off, plan for small gift giving and put the leftover money towards your debt payments. Again, honesty goes a long way here with relatives and children. You might even inspire them to begin looking at their own finances more closely!
Feasting For LessThere are so many ideas available on the web for inexpensive recipes and hospitality ideas. I will close this class by sharing a few basic ones that I adhere to.
*Take advantage of multiple sales. Most stores will offer loss leaders in the baking department during this time, or may offer deep discounts on a ham or turkey. They do this knowing that you will probably get the remainder of your groceries there once they can lure you in. Be sure to compare ads from many stores. See if you can't challenge yourself to get all of your ingredients on sale rather than just a few.
*Do stock up on baking supplies. This is a great time to stock up on flour, sugar, nuts and chocolate chips (which can be frozen) and other baking supplies while they're on deep discount.
*Break out that powdered milk! As mentioned in CHM #2, keep a pitcher of powdered milk in the fridge for baking. It is much less per gallon than fresh milk, and if you do a lot of holiday cooking, then the savings will really add up!
*Plan a cookie exchange among friends or at church. This is where you swap out some of your baked goods with others to get a variety. This can be an informal trade, or an organized fellowship where everyone brings a certain amount to exchange, and leaves with the equal amount in a wide variety of flavors. This helps reduce baking costs and time. Plus it's fun!
*For holiday parties and fellowships, try serving a food that encompasses a condiment 'bar', and then have everyone contribute a condiment. Some examples of this might be a taco bar, a baked potato bar, a salad bar, a pasta bar, a sub sandwich bar, etc.
*Avoid exotics. In this case, what I mean by 'exotics' is anything that is not your family's normal holiday fare. If you want to try out a new dish, do it another time to see if it would get feedback worthy of a place at the holiday table. However, on the holiday, people truly come looking forward to the dishes they count on every year. Save yourself the time of additional work, and the money that you would spend on additional ingredients.
*Don't forget to save your turkey carcass and ham bone! Boil the turkey to get off the shreds of meat and make broth for other dishes later. Boil your hambone for making red beans and rice, black-eyed peas, split pea soup, etc. If you cannot use them right away, then wrap in foil and put them in the freezer.
*Do not plan on a special dessert for Christmas day. I don't know about you, but if you're like us, by dessert time on Christmas day, we are feeling pretty full and bloated. If you are hungry at our house, I will set out a pretty platter of the remaining cookies/candies, and the left-over birthday cake from the fiesta the night before!
*Do tasks ahead of time to free up more time for savings! Are there things you can do during the lull between halloween and Thanksgiving to make the month of December more relaxed? Who says you have to fill out and address Christmas cards at Christmas? Get them ready to mail before/shortly after halloween. Can you make some of your treats and goodies ahead of time and freeze them? Go ahead and make your pie crust dough and freeze in patties in freezer bags. Dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls freeze great, too (just don't let them rise at all). Freeze them on a cookie sheet first. After they are hard, put them in zippered bags. The night before breakfast, pull them out of the freezer and put them on your baking sheet to defrost overnight in the fridge. They should rise for the morning, but if not completely risen, cover w/ a tea towel and move to the stovetop to finish while your oven preheats.
If you make your own cranberry sauce, water-bath can it in jars and store in the cupboard. Now you can just 'open and go' on the holiday.
One thing I've begun doing is putting up our Christmas lights in the beginning weeks of November. We just won't plug them in until the day after Thanksgiving. Not only does this free up more time later, but the weather is a generally a little more mild than in December. Also, go ahead and start wrapping presents. Don't wait until 1 am on Christmas Eve!
*As with calculating your hourly wage, sit down and figure out which foods are worth it to make yourself, and which ones can you buy from the store to save precious time. A couple of weeks ago, our local grocer had pre-rolled pie crusts on sale 2/$4. On each crust package was a manufacturers coupon for an additional $1 off of 2 crusts. So I actually got them 2/$3. Can I make my pie crusts cheaper than $1.50? Oh yes. But for me, I decided that it was worth an extra $1/crust to have that convenience. If that's one of the only convenienes I buy in the whole scope of the holiday, then I'd say that's not too bad!
A long time ago, I remember reading an article in a Reader's Digest magazine regarding family closeness. I cannot remember the exact wording, or even the title, but I do remember that in their survey of what makes a family 'tight-knit', the number one response they got from teenaged children was 'family traditions'. As a former child, I can concur-especially when it comes to the holidays. The faith I was raised in particularly emphasized ceremony and tradition, and that is what I remember fondly about my childhood Christmases; much more so than the gifts and the food.
Traditions tend to be unique to each family, and thus give family members a feeling of identity and belonging. My husband Brent and I realized that, as a military family, we were going to have Christmas in many different locations with many different people. We could not rely on a familiar environment to be the foundation for our Christmas memories. Also, because of us moving, we have to limit the amount of breakables and décorations that we bring with us. We realized that what we can bring with us, however, are our traditions, and so we have made an intentional effort to associate traditions with many aspects of holiday celebration. Plus, traditions are a great vehicle for de-emphasizing greed and gluttony and teaching children about the Christ of Christmas. I will list some of our favorites below in hope that you will begin designing/expanding your own families' traditions. Another great source of ideas is the book Let's Make a Memory by Gloria Gaither and Shirley Dobson. It's out of print, but can be found in used stores.
Thanksgiving: We watch the Macy's parade in the morning, and eat a finger food lunch. We usually have dinner around 4-ish and follow up with board games or playing cards. As we sit to eat, we go around the table and share what we're thankful for. Last year the kids put on a little pilgrim play at my parents' house. My husband was gone, so we taped it. This Thanksgiving we'll all watch it with him. My parents and Grandmother will be visiting us, so they can re-live the comedy, too.
Celebrating Advent: We light an advent wreath and explain its spiritual symbolism. We read through the book, The Adventure of Christmas by Lisa Whelchel and do a variety of the projects listed. We use an advent calendar to count down the days.
(TIP: For pre-reading preschoolers, a fun advent calendar can be a puzzle. I bought a nativity puzzle from Christian Book Distributors that happened to have 24 pieces. You can find it here: http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=528362X&item_code=WW&netp_id=844376&event=ESRCN&view=details I outlined each piece on the puzzle's wooden board, and assigned each piece a number. Every night one child gets to put the numbered piece on the matching spot on the puzzle board. I tried to make it so that the last piece put in was the one of Baby Jesus.)
Decorating the Tree: We make an event out of decorating the tree! Depending on where we live, we may go cut a tree, or just use our artificial one. We decorate it the Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving (when I get home from my shopping!) and listen to Bing Crosby while we work. We have a nail ornament that Brent hangs every year. It is hidden among the branches to remind us of Christ's humble birth and his ultimate sacrifice. When we are all done with decorating, we follow up with cocoa/cider and watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. We do not put our presents under the tree. We wait to put them out for Christmas morning.
Our nativity set: I have a porcelain nativty set for decoration. The children still have their Fisher-Price Little People nativity that they can play with. However, when we set out my nativity, I do not put Jesus out. I wait until night-time Christmas eve (right before bed) to put the figure out. This was something my mother did when I was a child, and so it is a tradition I have carried over to my family!
Christmas Eve Fiesta: On Christmas Eve, we celebrate my husband's childhood in South Texas by having a Tex-Mex fiesta. Tamales, Enchiladas, Beans, Rice, and if there is company we have a quesadilla station for picky kids. For dessert we have a birthday cake for Jesus and sing 'Happy Birthday' to Him. We have a pinata which we have made some years, and bought from the store for other years.
Christmas Raviolis: My mother's side of the family is Italian. So, growing up, we always had baked ham with all the fixings, along with a platter of homemade raviolis. As much as possible, I try to continue that today.
Opening Presents: We allow our children to open one gift on Christmas Eve. Then we open the rest on Christmas morning.We go one-at-a-time starting youngest to oldest.
Christmas Cards: This year we will be adapting a new tradition with cards we receive. I've read variations of this before, and have finally decided to act on it. After the season, we will take all the cards and put them in a basket. Each week we will draw one or two cards to be our 'family of the week'. We will pray for that family especially that week. One woman said she has her kids send a postcard to the families to let them know they were prayed for that week. I would love to do that if it works out.
New Year's Eve: We eat fun food like nachos or tacos. Then we play games and watch a movie until midnight. We put on hats and blow little party blowers. Then we pitch the small dome tent in the living room and let the kids sleep in it.
New Year's Day: My husband doesn't like black-eyed peas, so we opt for red beans and rice. We discuss which fruit of the spirit will be our attitude focus for the year. We usually have a mellow day after the late night before. I work on trying to get the files switched over in my desk, and any other loosends tied up for the new year.
Valentine's Day: I'll be honest; I resent my husband buying me a gift or candy just because he feels compelled to by society. We've talked about it and decided that for our family, V-day is a celebration of love, not romance. That way it's something that we can center around our whole family and not just Mom & Dad. We make personal heart-shaped pizzas. Then after dinner we layer blankets on the living room floor and don our pj's. We watch a family movie and eat popcorn.
Easter: We count down to Easter similar to Advent using the Resurrection Eggs (Family Life) and the book Benjamin's Box by Melody Carlson. Each night (of the 12 nights before Easter) We read one page in the book, and open the corresponding colored-egg. We don't play the Easter bunny game, but we do an egg hunt in the yard. Prior to the egg hunt we talk about how an egg is a good symbol for the new life Jesus brings us. Then we read the Easter story. We remind the kids they are going to go 'hunt' for eggs like the women 'hunted' for Jesus in the empty tomb. We do not get them big Easter baskets. They have baskets that they re-use each year for their hunt. I do get them each a little gift; something fun (like a stuffed animal or little toy) combined with something spiritual (a Bible video, a Christian book, a Christian board game, etc) in a gift bag. We actually hide these presents in the yard with the eggs. The recipient's name is written on the bag in big letters, and everyone knows not to disturb a bag that is not theirs.
_______________________In closing, I just want to remind you of the same guidance I gave in my other CHM classes. This whole lifestyle is a process. Don't try to rework every aspect of your holiday in one year (unless you're forced to). Pick one area to focus on, and then go from there each year. The whole point of the holidays is that they are holy days. We don't want the pull of worldy temptation to distract you from God's gifts, and likewise, don't be so consumed with saving money that you miss out on the blessings and wonders of the season. My prayer is that you and your families will have a joyous, peaceful, and meaningful holiday time.