I used to love Christmas when I was single. Decorating the tree, putting up the lights, wrapping and shopping for all the gifts. But that was before. Before kids and mortgages and the stress of being a responsible adult in times of economic (and other kinds of) uncertainty.
Don’t get me wrong, I still loved giving presents to my friends and family. But when my husband and I were first married and had added a whole new family of in-laws to buy presents for, it started to become a bit of a financial burden. We tried drawing names, but that really seemed to take all the fun out of it for me. I still wanted to experience the joy of giving to everyone, not just one or two people in my family, but it was simply too much to take financially. There seemed to be a lot of pressure to be able to afford society’s expected dollar amount of a “decent gift,” and if you couldn’t afford it then you may as well not participate in giving.
Plus, it started to feel like we were just exchanging money— I’ll trade you my $35 Barnes & Noble gift card for your $35 Amazon gift card. It was a little ridiculous.
Finally, a few years ago, I was inspired by a wonderful little book called Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas by Bill McKibben to try to bring back the true meaning of Christmas to our family gift exchange. The book, and the ensuing changes in our Christmas gifts that year, totally changed my perspective. It made the gift-giving so much more fun, not to mention allowing us to get to know each other better in ways we never would have expected.
Instead of drawing names, each of us wrote a list of 25 lesser known things about ourselves—things like, “I can’t get enough of mechanical pencils,” or “I love to make lists” (guess who wrote that one?). Using only the lists, $5, and a little creativity, we came up with a small but thoughtful gift for each person in the family. It could have been anything — new, used, handmade, found, re-gifted, dollar-store brand, etc. But the point was to use the lists to get to know each other better and then give something you thought they would appreciate without breaking the bank.
My husband’s family loved it. We gave my brother-in-law a bunch of old records from a local second-hand store (which he loved), and we sent another brother-in-law a box of miscellaneous household supplies that he always seemed to run out of (like batteries and dryer sheets).
We had the idea for another brother-in-law (who we found out loves museums and would love to take his kids more often if it weren’t so expensive) to give him a list of all of the free museums in the area, as well as discount days and passes that were available to him.
Christmas became more about showing love and not about feeling stress about how much money we were spending. Giving and receiving gifts became much more meaningful when we took time to think about the other person’s wants and desires, and then did something about it to show them we cared.
I found a quote once that said, “Friendship isn’t one thing. It’s a million little things.” It was the same thing for our five-dollar Christmas. When we refocused our thoughts on those endearing little things about each other (instead of worrying about finding that perfect gift we would spend all our money on) we began to understand and love each other a little better.
And that is what Christmas is all about.
So if Black Friday 2013 is stressing you out, take a minute to reconsider how you want your Christmas season to go down. If you are up for it, take the Five Dollar Christmas Challenge. It takes a bit more thought and planning, but if you start this weekend, I know you can totally do it.
There are only two rules: Pare Down. Show Love.
This is YOUR Christmas. Do what works for you. You can coordinate with your extended family, one side, both sides, circle of neighbor friends, or just decide on your own that you want to see what you can do with $5 for everyone on your list. The point is to get back to the true spirit of Christmas. It truly is the thought that counts.
Comment here or on The Conscious Mom’s Facebook page to let us know you are participating in the Five Dollar Christmas Challenge. And if you feel so inclined, we’d love to hear how it goes for you!
– The Conscious Mom