9 Ways To Celebrate the Holidays Without Buying Gifts

Let’s consider some alternatives to make this holiday season more meaningful, show our loved ones the genuine spirit of giving, and build up our bank of nostalgic memories.

9 Things You Can Do Instead of Buying Christmas Gifts This Year:

1. Save Money for a Rainy Day / Emergency Fund

Instead of spending money on gifts, start a rainy day fund. You know, the one you tell yourself you’re gonna start every year but don’t quite get to it. Start the new year stress-free with a nice little buffer. Instead of dealing with buyer’s remorse over all the money you spent over the holiday, feel relief that you will be covered (or at least cushioned) when the unexpected arises. Or start an emergency fund for someone else. Start saving for your child, whether they’re a toddler or a tween.

2. Pay Off (And Try To Avoid Additional) Debt

This time of year, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of buying presents on credit. We get caught up in the joy of the season and believe the spirit of Christmas will somehow magically pay everything off when the New Year comes ‘round. A sweet thought — but unrealistic nonetheless. Avoid accumulating more debt at all costs, and stick to what you have. Even better — pay out a few more bucks on your existing bills if you can swing it. Think of the weight lifted off of your shoulders when realizing how each balance is going down and will eventually be paid off.

3. Pay It Forward

One of the best feelings in the world is when you’re waiting in line for a cup of coffee and then find out the person in front of you paid your tab. Well, maybe not one of the best feelings … but it’s still pretty awesome to realize a complete stranger has done something nice for you. Do you know what else is pretty cool? Doing it for the person behind you. Or the next five people behind you. Paying it forward is not something that you’ll receive a “thank you” for. The joy is in the giving and the possibility that you’ve just made someone else’s day.

4. Invest in Yourself

You are there for your family and friends all year long. You make sure your kids are happy, healthy, and fit and get their homework done every night. Tend to the emotional needs of your spouse or partner, and lend a sympathetic ear to your best buds. When was the last time you focused on doing something for yourself? Self-improvement is something we internally beat ourselves up over but seldom put first and foremost. It might be an online marketing course you’ve been eyeing, gourmet cooking classes, horseback-riding lessons, or that deep tissue massage your back has been aching for. Sometimes you just need to be kind to yourself for a change.

5. Start a New Tradition in Honor of Loved Ones

This doesn’t have to be huge or elaborate. My mom used to have this tradition with one of her sisters — she’d pick out the gaudiest Christmas card she could find, write a few sentences in it & mail it out to my aunt. Then the next year, my aunt would write a few sentences on that same card & mail it back. This went on back & forth for several years. They wound up with this single, priceless holiday card documented with years of their memories.

A few years ago, my sister and I decided to honor this tradition in a slightly different way. Each year we buy each other a really cheap (like a dollar) Christmas tree ornament, and that’s how we exchange gifts. From gaudy cards to cheap-o ornaments, it’s the love behind it that counts.

6. Share a Memory Night with Friends / Family

Each year, when the holidays roll around, my older stepson waxes nostalgic about years past. He’s a big mush, but you’d never know it from looking at him. He’s a tall, broad-chested, almost-thirty-year-old with a heart of pure gold. And whenever we’re gathered around the holiday table, he loves to bring up old anecdotes from his childhood. Stories about his beloved grandfather, who passed many years ago. And stories his grandmother told us about his father when he was a boy. It’s always the same story, but we all enjoy the recollection and stroll down memory lane.

And sometime in the not-so-distant future, once he has a family of his own, I predict these stories will expand and continue to live on.

7. Go Caroling at a Nursing Home / Hospital

Back in the early ’90s, when I was a young and perky 16-year-old, I was a member of the high school nerd trifecta — show choir, drama club, and Key Club (a youth service organization sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club.)

What did this mean? We were performers with a mission. And that mission was to go Christmas caroling at the local nursing home and patient rehabilitation center. We’d go door-to-door to each patient’s room and sing a carol or two. Then we’d end with an encore collaboration that would put the (off-off-off-Broadway) cast of Les Mis to shame.

8. Give your Expertise

Do you have a special skill or proficiency that you can share with a family member or friend? Maybe something that comes up every once in a while, like, “Oh, I wish you’d show me how you made that awesome pineapple upside-down cake,” or “Can you walk me through the basics of setting up my network router?” Okay, weird examples, but you get the idea. Time is limited and valuable. Follow through with these opportunities, and create awesome memories in the process.

I come from an Italian family, and my grandmother made homemade sauce (“gravy”). She taught all four of her daughters how to make it. No one ever wrote the recipe down. I vow to one day get the crash course from one of my aunts. They all live in Florida, and I missed the opportunity to learn from my mother. So live and learn. And cherish.

9. Express Gratitude

Sit down with your loved ones — whether it’s friends or family — and simply express gratitude. Be honest. When was the last time you told someone how much they mean to you? As we all know, life is not infinite. There’s a beginning, there’s an end, and we need to make the very most of the time spent in between.

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