At my last work place, I always dreaded the holidays. The students were anticipating finals, some by partying and others by stressing. Chaos ensued. As a Residence Director I had to oversee the closing process for two buildings and nearly 400 students leaving over 5 days. It was stressful but manageable. What was overwhelming was juggling all the Christmas parties packed in to the final two weeks. I had a party with my student staff, a coworker party, a student staff department party, a professional department party, an all employee brunch, the President’s open house, a Scandinavian friends gathering and a celebration at church. Added to managing gift expectations for various parties, friends and family, I ended up dreading what had been my favorite holiday season.
I’ve learned a lot about how to manage my life during the holidays. The desire for sanity coupled with a lean budget has led me to simplify over the years. Now I enjoy the Christmas season because I take a different approach. There are hundreds of ways to simplify your life at Christmas time. Here are a few that have worked for me.
- Party-wise, Less is More – If you’ve been overwhelmed with party invitations, give yourself the gift of choice. You don’t have to go to every party you have been invited to. An invitation, in the truest sense of the word, is not an obligation. Think about how many parties you will have the time, energy and budget for, then accept only that many invitations. If you are afraid of offending someone whose party you will not attend, send them a personal card thanking them for the invitation, tell them you can’t make it and include a few sincere words about how you have appreciated them this year. Limiting your parties will help you fully enjoy the parties you do attend. If you do, then you’ll be positive, cheerful and energetic, making your presence a gift to your host, rather than grumpy, begrudging and resigned. No one wants Scrooge at their party.
- Paperless cards and letters – I enjoy sending a yearly postcard during the holidays. This year, I don’t have the money to spend on production and postage so I’m sending it electronically. It’s easy to create holiday newsletters and cards on various computer programs like Word or Publisher. You can personalize them with your own messages and pictures. Then you simply PDF the finished product and email them to your friends and family. Viola! If you don’t have the time to make it too personal but still want to send a card, sites like Hallmark.com have all kinds of e-cards which you can sign your name to and send to multiple addresses. At Hallmark, a single card will cost you 99 cents or you can purchase a subscription for $9.99 and send unlimited e-cards for a year! Paperless greetings can seem impersonal, but you save money and trees.
- Limit your gifts – If you just can’t celebrate without spending money, then simplify by limiting the amount of gifts and/or money you spend for each person. As a child, it was never the number of gifts that made my holiday so special, it was the thoughtfulness of a single, well-chosen gift. Demonstrate your love by giving a gift that may not be expensive or exactly what they’ve asked for, but something that shows you thought carefully about who they are and why you value them. Getting what you want will feel good for a limited time. Getting something meaningful will be a gift you remember for years. One of the best gifts I ever received was a small glass jar filled tiny mustard seeds and a card with encouraging personal messages. My friend spent little money on the gift but the spiritual significance and personal meaning has given me joy for the past seven years.
- Low budget gifts – Handmade gifts are a great way to personalize your holiday giving. Since I like to bake, and do it well, I often make recipes my gift. I either give out cards with some of my favorite recipes, or I give mason jars artfully filled with dry dessert ingredients and attach a recipe card. One year I spent hours making beautiful quilted ornaments to grace other people’s trees – one friend emails me ever Christmas when she puts it on her tree. If you can knit or cook or draw, paint, whittle, build or sew, then consider making your gifts. It’s usually much cheaper and more meaningful than purchasing a mass-produced commercial gift from a box store. If you lack hand-skills, then gift an activity, event, or act of service. Plan a date filled with fun and thoughtful things to do. Create a day or few hours of quality time that is extra special.
- No budget gifts – I don’t have money to spend this Christmas so I’m trying to be extra thoughtful and creative. For my nieces, who are obsessed with princesses, I am writing fairy tales starring each of them. The adults in my life will receive a card or email or spoken words of affirmation. I will tell them why I love them, how they are significant to me, and share my wishes and prayer for them in the coming year. Words are powerful and free; they make great gifts. When was the last time that you shared your heart with someone you love, speaking directly to their significance in your life? It’s one thing to say “I love you.” It’s another to gather significant examples of your love for another and speak them in person. In our technology-focused, consumeristic culture, we’ve wooed away from the personal, the vulnerable, the intimate face to face sharing of life. Here’s a challenge to love freely this Christmas. Really look at the people you love. Reflect on how they enrich your life. Be present to them. Open your heart and give verbal or written gifts of thankfulness and appreciation. These are the things that will delight both giver and receiver.