Originally published in the Winter 2009 issue.
What’s the best holiday gift you remember receiving as a kid? Mine was a hand-held blow dryer I got in 1974, when I was 12. I also remember the Christmas dinners at my grandmother’s, my uncle dressing up as Santa and rapping on the window, and decorating the Christmas tree with my mom.
Happy memories of special holidays can last a lifetime, and they’re all rolled up in excitement from opening your gifts to the holiday food, the family fun, tradition, reconnecting with extended family.
Canadian adults spend an average of $1,386 on winter holiday entertainment and gifts, buy an average of 13 presents and spend about $200 on each of their children, according to a 2007 VISA Canada survey. A 2006 survey commissioned by the Canadian Mental Health Association shows that added social pressure, financial stress, holiday expectations and an increased feeling of loneliness all become catalysts for holiday-related stress and anxiety.
Calgary psychologist Dr. Brian Zelt recognizes the need for balance. “I think adults need to re-evaluate what a happy, enjoyable holiday entails.” He suggests parents talk to their kids about the experiences they’d like to have during the season. The surprise is that toddlers and preschoolers are a lot less materialistic than parents think they are. He says, “Particularly for younger children, parents may overestimate how a child perceives these gifts. A lot of kids are happy with any gift and the experience that goes along with it.”
- Plan ahead: Sit down with your family in late November to talk about something special you’d each like to do over the holidays.
- Make a budget: Establish a price limit in advance for gifts and other holiday spending.
- Scrutinize your calendar: Reschedule every nonessential appointment until January.
- Make or bake something: People love homemade gifts. If you can’t make or bake, create a gift certificate for a service you’ll provide: a special dinner or babysitting services for a friend, breakfast in bed or a chore-free Saturday for your partner, and a “stay up late” or “dinner of my choice” coupon for the kids.
- Schedule your shopping: Pick a couple of specific times to shop and finish it during that time. Avoid browsing. It saps your energy.
- Host a Secret Santa or White Elephant party: Each person brings a wrapped gift and takes turns opening and “stealing” each other’s presents until all of them are opened.
- Shop early in the season: Last-minute shoppers invariably overspend.
- Don’t buy for yourself: It’s easy to splurge when you’re at the mall but keep the focus on finding something special for others.
- Grandparents can give the gift of time: a cooking lesson with grandma or a golfing lesson with grandpa might be remembered forever.
- Don’t compete with the neighbours for high kilowatt usage: Opt for boughs of evergreen and sprigs of holly and have the kids string popcorn and cranberries.
- Create traditions that foster meaning and connection: Attend a religious service, observe winter solstice with a simple outdoor ceremony, make a gingerbread house, go caroling with the neighbours, take a holiday hike with the kids and bring along some seeds to feed the birds, set aside a night for everyone in the family to read their favourite holiday story.
- Put your credit card on ice: Use cash for your holiday spending and you’ll be far less likely to overspend. And you’ll save all those interest charges.
- Don’t use Martha Stewart as a role model for holiday hosting: Real life just doesn’t look like a glossy magazine spread.
- Perform acts of kindness: Shovel the walk for an elderly neighbour, invite someone who lives alone to your holiday feast, take gifts to the hospital, contact a social services agency in your neighbourhood to find out how you can help local families in need, donate to an international charity, shop for a shut-in.
- Control the chaos: Avoid the frenzy of everyone opening their presents all at once. Instead, take turns opening them so that each gift can be admired and each giver thanked.
- Buy in bulk and divvy it up: For example, a package of elegant Christmas ornaments can be separated and given individually as teacher and hostess gifts.
- Delegate! Make a holiday to-do list and assign tasks to family members to prevent mom and dad from holiday burnout.
Here are some ways to replace old habits with new traditions to help you get the most out of the holidays.
|Instead of||Try this||The benefits|
|Spending $200 on a five-course family dinner for 10 with all the trimmings||Make it a potluck. Spend $30 on a turkey and have your guests bring everything else||Say goodbye to hours in the kitchen and take a winter hike with your kids|
|Mailing out 40 personally addressed holiday cards||Send an e-card or a digital family photo to friends and relations||Save yourself an hour or two of writer’s cramp and $50 or more on cards and stamps|
|Using store-bought wrapping paper||Use your kid’s artwork or maps from your travels||It’s the green way to go (plus you’ll save a few bucks)|
|Buying a gift for everyone in your extended family||Draw names||Depending on how many gifts you normally buy, you could save hundreds of dollars|
|Buying an extravagant gift for your spouse||Spend the money together on something you’ll both enjoy – an item for your home or a weekend away||You’ll be sure to get something you both really value|
|Spending $40 and an entire afternoon chopping down a live tree||Buy a good quality fake for $150 that will last for years||Spend the afternoon napping on the couch instead|