There are so many things you can do at Christmas time without spending a lot of money. The key to making the holiday special and fun is to plan ahead and find things people can do together. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
WATCH THE NUTCRACKER AT HOME INSTEAD OF IN A THEATRE
Instead of paying a lot of money to watch the Nutcracker in person, rent the video from the library or watch it on youtube with your family at home and enjoy popcorn and other snacks together.
Go ice skating or sledding together as a family. Have a snowball fight. Have some hot chocolate afterwards to warm up.
SEPARATE CHRIST AND SANTA
One challenge that frequently happens at Christmas time is that children remember Santa and their gifts more than they remember Jesus Christ, whose birth we are really celebrating. Separating the two can be a good idea. One way you can accomplish that is to celebrate Santa coming on December 6th, as he does in Germany. Santa puts candy in the children’s shoes. Another way you can celebrate by separating the two, is to only have Santa bring one gift. Instead of it being the best gift, have the best gift given by the parents and have Santa bring a smaller, less expensive gift to take the focus off him.
CELEBRATE CHRIST’S BIRTH BY HAVING A BIRTHDAY FOR HIM
Some families make a birthday cake for Christ on Christmas, which is the day we celebrate his birth. If done as a party, there can be a wrapped gift for each person to remind us how it is Christ who has given us the greatest gift and we can also focus on what we can give Christ for His birthday from us: we will be choose to be kinder, more charitable, more obedient etc.
MAKE STOCKINGS AND WREATHS
Make Christmas stockings or wreaths together for yourselves or for giving to others.
HAVE AN ORNAMENT EXCHANGE
Buying gifts for extended family members can really add up. Why not do an ornament exchange where everyone can participate. This can be done with adults and children. You can find fun ornaments at garage sales, after Christmas sales, or make them yourself. When the exchange is over, people can take their ornaments home and add them to their Christmas trees. It takes the stress out of trying to find the perfect gift and staying in a reasonable budget.
HAVE AN UGLY SWEATER EXCHANGE AND CONTEST
There are a lot of jokes about ugly Christmas sweaters. Instead of a serious gift exchange, try a fun ugly sweater exchange. Many people may already own a Christmas sweater that they would be happy to get rid of. Save money, save time and declutter all at once.
I recently talked to one of our kids and asked them what was the one thing they could think of that made them believe that Santa was real. They said that it was the footprints he left going from the fireplace to the tree. We had taken an old boot and used powdered sugar to make footprints that looked like snow. It was fun to do and looked authentic.
TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
Give a clever note each day that has something to do with the 12 Days of Christmas song. You can also try to find clever gifts to go with each day. For example:
Three French Hens: Make or buy three French pastries, buy three Cornish hens to cook for dinner that night, etc.
Partridge in a Pear Tree: Give a fresh pear, make a recipe that uses pears, give some type of pear preserves, give a “pair” of something, make a pear shaped rice krispie treat, etc.
Five Gold Rings: Find 5 cheap gold-colored rings or bracelets, 5 round doughnuts with a yellow or gold frosting, buy some Froot Loops and pick out 5 of the yellow ones, 5 bagels with cream cheese that is colored yellow, 5 onion rings with mustard on them, 5 small lemon bundt cakes, etc.
Eight Maids a Milking: Get eight single portion size cartons of milk, a stuffed cow that is black and white with spots, give a tee shirt or coffee mug that has something to do with milk or cows, etc.
TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS - RELIGIOUS
First, you could buy a nativity set and give a piece each day of the twelve days of Christmas. Second, look up the symbolism and religious meaning for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Give a gift, scripture or poem that has something to do with each day.
Have a Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas with a tin cup, a stick of candy, cake made out of white flour and a shiny new penny.
CHRISTMAS ADVENT ACTIVITIES
Make paper snowflakes or cut out Christmas trees or stars or mittens or make a paper chain and write down an activity on each one to do during the month of December or during the 12 days of Christmas.
Serve in a soup kitchen or food bank or do some kind of service needed in your community. It is a nice thing to do together as a family, a way to bless someone else’s life, and an opportunity to realize how blessed you are.
GIVE BEFORE YOU RECEIVE
Go through your home and find nice used toys to donate to a shelter. This helps children to learn to share with those less fortunate. This is good to do with all of our extra things that we don’t use as well as with kids toys. What a great way for all of us to learn to part with the current things that we don’t use or need and share with others who could enjoy them. It hopefully helps us to be more grateful for the gifts we do receive at Christmas.
Invite another family or more to your home and act out the nativity story. Use bathrobes and whatever you have on hand to make fun, spontaneous costumes. No need to spend money buying or making perfect costumes! Gather your family and friends together and think of creative things to use.
PICTURE WITH SANTA
Go sit on Santa’s lap as an individual, with friends or with family members. Have someone take a digital picture for you so you will have the memory to share.
There are so many kinds of Christmas cookies. Instead of trying to make several recipes yourself, host a cookie exchange and have everyone bring their favorite Christmas cookies. A friend of ours invited 35-40 people over for chili and a cookie exchange. We didn’t have to make any other Christmas treats that year and there were so many different kinds of cookies for us to enjoy. If you are interested in doing a cookie exchange, but funds are tight, there are some inexpensive cookies you can make. Another thing you can do is to buy some Halloween chocolates after the holiday and freeze them and save them to use in your Christmas cookies. I usually buy chocolate kisses after Halloween and take off the wrappers and use them for peanut butter kiss cookies. It is one of our favorite cookies and I can make them without spending a lot of money.
CHECK OUT FREE COMMUNITY EVENTS
Look online or in the newspaper for free community events. Where I live, they have a free Messiah sing-a-long and also have had a free showing of Amahl and the Night Visitors. We also have a Christmas Stroll every year where they shut down several streets of downtown Bozeman and people walk along the shops and vendors sell their goods.
GO TO A MIDNIGHT MASS
If there is a Catholic church in your area that has a midnight mass, this might be an enjoyable and uplifting experience.
FREE DRESS REHEARSAL
Sometimes orchestras or performances will let you watch the dress rehearsal for free. See if that is a possibility where you live.
CUT DOWN A TREE TOGETHER
One of our family traditions is to go cut down a Christmas tree together. It is a lot of fun and you can spend the evening stringing popcorn, drinking hot chocolate and decorating the tree.
MAKE GINGERBREAD HOUSES TOGETHER
Use graham crackers or make the gingerbread yourself. Save Halloween candy to decorate the houses. Have a family contest or invite friends over and have ribbons for the winners. Take them to a nursing home with everyone and go caroling at the nursing home to brighten their spirits.
GO ON A TRIP
Go on a trip. Even if it isn’t far, getting away from home for a few days can be a nice change. If you have credit card points for a free hotel, this is a good option.
LOOK INTO INTERNATIONAL HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
Find out how they celebrate Christmas in other countries and try some of their traditions.
TRY CELEBRATING HANUKKAH ON YEAR
Help your family understand how others celebrate differently. You probably have friends who are Jewish. Read or ask your Jewish friends about Hanukkah and how they celebrate and try some of their traditions.