Ads, ads everywhere! The children are clamouring for the latest gadget or toy which is impossible to find, your friends are demanding the receipt taped to the upper lid of the gift box for easy returns, and the crowds at the stores are unbearable. Not to mention the nearest parking place is in the next county and you've spent all day without being able to find a single thing. If you hear another canned Christmas song you'll start frothing at the mouth, your feet hurt, the bags are heavy, and there's another parking lot mugger to worry about.

Christmas Shoppers, ca 1910

If this sounds like your typical holiday, and you'd like it to be something different, perhaps some rethinking is in order. If you're trying to observe Christmas as a primarily religious holiday, it's even more stressful, because everyone is focused on the presents, and not on what's important. Rather than go through another year of the same thing, here are some suggestions on keeping sane, and making Christmas a time for family and friends, or religious observance, while still keeping everyone happy.


Separating Gifts from Christmas

St. Nicholas' day falls on December 6th each year. There are numerous advantages to giving presents on this day rather than Christmas day. First, it separates the gift-giving from the religious observance. In addition, the children will get quite a bit of envy from their friends, because they are receiving their presents almost three weeks early--they will have time to wear off the newness of the gifts by the time Christmas Day rolls around, and will be more open to the religious aspects of the holiday.

A second advantage is that gifts do not have to be hidden for as long a time. If you're the type of person who loves to surprise people, you won't have to worry about your gifts being discovered. People won't be on the lookout for presents that early.

Third, if a gift needs to be exchanged, it can easily be done well before the rush starts. The person who returns the gift need not be as concerned because stores will more easily exchange a gift before Christmas, rather than afterwards. And you won't have to keep track of the receipt as long!

Christmas Presents

Limiting the Expectations


Many children are whipped into a frenzy around Christmastime from the constant advertising to which they are exposed. Everywhere they look, there are advertisements--on television, on billboards, on posters, even in the schools. It's up to parents to limit the children's exposure as much as possible, if they are intent on decommercializing Christmas, but it's also important to sit down with loved ones and explain that presents do not equal love. If your behaviour hasn't been up to par about showing love to them, well, New Year's is just around the corner--let that be part of your resolution!

You can also set a dollar limit for presents, which can be different for each family member. In some families, this is set by the value of gifts to each person--that is, Aunt Amanda gets a combined value from everyone of $50. (Watch the communication and cooperation among family members increase with this trick!)

Non-commercial Presents

Rather than go for the brand-name, spanking new toy, designer label, or whatever else the people on your list are demanding, look for ways to show them they are special by choosing or making personalized gifts.

  • Instead of a new CD for that young musician in your life, offer to have their bow rehaired or their piano tuned, or pay for a few lessons. Or give them a store credit for sheet music or a new cake of rosin. There are hundreds of great, small gifts that musicians will use.
  • If someone is an avid reader, offer to take them to the library once a month and wait patiently while they select books, or help them pick some out. Introduce them to ebooks and show them how to find and download them (there are thousands that are free and legal). Or make a book cover for a treasured book of theirs.
  • Almost everyone appreciates a present that flatters them--try painting or writing a specially-picked quotation on an inexpensive unfinished wooden box or tray, add a few coats of finish, and staple a scrap of fabric to the inside for a lining.
  • If you sew, offer to make clothing, bedspreads, curtains, or something else they want or need. If you knit, knit a scarf or sweater (let them pick the yarn and pattern). If you cook, make them a favourite treat once a month. If your hobby is gardening, redo one of their flower beds or start a herb garden for them.
  • Pass it on. If you have a skill they have expressed a desire to learn, give your loved ones the gift of your time and their independence. Remember how liberating it was when you got your first driver license? You can recapture some of that feeling by helping someone learn to cook or sew for themselves, or grow their own food, or any one of innumerable skills each of us picks up.


Promote Generosity

If you make Christmas a time for generosity rather than greed, there are some great ways to demonstrate generosity. The best way is volunteer work for a charity, but there are other ways. Children (and adults) can give gently used items to charity thrift shops. Shop together for one of the many charitable gift-giving programs (Salvation Army, Toys for Tots), and ask loved ones for their advice. This gets them in the habit of thinking about others rather than themselves.

Have a merry Christmas!

Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season
Amazon Price: $12.99 $4.06 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 27, 2014)
A well-regarded book for focusing on family activities rather than presents at Christmastime. I highly recommend many of the activities listed as being much more fun than opening presents!