A Non-Consumer Christmas, Part 1

Are you tired of the shopping orgy that passes for Christmas in America, the U.K., Australia, and other parts of the world?  Are you convinced that the push to buy, buy, buy is not only ruining your budget but destroying your soul?  Are you ready for a change, but worry that a simpler Christmas will be too bleak and miserly for your family?

Maybe you've been unable to work at your usual job for all or part of this year because of quarantine and other COVID-19 protocols.  Maybe you've struggled to find part-time jobs that would let you pay your basic living expenses, but have almost nothing to spend for the holidays.

vintage Christmas truck


What if I told you that most of what you really love about the holidays requires very little shopping or even none at all?

Don't believe me?  Make a list of your favorite Christmas activities and think about ways to accomplish them for little to no money. 

10 minimal-cost holiday activities 

1.  Savor the season.

One benefit of COVID is that we have reason to stay home, and are less bombarded by Christmas displays everywhere.  I find myself getting tired of the holiday long before it arrives, and I think it's because my senses have been assaulted by red and green, holly and tinsel, Santa and the Elf on the Shelf for so many weeks.  It's hard on kids too, and with so much buildup over so much time, letdown is almost inevitable.  So take advantage of the situation and stay out of stores (including virtual ones) as much as possible.  Let the season unfold more slowly.

2.  Obtain a permit from the U.S. Forest Service and take your family to cut a wild tree.

Decorate with ornaments and lights you already own.  

If you can't make a trek for a tree:

  • Fill a large glass bowl with your shiniest holiday ornaments.
  • Spray a large leafless branch from your yard with white, silver, or gold paint (or just leave it au naturel).  Use pebbles to anchor it in a vase or pot, and hang paper snowflakes, Christmas cards, popcorn strings, origami creations, pinecones, candy canes, or some of these simple beaded icicles.
  • Make a wreath with evergreen cuttings from your yard and add a festive red ribbon.
  • Group every candle you own on the mantel or a side table and light them for a glorious glow!

Don't put up every decoration at once.  Instead, add one or two things a day to build anticipation.

3.  Spend a Saturday or two making your favorite holiday goodies.

Prepare trays to give to neighbors, teachers, and friends.

4.  Use the entertainment you already own.

You probably already have several holiday books and movies you can read and watch, or you can borrow some that are new to you from friends or the library.  You probably already own plenty of holiday music, or you can use the radio, Pandora, or Spotify.  For a different, ad-free holiday playlist (don't you get tired of "Rudolph" and "Jingle Bells"?), try classical radio.

5.  Serve your community.

Help your kids go through their clothes and toys to find items in good condition that they can donate to the Goodwill or a homeless ministry.  Volunteer at your local food bank or animal shelter.  Pick up trash in your local park, or shovel snow for a neighbor.

Christmas cocoa
6.  Get outside.

Built a snowman, go sledding, walk in the rain, or learn the winter constellations.  Come home for dry clothes and hot cocoa.

7.  Go caroling with family and friends.

8.  Drive around and look at holiday light displays.

9.  Attend virtual performances.

Normally, I would suggest that you attend the Christmas Eve service at a church or the winter program at a school.  These are free and festive occasions!  But in 2020 those options may not be available to everyone.  Look for free virtual concerts, such as Portland Baroque's Pocket Messiah on December 20.

10.  Save some activities for after Christmas, instead of shopping the sales.

  • Skype or Zoom with friends or family you couldn't see during the holiday.
  • Play favorite board games.
  • Use leftovers to make turkey pot pie or ham quiche.
  • Do some decluttering.
  • Have a movie marathon (all of the Toy Story saga, or three different versions of A Christmas Carol, for example).
  • Cozy up for a family sleepout in the living room by the tree.

I don't think we could create a warmer, merrier holiday with fancy clothes, expensive outings, a huge catered party, or this year's trendiest d├ęcor.  You may never go for the holiday shopping orgy again!

Updated May 2023


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