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Managing Christmas

People all have different ways of dealing with the holidays, so here are the ways that I manage Christmas for family and the kids every year. Maybe there are some ideas here that can help you out as well.

To begin, it's normal for many families, especially poor families, to give their children only a few small toys at Christmas time. The idea for them is that they don't believe in commercialism or materialism, so they don't want their kids getting piles of presents. I can definitely respect that approach to Christmas. I do it very differently, and on the same premise that other parents choose to do fewer presents.

In our family, the children get nothing the rest of the year except a couple of presents from friends at their birthday party and one tiny thing in their Easter basket. They don't get clothes or toys or anything else the rest of the year. For us, the entire year is a lesson in patience and conservation. My children don't ask for anything when we go to the store because they know they won't get it. We have no TV and see no commercials so they don't ask for things they see. We just don't buy and so my children are already taught from their earliest days not to even bother asking. It has never happened so in their mind, it's not a reality in the future either.

So Christmas is a big deal at our house. Christmas is the only time the kids get all of their toys for the rest of the year. It's the only time they'll get clothes for the rest of the year. At our house, Christmas is like the big reward at the end of the year for waiting so long and being so patient and doing so well without complaining.

But it doesn't have to be a big commercial deal, either. During the rest of the year, I get offered old toys from friends. Maybe a set of wooden blocks that have to go because their older son is using them as projectiles. Maybe something their kids have grown out of. I accept donations of pre-loved toys and put them away in boxes in the closet until Christmas time. You could also get a group of friends together to trade an old toy. Each person can bring something and exchange it for something someone else has. Your kids are getting something new and giving away something they don't use anymore. I'm also a member of a little Facebook group of local moms we started so we could sell our used things to each other cheaply. When something pops up that I know my kids will love, I get it and go meet the mom and pay her. A fairy costume for $3 here, a little wooden train set for $9 there. I can afford that and the Christmas present box fills up all year long. My kids don't care one whit that their presents don't come packed in little plastic bags and styrofoam inside of boxes. A used toy is exactly the same to them as a brand new one. It makes no difference.

I also buy presents for the kids. I try to get handmade and natural which is usually expensive unless you know how to look. You don't have to buy the expensive toys. There are all kinds of natural toys out there, new and used, that are affordable and lovely. To afford these toys, I make new toys from old, worn-out clothing and sell them on Etsy. The money that I make from that is saved up all year long and used to buy my children nice things at Christmas time. It's like my Christmas fund. This year is extra special because a local mom asked me to babysit her daughter during the weekdays, so I have a lot of extra Christmas income this time around.

The toys that I don't buy or get used, I make. It isn't hard to learn to sew. Old clothes become new doll clothes or beautiful rag dolls. They can get turned into little stuffed animals, drawstring pouches to hold treasures and play cloths like playsilks.

I like Christmas to be extra magical, so we don't put presents under the tree until Christmas eve when the children go to sleep. All month long, the tree sits empty as the stockings. On Christmas morning, they wake up and there's a wonderland of presents that seem to have appeared by magic. This is "Santa" at our house. The kids know Santa isn't real, but we call it "Santa" when they wake up and there is magically a room full of gifts out of nowhere. It's way more exciting than having the presents wrapped under the tree for weeks beforehand and seeing them all of the time. It's also a lot of fun the way we do Santa. "Santa" is when gifts appear under the tree as if by magic. So the kids get to be Santa, too. On Christmas morning, before the parents wake up, they have time to sneak their gifts to others under the tree without anyone seeing. Then they get the joy of explaining "I don't know where it came from! It must have been Santa!"

At our home, the kids can open their stockings as soon as they wake up, but they have to wait quietly for the adults to wake up before they can open any presents under the tree. There are plenty of inexpensive stocking stuffers. For kids, some of my favorites are: homemade playdough in baby food jars, new toothbrush, toothpaste, Spry xylitol gel, crayons, used Matchbox cars, apples, oranges, nuts, little bags of natural candies such as yogurt-covered raisins, dried fruit or little boxes of raisins, candy cane, money (especially coins for non-little kids), bracelet kits with a little string and some beads from my bead box, homemade wooden peg people, seashells, pencils, watercolor paint sets, stickers, tape (they LOVE this for some reason), trading cards, card games, gum, board books and a new Christmas tree ornament. Most of these things can be easily handmade or can be used. Some, like the crayons, are new but inexpensive. I like to include as many things as I can that are necessities that I have to buy them anyway such as the toothbrush and toothpaste. For older kids, batteries are also good if their toys require them. Socks, underwear and house slippers are also a favorite that make nice fillers.

For family, I did great this year. I put lots of photos of the kids in a photo book on Snapfish.com and waited until they had one of their amazing sales. If you order photos from them during the year, you can sign up at certain times for their $10 photo books for life deals. With that deal, I can order a 25 page photo book (holds about 100 photos) for each set of grandparents (4 in our family) for only $10 each. The books come hardbound and they are very good quality. Grandparents love them! I also include a folder of each child's artwork for the grandparents.

The other way I'm able to afford family gifts is also through our Facebook mom group which is spread by word of mouth from friend to friend locally. In November each year, we set up our "Fair Trade Group." All of the moms that make things get together with the things they make and we trade them. To make it fair, we put "prices" on our items to show their value and we can trade among ourselves based on what we want and for how much. So, for example, if I make toys that someone wants and I like the soap that she makes by hand, she will trade me $30 in soap for the $30 rag doll I made that she wants. It's simple and seems to work out really well. Last year's haul was great. I got handmade soap, jars of jelly and preserves, some homemade bottles of apple cider, handmade artisan bread, candied ginger and some tie-dyed kids' socks and baby clothes. I was able to get gifts essentially for free for everyone in our family and they loved that it was all handmade. We also have moms come that don't make anything but want to buy, so we each leave with a little bit of cash as well which is super nice!

Christmas decorations have been one of the easiest. We don't have tons. In our home, we have a set of stockings which we have had since before I can remember. We always reuse them every year. When I was a kid, we had one year with no Christmas decorations, ornaments or stockings. We used my father's long sports socks which were skinny and kind of ugly, but very funny and they were so long that they fit plenty of presents.

Our tree is fake so we never have to buy a new one. It may not smell pretty, but it doesn't shed on the floor and it doesn't cost us anything. I used to work at a department store and they were donating their old trees to Goodwill. I asked if I could have one of them and they were happy to let me take it home. It's very pretty and 8 feet tall, so the kids think it's pretty impressive.

Lights for the tree are the only thing we have ever had to buy. A couple of sets of $3 lights to cover the tree isn't a huge chunk of cash and they last for years. We even have one string of lights we found in our house when we moved into it. It's still going after all these years. Because it uses a lot of electricity to run Christmas lights, we wait until December 1st to put up the tree and the lights can only be on at night, never during the day except on Christmas day when they can be on all of the time.

All of the ornaments on the tree that were not sent by family are handmade by us. Every year I make at least one new ornament. I always put the date on the back, a habit my great-grandmother had that I very much appreciate today. We make ornaments out of trash and recycled items. One of the prettiest ornaments we make by using juice can lids. I save the metal tops and wash and dry them. Then I set them down over an old Christmas card and trace a circle around it. I cut out the picture from the card and press it into the center of the metal lid with some glue. I glue some ribbon to the back to hang it. They can be very pretty depending on the design of the card. My favorites are the metallic and glittery ones. You can also hot glue old plastic Mardi Gras bead necklaces around the edge to dress it up a bit. Lace edging from old clothes also looks nice. Pinterest has tons of incredible recycled ornament ideas that you can make from things you already have at home. And if you can sew, there's no end to the number of little patchwork ornaments you can make, stuffed with the stuffing from old pillows.

Christmas candy this year was handled by a Christmas parade we went to in town. They threw so much candy and candy canes for the kids that my purse was completely full. I won't have to buy any and crumbled candy canes on top of a pan of brownies makes a nice treat to bring when you are attending a Christmas party.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2013 05:06 am (UTC)
I always love your ideas.
Dec. 12th, 2013 10:11 pm (UTC)
Oh I like your lid idea! I have about a million baby food jars now, my dude gets mad that I want to keep them all but I'm like we might be able to use them for something! Lol now I can use some of them!! :)

Great score on the tree! I got mine many years ago a couple weeks after xmas for 75% off (I tend to only buy holiday stuff after said holiday when it's 50-75% off, this year it'll be lights because the ones on the tree went out already :< Meh, I'm thinking about getting reflective tape that could give the appearance of lights and making it into little light shapes to add a little more omph to it, then hopefully when the lights on during the day hit it it'll sparkle.

This is my first Xmas in about ten years, my son turns 1 on Dec 28th, I wish I had held back more things than I did but at the time when I was picking up random toys here and there at the goodwill I was thinking it was all good learning stuff for him, doesn't matter so much this year since he won't really know what's going on but for next year yea def will have too, we only have 13 things to split between Xmas and his birthday and a 5$ off a 25$ purchase at Toys R Us because I signed him up for that birthday club, back in the day they used to give actual gifts, cheap gifts but something, so I guess we'll just go see what's on sale between the 26th-28th for that. IDK what to do I'm so new at this lol

Do you get LED lights? they cost a bit more (another reason to buy after the actual holiday) but they last for EVER and don't get hot at all, so they're much safer. :)
Dec. 12th, 2013 11:16 pm (UTC)
Our first tree we had in Texas was a gift from my MIL who bought it after Christmas on clearance for $5. Crazy! And it was like a 7 foot tree. We had to get rid of it when we moved but there are definitely deals out there.

We don't do LED lights for a few reasons. The minor reason is that they are too expensive. It's about $25 for 100 lights. And the most important reason is because they are a really ugly color and have a weird strobe effect. Even if they are the kind that claim to have a warm glow, they still look horribly like cheap fluorescent office lights. I can't stand them. But some day if they make some that have the same cheerful warm glow as regular lights with no strobe, I'll get some!
Dec. 13th, 2013 01:27 am (UTC)
I got my LEDs about a week after Halloween (they're purple and orange Halloween ones) for about 1$ a box at Big Lots, maybe it's the brand mine don't look weird and def don't strobe. I actually have several unopened boxes because I had gotten so many that one year (years back when I had a good job and was making money but still was careful about how I spent it on such items).

I just dug one out to find the brand and they don't even have a brand they're just Big Lots, I'm gonna try my luck on getting a box of Xmas colors this year, I'll let you know if they're decent :)
Dec. 13th, 2013 01:39 am (UTC)
Oh and I just thought, another reason I'm preferring the LEDs now is one light, or five lights, or whatever can go out and the whole strand doesn't go down, the rest just stay lit, half my tree is dead now because of some bulb going out -._-. (at least it's the bottom half I guess I didn't put any ornaments down there already because of the baby and cats)
Dec. 23rd, 2013 03:56 pm (UTC)

May I make a suggestion re decorations? Ping pong balls, gold paint, a needle and thread. I've been using the same ones for 20 years and they still look great.

Also. If you make rag dolls, you could make them look like classic kids characters ( Laura Ingals, Mary Lennox, Dorothy Gale etc.) Then give them along with a book as a gift. Second hand books are cheap-Sometimes even free-) I used to love that as a kid. My Aunt made me a red head rag doll with a copy of Anne of Green Gables. Best Christmas ever.
Mar. 19th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC)
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