5 Classic Low-Cost Christmas Activities
When you think back to the holidays of your youth, what do you remember? Maybe it's naive on my part, but I'm betting it's the simple things. The things that didn't cost a lot of money, the things that meant you were with the people you loved.
My family was financially sound and had everything we needed and practically everything we wanted. I didn't suffer from poverty or struggle until I was an adult. But even still (and I bet those of you who share my '70's upbringing will agree), my parents were very thrifty and frugal, and we didn't blow wads of cash on extravagances.
And you know what? I didn't miss it. When I remember the holidays, I remember all of the times we had together and the goofy things we all did. (Have I mentioned that we are all pretty goofy in my family?) I mean, don't get me wrong, we had family drama just like any other family, but we had fun, too. The fun part is what I remember. Here's some of the things we did most holiday seasons:
1. Lots and lots of pictures.
(I didn't mean to drop him just after this picture was taken. Really.)
Okay, so maybe that only barely counts as an "activity" because the kids are usually only participating under protest. I always was. But there was something about Mom whipping out the camera (complete with those square flash bulbs) that made it all seem festive. Plus, such a great history! I know I was fascinated by all the photos I could get my hands on of my parents in their younger days, and now my kids are fascinated by mine. (And can I just say, how surreal to be living inside that little loop?).
One thing these pictures were not: professional, styled, staged pictures. They are not beautiful, there is no lens flare, or fancy Photoshop actions, or scenic orchards, or jumping in the air, or moustaches, or props. Not that there's anything wrong with those things, they're all really fun and great. I'm just saying you don't need them. You don't even need a camera! You could draw pictures of your memories. You just need a way to say, "Hey, I want to remember this later," and then, maybe consider having an experience worth remembering.
Does it sound like I'm lecturing? I guess I am a bit. But I'm not lecturing you, I'm lecturing me.
2. Making gifts together.
(See, he's totally fine, not a bit of permanent damage.)
I love making gifts. I have been making gifts since I was in grade-school. I bet you all have, too. I'd like to think my present efforts are better in quality and usefulness to the recipient -- I certainly hope so. The point is that not only is making presents something that is fun and very low- or even no-cost (depending on what you have on hand to make things with), it's really fun to do together.
My kids had a ball making the homemade wrapping paper that ended up wrapping a grandparent's gift. It made them feel connected, and part of what we were sending him, even though the gift itself was not handmade. My kids are also enjoying the process of making the gifts that are handmade, and they have enjoyed it every year. They always contribute at least something to the process of each one. Sure, not all our gifts are perfect, but they are so filled with love that you'd have to be a stone not to feel it. I think that counts for something.
I think that flexibility is important, and let me tell you it has been hard won for me, personally. I spent a long time shutting my family out of my gift-making (heck, all of my making) because I wanted the thing I made to be perfect. But I am not perfect, and I never will be. So isn't it better that my gifts are imperfect, too?
3. Baking together.
(Amazed at the vast quantity of muffin batter we have wrought. We don't know from halfway.)
How many of you bake Christmas cookies every year? We always always do. This year I'm not sure exactly how that will play out because I have quit eating sweeteners except honey. But we'll find a way, I am sure.
Growing up we always made bran muffins in mass quantities. It was a ritual. And my Mom made stollen. As an adult, I make cookies. I'll never forget how that started. It was at a Christmas piano recital, and the piano teacher had out a multi-tiered tray of all the classic Christmas cookies. It was beautiful! I had never seen such a thing in my life. They were all so pretty and tiny. I found out what they all were and I have been making them ever since.
It doesn't matter what you make, and it doesn't have to be baking. Making food together is just one of those things that creates an undeniable bond between you and the people you cook with. What a great thing to share with your family or friends.
4. Sharing music together.
(Yes, folks, the timestamp says Christmas Day, 1988.)
Did your family do this? Make you play/sing/jump/dance/etc. for guests at holiday dinners? I really hated that.
Of course, now you're probably wondering why I included it, then! Ha! The thing is, I don't hate sharing music or other performances with friends and family. In fact, I love it! I just hated having it sprung on me. But having a group of kids put on an impromptu show for you at a dinner party? Priceless (and often hilarious, too). It doesn't take much, either, just a hint about how fun it would be and bam... off they go.
I think having times to sing songs together and play music together is so crucial. It's right up there with cooking together, isn't it? I have grown up in a culture that thinks gathering around the piano after dinner is totally lame (goodness, these pictures are bringing back my '80's vocabulary). Why is that? When did pulling out a guitar and singing folk songs together become stupid? Because it's so not stupid. It's amazing. I think we should do more of it. At all kinds of parties.
So I'm starting with my family. My kids are still young, so they don't know it's dumb yet. Maybe I can get them to fall in love with it before they find out. Or maybe enough people will start doing it and by the time they are old enough to care what other people think, other people will think it's cool, too. That would be a beautiful thing.
5. Getting the tree together. (Or in my case, "The Tree")
(Yes, that's really me under there with the skinny jeans and Keds. Oh, '80s, how I don't miss thee.)
For me, this is a touchstone activity for the season. Getting the tree, setting up the tree, trimming the tree. Christmas has officially begun for me when we get the tree.
Growing up, we always, and I mean always, cut a tree (a Noble Fir per my Dad's specifications, thankyouverymuch) at a tree place. As an adult, I've gotten trees every which way to sideways, but I always get one.
Aaaaaand (confession time), like I said about my gift making, I have been a little uptight about my tree. MY tree, you see? I am still doing it. This is one place that I am still struggling to open up and let other people in. Maybe it's because the tree is just so beautiful, maybe it's because we've made it such a visual symbol of the season, or maybe it's just because I need more therapy. Ha! But I am working on it, in my own, random way, I am working on it. Hopefully next week when we have the house tour, you will be able to tell from the obvious imperfections in our tree (our), that I have made strides in this area.
You probably already noticed that there's a lot of togetherness in this post. And yes, that is kind of the point, whether our individual "together" is family, friends, community or some other constellation as yet undiscovered. Our lives are messy, stressful, overburdened and undervalued. But we're in it together. I love that. I hope you do, too.
I know I don't know you all personally, but I want you to know that all of you are a part of my personal "together." Thank you for being there.
So -- tell me! What fun activities did you do as a family growing up? (And you know, tomorrow's linky party is going to be all about family activities, so if you're moved to write a post, well, you've got a party waiting for you! :-)
P.S. This post is part of my Christmas Parade series of Christmas blog posts for 2012. To see the entire post schedule and all the linky parties and other fun, check out the Christmas Parade Welcome post.
P.P.S. Oh yes, and don't forget! The Inspiration for the Season linky closes at midnight! If you're planning to link up, now's the time!). Then tomorrow, a new linky party! Fun!