What's your Christmas pledge this year? If you want to save and truly have a meaningful way of sharing the Christmas spirit with your loved ones, here's an idea for you!
Take The Christmas Pledge
Every year, I hear folks saying that they want their holidays to be less commercial. They yearn to buy less, frenzy less, and family more. Everyone starts out early in the season determined to keep the stress of gift-giving from steamrolling over them again this year – but by the time the new year and the holiday bills roll in, people just want to hide in the corner behind the fading Christmas tree and forget any of it ever happened.
The holidays are supposed to be about peace and love and spending time with people we care about. So why do so many people get caught up in making it about glitz and dollar signs and obligation?
For one thing, it is hard to establish definitions of downsizing. Some families set dollar limits on gifting, but there are always complications. If one kid gets an item that normally sells for $200 but you got it for half off, is it fair to give the other kid a gift that's really only worth $100? Sometimes the number of items are limited, but again, there's that pesky keeping-it-even ideal. If four of little sister's five items are tiny little tokens, wouldn't it be fair to give her an extra gift or two to match big brother's five expensive ones?
There are promises to avoid buying for all but the immediate household, too – but jeez, it is just so hard to justify showing up at Grandmother's house empty-handed, and great-uncle Erwin has always been such a sweetheart that you cannot bear to leave him out.
Plans can be made to attend only a certain number of events, but it gets too easy to make an exception for just one more. And then another.
Before anyone can stop themselves, the entire month of December somehow gets sucked up into an insane chaos of buying and wrapping, making lists and checking them four or five times, being seen at all the right parties, and missing out on the whole point.
It doesn't have to be that way. If you have ever wanted to reign in the craziness but aren't sure where to begin, I have an idea for how to get started on the road to holiday simplicity.
“Pledge to give only gifts that are second-hand or homemade.”
This concept bears a little explanation. Sometimes when people think of homemade, kitschy baubles encrusted with glitter and made by a six-year-old come to mind. And second-hand conjures up pawing through garage sale leftovers for a strapless bike helmet or chipped picture frame.
Not to worry – it can be so much better than that! Some of the best gifts I have ever given or received have been second-hand.
Gift Used Items
Used items do not have to be tacky or cheap, but sometimes it's fun if they are. Decades ago, my mother happened upon a small soft-sculptured Eskimo doll trimmed with fake fur at a yard sale, and bought it for me for so little money that it probably cost her more to ship it to me in a box than it did to buy it.
Although I have moved several times since, the funny little doll has had a place on my shelf at every home. It reminds me of the love my mother and I shared for stories of Arctic adventure, and of the smug happiness she must have gotten out of mailing such a silly thing. It also makes me smile at all the times my son surreptitiously turned the doll around so that it was facing the wall, and I would notice it later and turn it back, a wordless game in which he and I engaged for years. They are both gone now, my mother deceased and my son grown and moved out, but their presence lives on in the yard sale doll.
Gift Second Hand Items
Second-hand isn't always cheap. My husband found an old earthenware bread bowl at an antique shop for me one year, and it remains among my most treasured possessions. He confessed later that he had found a similar one in mint condition for twice the money, but had opted for the one with a few flaws. It was a lot of money, either way, but I'm happier with the imperfect one, knowing that it arrived in my kitchen having already been well-loved. I can feel the warmth of a past generation mixing up bread along with me. And as a bonus, I don't need to worry about handling it with kid gloves to keep it pristine and avoid damaging an expensive piece of pottery.
What about re-gifting? I say it's all right, as long as it is done in the right spirit. If the goal is simply the proverbial killing of two birds with one stone, by simultaneously getting rid of junk you don't want and crossing a gift obligation off your list, think again. That pair of garish sunshades given to your prim grandmother who wars eyeglasses full time, or the ski hat to your cousin in Florida, or the cooking basics book to your gourmet office mate might scream “Re-gift” and be justifiably offensive to the recipient.
Those aren't inherently bad gifts. But if the whole point of giving a gift is to demonstrate that you know someone well enough to know what they like or that at least you were willing to spend time choosing something that reminds you of them, these are examples of how not to do that.
But if someone gave you some sunglasses that really weren't your style, and you honestly thought that your younger sister would really love them – or if there were a winter enthusiast or a just-starting-out millennial on your list that might enjoy a warm hat or helpful cookbook – by all means. Give it with love and without guilt.
One year I gave a gift that I had acquired for free, and the recipient was almost moved to tears. I happened upon an old red-and-black plaid wood jacket on the “free” rack at a church thrift store, and grabbed it. I brought it home and tidied it up and replaced a missing button, and hung it on my coat rack.
A friend saw it there and admired it. She had just completed extensive coursework and an arduous examination process to earn her license as a Registered Maine Guide, and had always admired the classic unofficial uniform of traditional guides – the red and black plaid wood jacket. She treasures it still today – not only because she wanted one like it, but because she knew I loved it and was always willing to give it up for her.
There are lots of possibilities. The unique baskets from the church basement sale for a basket aficionado, the vintage sweater for one who wears them well, or a once-expensive toy kitchen set that just needs a little cleaning and care to make it like new again.
Gift Homemade Presents
Homemade can be wonderful too. If you crochet or knit, the sky is the limit for accessories, from socks to head wraps to baby blankets to stuffed toys. If you are handy with a saw and hammer, you can create stunning holiday centerpieces out of easy wooden crates. If you paint, you can apply your handiwork to meaningful ornaments and decor. Whatever your hobbies or skills, you can make something beautiful and memorable.
Gifts don't have to be crafty, though. Consider giving your expertise as a gift. A coupon for tax advice from an accountant, computer help from a tech guru, or a day of child care from a daycare provider can be worth more than any mall bauble you could find.
Even without special skills, there is always the gift of your time – a day of housecleaning or lawn mowing or a free car wash would be a sincere gift, and wonderfully “homemade”.
Don't forget to consider food. Cookies, breads, pies – whatever your specialty! Cookie mixes or soups layered prettily in a decorated mason jar are always well-received too, and are never the wrong size or color. Jams and jellies and salsa are also great.
I encourage you to make the pledge for yourself and your household this year. Give only second-hand or homemade gifts. Let people know your intentions ahead of time, and then relax and enjoy the season.
Ultimately what counts is the message that is attached to the gift. I enjoy knowing that a present is carefully chosen and lovingly crafted just for me. Even more, I embraced the idea of a smaller carbon footprint from gifts that were bought used or made by hand.
But most of all, I love knowing that before the giver gave anything to me, he or she gave themselves something precious. They gave the gift of holiday peace and tranquility, the kind of season they always wanted to have. Smaller, less consumerist, and more from the heart. And in the end, isn't that the perfect gift for everyone?
Still need more gift giving ideas? How about some Christmas cookies? Watch how you can make some from Joy of Baking:
What do you think of this Christmas pledge? Let us know in the comments section what your thoughts are on these Christmas gift ideas. Will you give it a try? Let us know how it went and share your experience with us in the comment section below.
Have any homesteading projects you’d like to share? Share it with us an we’ll give it a try. We’d love to know what you think!