Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

How Less Can Mean More At The Holidays

December 17, 2007

Many families may need to tighten their belts and make do this holiday season. It isn’t easy to pinch pennies when the rest of society seems to be rolling along. Going through the uncertainty and worry about your personal finances detracts from a festive mood.

The best way to avoid getting caught in the intense demand of the holidays is to keep your celebration simple. Figure out what makes the holidays meaningful to your family and let go of the extras that don’t make the list. Once people identify what is truly important, then they can enjoy the season instead of feeling pushed by obligations.

Here are five ideas on what families can do to make it the best holiday season ever.

1. Gift-giving. Families on limited incomes can create financial problems for themselves and add unwanted stress by overextending themselves. Overspending at Christmas can take away from other living expenses for months to come. Plus buying on credit shows up in added interest payments.

Whatever your income, determine how much money you can afford to spend on gifts. Talk to family members and let them know there is less money available for giving. Shift the emphasis on family fun and experiences together instead of on gifts.

When it comes to gift-giving, it is the thought and not the expense that counts. Gift giving shouldn’t be a burden and take the joy out of the occasion.

Memorable Christmases happen when people are forced to use their ingenuity and creativity to "make do" with personal, well-thought-out gifts. Examples might include something handcrafted or a gift certificate of time or talent. One or two special but simple gifts can create a wonderful memory or bond.

2. The gift of time. Time is more precious than money. When there is no money, you can still give of your time and talents. Enjoy some special one-to-one time with your children or grandchildren children during the holiday. Each relationship is different. Give of yourself completely with the one you are with. Make sure each child goes away thinking he or she is special, because he or she is!

Go on outings. Read to them. Talk to them. Listen to them. Play cards or board games. Build puzzles. Have family fun and make memories. Teach them something only you can teach them.

Share your talents and work together on one of your projects - Swedish bread, special cookies, building a model or whatever you do that is special. Another gift could be stories that connect them with their roots. Tell them stories about your childhood and family, stories from your past holidays.

3. Honor your traditions and use them to teach and celebrate. Use the occasion to teach important family values and religious traditions. For most of us, the religious significance of the birth of Jesus Christ gives meaning to our lives. The holiday encompasses people from other faiths and secular persuasions as well.

The holidays are a time for renewal of faith and charity. It is a season of love, and giving love will help get families away from their financial struggles. By its traditions, a family shows that it cares about certain things deeply. People from other faiths besides Christianity and from secular backgrounds have their own special holiday traditions.

Holiday decorations and heirlooms that come down through the family have special stories behind them. As you decorate, talk about the memories behind the holiday keepsakes.

4. Getting together. The holidays are about loving ties with family and friends. These relationships give you a chance to make the extra effort in finding ways to share that love.

The travel, expense and sacrifice of family and friends to get together during the holiday season are worth the effort. This is a wonderful time to put your arms around one another and cherish these moments together. Be open about your life and you’ll invite people to express their care for you.

If possible, involve your children with their grandparents. Grandparents offer different information and perspectives than any other relationship. They act as carriers of the family tradition. They link the grandchildren to the past and help them understand their place in the ongoing saga of the family.

5. Reach out to others. There is a simple formula for those who find themselves in unfortunate situations. Find someone less fortunate than yourself and lift his or her spirit. It’s true. When you lift another’s burden, your own will be lighter. Give even if you don't have much to give. You can give of yourself and that is a lot to give.

Make a visit. Remember the lonely and the infirm. Make a phone call. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Give a meal invitation. Recognize a loss. Listen to a sad heart. Your open heart is needed by a world with too much loneliness and suffering in it.

Better yet, for the best kind of holiday memory, involve your children in a family activity of helping someone else. Help your children learn to give. Help them put thought and their own money into their gift giving. They will discover the special joy that comes from giving and will feel less concerned about receiving.

Take a challenge to make this your best Christmas ever. Remember the reason for the season!