Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt completely overwhelmed by your holiday to-do list long before the calendar even says December 1. Raise your hand again if you forgot it was December altogether!
Between virtual learning supervision, coordinating outfits for your Christmas card photoshoot, and trying to score the best deals on gifts without stepping foot in a store on Black Friday/Cyber Monday, the holiday hustle (and subsequent burnout) is so, so real.
Sometimes, it seems like the true meaning of the season gets lost among frosted cookies and rolls of wrapping paper. While we may wish to simply slow down and enjoy time with our family and friends this time of year, the stress of having to do it all may make it feel downright impossible. Not to mention the cost of it all can really add up quickly.
Instead of succumbing to the picture-perfect ideal of holiday everything, what if we instead focused on taking a bit off our plate and leaving time for what really matters: family, special moments at home, and cookies (only half kidding!). So, here’s the deal: choose what you love about the holiday season and leave the rest. Or start one or two new traditions that are low-key and budget-friendly.
If you’re looking for inspiration, try one of the ideas below.
1. Make DIY holiday cards
Dig out all the markers, crayons, and stickers you can find and put those art supplies to work! Set up a holiday card-making station at the kitchen table and let the creative juices flow. Not only will your kids enjoy making cards, but the recipients will also enjoy getting a handmade piece of mail. Consider making cards for a local children’s hospital or senior home as well. Spreading some special cheer is truly a gift this year.
2. Host a virtual white elephant exchange
While there are many versions of a white elephant exchange, my favorite rule is to not spend a dime. Gather a group of friends and family on Zoom and have everyone bring something that they no longer need or want, whether it is serious or silly. Everyone introduces their gifts and takes turns choosing one—there’s sure to be a ton of laughs. If you’re local, leave the items on your porch for pickup. If you live far away, send ’em in the mail; they may be late, but the fun of white elephant can definitely be preserved!
3. Spend your time helping a local charity
Choose a local charity and see what their needs are. Perhaps they have a food drive you can contribute to; or, perhaps you can adopt a family for the holidays and help buy gifts for their tree. Use the opportunity to discuss the importance of helping others with your kids. If you involve them in the process of picking out the items you want to donate, they’ll better understand the relevance of helping others in their daily lives. You could also spend an afternoon sorting through the toys your children own and asking them to select a few they no longer play with. Then, donate them to children who could really use them.
4. Bake or decorate cookies
In my experience, people tend to fall into two categories when it comes to baking: love it or hate it. And either one is perfectly OK. If you love to bake, have at it. Make as many types of cookies, bars, etc. as you want. If you’d rather spend your time elsewhere, there’s no shame in grabbing store made cookies or refrigerated cookie dough and just doing the decorating. The most important part is the cookie eating—something we can all get on board with!
5. Create a hot chocolate bar
Kids love to choose and share their opinions, so a make-your-own hot chocolate bar is right up their alley. Set out mugs and hot chocolate and let everyone customize their drink with marshmallows, whipped cream, or candy canes of their choice. Pair with another activity or add an adult spin by offering Bailey’s as a mix-in.
6. Celebrate virtually in your community
Most communities plan low-cost or free activities around the holidays, and people have gotten very creative during the pandemic. You can attend tree lightings from the safety of your car, watch parades on TV, or call Santa on Zoom. Even though we know it’s not the same as getting together, it’s still important (and very possible!) to establish a connection with your community virtually.
7. Have a pajama movie night
Have everyone climb into their PJs early (or have a lazy day and never change out of them) and queue up Netflix with your favorite holiday movies. Share classics from your childhood and let your kids pick a few of their own. Snack on holiday treats, popcorn, and sip hot cocoa.
8. Explore holiday lights
Bundle up, go for a walk, and enjoy the fresh air and holiday lights in your neighborhood. Kids will love looking at all the fun holiday decorations as well as use the opportunity to get some of that winter energy out of their system. Add a twist by making it a scavenger hunt. Create a list of items to find (i.e. a snowman, Rudolph decoration, blue lights, etc.) before you leave and see who can find them all first. Don’t forget your masks!
This article was originally published on December 11, 2019 and has been updated for timeliness.