5 Ways to Celebrate Christmas Without Spending a Dollar

The most valuable gifts don’t involve frantic trips to the mall


After making my way through the panicked hordes of last minute shoppers at Best Buy, I found myself in the long winding line. Standing behind a mom with a wailing baby strapped to her side and a Doritos-munching daughter whose hunger was not satiated by her own junk food and whined for every candy in the aisle, I calculated the damage my mom’s last few Christmas gifts would cause my dwindling bank account.

As the mother in front of me valiantly tried to push her four large packages forward, while shushing the baby and keeping her daughters powdered “cheese”-covered fingers away from every impulse offer in the checkout, I felt something buzzing. Struggling to balance my boxes against my hip, I plunged a hand into the abyss known as my purse. As I finally clamped down on the smooth contour of my cell phone the buzzing stopped. The penetrating dirty looks of the shoppers behind me, who wondered what was stopping the gratifying sensation of moving forward (even though we weren’t even close to cashiers), compelled me to ignore the call and shuffle on.

After finally paying and making my way into the cool night air I checked my cell phone to see what I missed. It was a call from an editor at Busted Halo wondering where this article was about ways to celebrate Christmas without consumerism.

It’s not always easy taking one’s own advice, and a Christmas without spending money, to some, may seem like an impossibly stingy suggestion. However I can guarantee that these five tips will both make your Christmas season less hectic, and probably enrich others much more than anything you can buy at Best Buy.

  1. Give the gift of time. My mom might need some new electronics, but if you ask her, she will tell you that all she wants for Christmas is to spend time with me during this holiday season. Now, although to some this may sound like a mom’s excuse to keep her daughter from spending too much money at Christmas, time with loved ones is in fact a far better gift than anything that can be purchased. Bill McGarvey’s family gave IOUs for things like babysitting or a dinner together in the future instead of material gifts. People — especially in America — don’t really need more things. (That’s why companies like the Container Store offering organizational solution products have such a booming business.) But time with family and loved ones is usually a rarity, so instead of waiting by yourself in long lines, skip the lines and spend the time with family.
  2. Give the gift of Christmas spirit. Jarrad Venegas’ favorite Christmas memories never involved gifts. They involved driving around with family to see displays of Christmas lights in Austin. My personal best Christmas memories involve family Christmas traditions like looking for the Star of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, and making Christmas wishes in the starlight. Others go caroling, build snowmen — whatever tradition you may have, or may want to start, they are affordable ways of making your Christmas special while spending time with friends. They’re also far more Christmasy than pushing through the crowded mall.
  3. Give the gift of your creativity. Even if you may not have much disposable income at Christmas, you can still give great material gifts if you’re just a little creative. My friend Kathleen knows her dad loves outdoorsy things and gave him a giant pine cone she found, which is now proudly displayed on her family’s mantle. Kate, a former intern at Busted Halo made her family’s Christmas gifts because she couldn’t think of anything that they actually needed that she could afford. Even if you’re not crafty you can bake cookies, or make other Christmas treats and give them away as gifts: all things which show more love and are cheaper than store bought presents.
  4. Give the gift of self. Christmas is about giving, but less about presents people don’t need and more about hope and giving of oneself. So, spend some time giving to those less fortunate in your community by volunteering during this Christmas season. My friend Dayna delivered Christmas gifts to children in the housing projects. My friend Ina volunteered at a community Christmas party for Children in the shelter system. There are literally thousands of organizations that need your support at Christmas time (and any other time of year, to be honest), so pick one, and make a Christmas  outing for family or friends of helping others. The gift you will receive in return will be priceless.
  5. Give the gift of health. Even if you’ve already spent thousands on your Christmas shopping, and this list comes too late for you to meet up with family or plan a Christmasy outing, you can still give yourself and your loved ones a Christmas gift by making a personal commitment to being healthy during this holiday season and beyond. Christmas is an easy time to overeat, skip exercise and generally make some pretty poor health decisions. But good health is undoubtedly more valuable than anything you can buy. So if you have some unhealthy habits make a commitment to end one this Christmas. Or if there is nothing specific make a point of doing one thing during this Christmas to make yourself a little healthier, whether it’s going for a walk or skipping that extra glass of eggnog.

So save a dollar, skip the lines, and enjoy Christmas for what it’s meant to be, a celebration of faith, family and community, not consumerism. Have a Merry Christmas from Busted Halo!

[This article was originally published on December 23, 2009.]