helping others -- Volunteer as a family,
perhaps at a meal program. Many churches, and
even stores and malls, have programs where you
can choose the name of a needy child and buy a
gift for him or her. Volunteer to distribute toys
to children or clothing and food at a homeless
shelter. Megan and Tom Bolin in De Pere, Wis.,
volunteer with their two daughters as bell ringers
for the Salvation Army.
"We usually get comments like 'How
can you NOT make a donation to these cute little
girls?' or 'Here, honey, you help me put the money
in the bucket.' This serves two purposes: It helps
the kids think about other people at a time when
they're thinking 'What do I want for Christmas?'
and also, whenever we see those buckets, the girls
insist on putting in some money."
Another alternative is to pool your
money as a family or group, and then donate it
to charity. Andrew Lamb, an account executive
from Chicago says, "We had been competing to buy
each others gifts year over year and it was getting
to the point we were spending money on gifts people
really didn't want. Our new tradition is to pool
a certain sum from each person for charity. The
charity is chosen by one person and it rotates
each year. At our Christmas dinner that person
gets to announce the charity chosen and gives
a little background on it. The kicker is that
person gets the tax write-off for that year."
Another possibility is to put together
care packages for troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Sam Rodriguez of San Antonio was corresponding
via e-mail with a fellow Texas A&M alumnus who
was serving in Iraq and found out very simple
things are great morale boosters: Oreos, flavored
coffee, drink mixes. "Instead of swapping stuff
you'd rather return, agree with a co-worker or
whomever that you will put together a care pack
for someone," he says. "Flat-rate boxes are available
from UPS for about $9.80."
Plan family outings -- Create other activities that don't center on opening gifts. On Christmas Day, instead of buying lots of gifts to open on the big day, go out to a Christmas movie or a holiday musical or concert. Combine it with dinner in a special setting or have a pizza party.
the kids rule for one day -- This is another
idea from the Center for a New American Dream.
Yes, that does mean you might find yourself wearing
pajamas all day and eating Fruit Loops pizza for
dinner, but it's only one day and no doubt one
that will stick with children's memories much
longer than the latest toy that breaks three months
Take a trip -- Dean Rader, who lives in San Francisco and has family in Oklahoma and elsewhere, says his family has stopped gift giving all together.
"Instead, we take a family vacation, usually for four or five days," he says. "Each family member has to buy or make dinner each night. That's the official present."
Russell McCulley in New Orleans says he and his partner also do a trip instead of gifts. It takes the stress out of Christmas, he says. "I like to go to the mall without the intention of actually buying anything. I take perverse glee in watching other people have nervous breakdowns in public," he says.