1. Plan ahead. Instead of going on auto-pilot the day after Thanksgiving, plan individually what you want to do during holidays, or hold a family meeting to decide what the group really wants to do and who’s going to do what.
2. If you need a symbol for giving (in addition to Jesus, Wise Men), learn about St. Nicholas, a good story.
3. Avoid debt. Refuse to be pressured by advertising to overspend.
4. Draw names rather than everyone giving something to everyone else in your giving circle. Set a ceiling for each recipient. Give children something they really want, rather than so many gifts.
5. Give appropriate gifts. Get to know the recipient. Give what they want to receive, not what you want to buy.
6. Give alternative gifts. Tithe what you spent on Christmas last year to a charity. Buy crafts and clothing from developing countries at alternative gift markets, not from commercial importers, so that the artisans receive a fair price for their work. Give of yourself, not just “stuff” – a coupon book for future services (such as baby-sitting or an “enchanted evening”); something baked, sewn, handmade, composed, etc.; or a family service project, such as working together at a soup kitchen.
7. Celebrate Advent for four weeks before Christmas. Light advent candles on each Sunday before Christmas. Accompany with carols, poems, and stories. More to come on this in other posts.
8. Make changes slowly but persistently over several years. Don’t try to change everything and everybody all at once.
9. Visits. During supper on some particular day during the holiday season (such as Christmas Eve) think about older people who have no family around—they might be a little happier at just the sight of us. (And at this point we often can’t stand the sight of each other.) Let the dishes go, wrap up a few cookies and go!
10. Send New Year’s letters (instead of holiday cards). Relax. You don’t have to do this in December! Write out-of-town friends in the New Year.
11. Family worship. Write out songs, scripture, skits, and poems for the holiday season on 25 pieces of paper. Each day, beginning December 1, a member of the family draws a slip from a bowl and reads it as a reminder of the forthcoming holiday.
12. Twelve Days of Christmas. In order not to swamp children with gifts all at once, use the custom of one person receiving one gift on each of the 12 days before Christmas. You can also choose some of those days to serve others or give gifts to neighbors or those in need. Build in ceremony with lighting of 12 candles or another tradition. Plan alternate activities for Christmas Day so that the center of the day is not gift-giving. (A skit, hike, visiting friends, having friends in, cooking.)