Part II: 60 Ideas for Celebrating a Minimalist Christmas, Gifts and All

Last week, in order to find the your real meaning of Christmas*, I asked you to write down 20-50 Christmas activities and assign a few archetypal words to each. If you haven’t done this yet, do it now. Seriously. (This is when I’ll admit that I assigned it to y’all without doing it myself first.)

When I finally did it this morning, it was eye-opening. Not only because I realized just how much of a procrastinator I truly am (that I procrastinated on my own homework assignment), because what I thought the holidays meant to me weren’t what I rated as most important. I grew up in a mixed Jewish and Christian household, but Christmas reigned large in our house. Now that I’m adult, I was surprised at what traditions I still want to carry with me, and which ones I don’t.

For example: for me, ‘baking’ got the words ‘sharing,’ ‘homemade,’ ‘love.’ Not surprisingly, it got an 8 (beat out by only ‘time off work,’ ‘egg nog,’ ‘world peace,’  and ‘Christmas specials’). But ‘Christmas music’ gets a 3, as its archetypal words for me were ‘forcible auditory infringement,’ ‘crappy memories’ and ‘Santa Baby.’ Christmas trees were split, so I rated the individual archetypal words themselves. ‘Obligation’ got a 3, while ‘pine tree smell’ got an 8.

Here are my three archetypal words/ideas that kept coming up:

1. Calm and comfort.

2. Togetherness and sharing.


Apparently, I want the Prairie Home Companion version of the holidays.

60 Ideas for Celebrating a Minimalist Christmas, Gifts and All

Idea Pick your battles
Why Instead of trying to do absolutely everything (decorate, bake, buy, plan, host, craft, write, entertain, cook), focus on what you love, truly love, about the holidays.
HowIf you haven’t already filled out your own meaning of Christmas, jot down your activities and words, rate ’em, look for patterns, and then continue reading with your words in mind.

Homemade graham crackers
Homemade graham crackers

Idea Divide and conquer
Why Once you’ve picked your battles, it’s time to divide and conquer. How Look at what archetypal words keep coming up again and again, both positive and negative. Have your family create their own lists, and share the reasons why you rated certain words and ideas higher or lower. Write them down and think about how you might go about focusing on what you truly like about the holidays.

Idea Stretch out Christmas
Why Instead of tearing open 30 gifts wrapped in single-use paper in an under an hour, why not take a page from the religion that wrote the book (literally) on celebrating holidays in style? Even if you’re not Jewish or celebrating the eight nights of Hannukah, you can still stretch out the holidays.
How Open one gift a day for a week. Eat one special treat every day (donuts for breakfast, ice cream sundaes for dessert, egg nog any time, etc). Do one special activity every day (movie night, board game night, sledding). Or all three.

Gift Ideas

Idea Plan ahead
Why ‘Stuff’ has become cheap. Time and effort have not. Minimalism often takes more forethought and planning than non-minimalism. If you’re going to give homemade or minimalist gifts, you need to plan ahead.
How Keep a list of ongoing giftees (kids, parents, relatives, friends) on Google drive, in Evernote or in an old-school day planner, and jot down ideas throughout the year as they come to you. If decorating is on your list, choose how many boxes of holiday paraphernalia you’re willing to juggle each year and stick to it.

Idea Give minimalist gifts
Why According to Consumer Reports, around a quarter of holiday gifts get returned, hidden in a drawer, donated to charity or thrown away. (And that’s just the ones people admit to a survey taker.) Economists call this ‘deadweight loss,’ and it doesn’t make anyone terribly happy.
How Read this.
What $10 or less: Homemade cookies, beautifully packaged spices, MadLibs (great party gift)
Around $25: Gift card, bottle of Italian olive oil, homemade lemon-infused vodka
Around $50: Donation to a favorite charity, annual subscription to computer backup website
$100 or more: Gift certificate to their local symphony, ballet or opera; a massage

In the UK, a year's National Trust membership for Christmas meant 11 visits to historic homes over the next eight months.
Scotney Castle, Kent, UK: visited with my Christmas gift: a one-year subscription to the National Trust

Idea Think consumable or sustainable
Why No bottle of wine or box of chocolate will go undrunk or uneaten. Ever.
How If you’re getting a host or someone you don’t know well a gift, think consumable: wine, flowers, sweets, or, one of my favorite gifts, a gourmet version of a basic kitchen ingredient: Italian olive oil for cooks, pure vanilla extract for bakers, heirloom popcorn and Slovenian sea salt for anyone. Many of these ingredients are $10 or less.

Idea Experiences
Why Time and again, research has proven that experiences matter to our health and happiness more than stuff.
How If it’s feasible, do something together for the holidays. A few years ago, my family went on a safari that cost us $75 apiece. It’s called Safari West, and it’s near Napa Valley, California not Tanzania or Kenya, but it was as close as my parents will probably ever come to the Serengeti or Maasai Mara. To this day, they still talk about it.

Idea Travel or Time
Why Americans spend an average of over $700 on gifts. If we assume around half of those are unwanted, that’s $350 into the ether.
How How can you spend time instead of money? Visiting friends? Doing a favor for an elderly neighbor, friend or relative? Just calling someone who might be lonely. I don’t think adults should have to buy gifts for each other (if so, I’m a huge fan of picking one name out of a hat for a group gift), so save up your money and visit far-away friends and family instead.

*Egg nog. The real meaning of Christmas is egg nog.

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