The Antidote for Holiday Dread: Start Early

As much as I love Christmas, I must confess there are some things about the holiday season I dread. I dread the pull of the culture that tries to manipulate me and my family. I dread that heart-pounding feeling that my feet are in the starting blocks and any second I’ll hear the signal to start running as fast as I can to make it to the finish line before midnight on December 24.


It’s easy to let the busy-ness of Christmas get the best of us. We feel obligated to meet the expectations of everyone—kids, friends, relatives, communities, even our employers. It’s enough to strip away the joy leaving guilt, disappointment and anger in its place.

The good news is that you can rise above the over commercialization of Christmas. You can bring back the joy.

START EARLY.  The sooner you start the better the outcome. The sooner you start the less you’ll spend. The sooner you start the less likely you’ll be to create a pile of new debt.

CREATE LIMITS. There’s something to be said for setting limits on how many gifts to give the kids and others. Fewer gifts mean less shopping, less wrapping and of course less spending. You may discover that less is more than enough. 

GIVE RETAIL VALUE. Determine the amount you want to spend on each person on your list. Let’s say you designate $50 for your sister. To your utter amazement you find a gorgeous sweater at a high-end sample sale. It’s her size and favorite color, marked down to $30. It’s perfect. Don’t spend another $20 on your sister to satisfy a notion that you must meet the $50 allotted. Your mission is complete. You purchased a lovely gift and cut the cost by at least 75 percent (you know what cashmere goes for these days!) The actual cost is your secret—and a reasonable way to cut the cost.

GET CREATIVE. Not a talented artist or crafter? Don’t worry. You can still create your own gifts If you have the basics like a computer, printer, paper supplies, writable CDs and DVDs, you can creative unique gifts then duplication as needed—giving the same gift to many on your list.

CREATE FAMILY GIFTS. Rather than buying individual gifts for all the kids in one family, consider a single gift that everyone will enjoy like a board game or DVD. Start thinking and soon your creative juices will kick in.

Other ideas include a Family Calendar that you customize for your family that includes the names, dates and all pertinent infuriation of every person’s birthday, anniversaries and other significant dates. Search “printable calendar” online to find templates.

A Family Cookbook, another great idea, would be a compilation of your own recipes and family favorites that have, perhaps, been passed down from previous generations.

Share your Family Memories in stories, pictures or movies. Selected and transfer family photos and videos that capture the essence of your family’s life over the past year. Add captions and short stories and you will have created the equivalent of an electronic scrapbook that can be easily duplicated.

As we head into the holiday season, don’t concentrate so much on how much money you need to spend but rather on all that you have to give—your time and talents. Gifts that celebrate love and hope are what bring us together as friends, families and communities. We all have something to give.

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6 replies
  1. Anne
    Anne says:

    “Other ideas include a Family Calendar that you customize for your family that includes the names, dates and all pertinent infuriation of every person’s birthday, anniversaries and other significant dates” Spellcheck is telling me that ‘infuriation’ is not a word but it made me smile. I pictured someone furious that they had forgotten or needed not to forget a birthday.

  2. KSTigerfan
    KSTigerfan says:

    May I ask a question that is off-topic as far as today’s article? I KNOW there was a column (a long time ago) listing low-interest credit card options. Thanks to Mary and three years of hard work, I am SO close to freedom from debt; my next check will pay off my balance! But I need to find a low-interest card to use for the few purchases I will be making in the future–now that I am a smarter, more frugal shopper who will pay off the balance every month. Can someone point me to the article? Thanks.

  3. crabbyoldlady
    crabbyoldlady says:

    I find that the earlier I start, the MORE I spend. I end up purchasing a gift, then when it’s too late to return it, learn what that person REALLY wants for Christmas, so I buy that too. It get nuts with the grandkids. Thank goodness I only have two.

  4. Christine
    Christine says:

    I don’t get people dreading Christmas. I know there are lots of people who can’t afford to do gifts and all the other stuff. I wish people would just realize that they don’t have to do that. I love Christmas. I have never once bought into the idea that I have to spend as much as someone else does, or that I HAVE to do anything at all. Christmas is what you make it. If you don’t want to buy gifts, don’t. If you don’t want to decorate your house with lights and run up your electric bill, don’t. Do what you want to do and make the holiday what you want it to be. If that means going to church and celebrating the real reason for the season, then that is what Christmas is for you. None of this having to live up to someone else’s expectations. I go all out for Christmas. I love everything about it. I can afford it, so I do gifts, decorate, bake, etc. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it. It’s as simple as that. I don’t understand anyone dreading it. Even if you don’t have the money for it, figure out what you can do, and just do that. If someone thinks you are letting them down by not buying them a gift, that’s their problem.

    • B in Lee, NY
      B in Lee, NY says:

      I am one of those people. And I do what you have suggested: I do the parts I enjoy, and just hunker down and let the rest of the madness stampede past me. I still breathe a huge sigh of relief when January comes and all the holiday hype dies off. The pressure to perform is still there, and since I don’t want to party, and entertain, and go crazy with decorations, and shop-till-I-drop for gifts – I still feel that there’s something “wrong” with me.

      • ABC
        ABC says:

        I am one of those people also, but I do not feel that there is something “wrong” with me, I feel like there is something “wrong” with everyone else. 🙂

        I enjoy Christmas carols and reflecting on Jesus’ birth, and I even recognize that the lights and snow
        and decorations are pretty, but the “wrappings” of modern-day
        commercialized Christmas mean nothing to me.

        Long, long ago, when we were newly married and very poor, I put a stop (after doing it a couple of years) to buying gifts for brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews. We got a small gift for our parents and that was it. When our kids came along, we gave them gifts but had a budget, and stuck to it. I tried to teach my own kids that the commercialism in Christmas is wrong (we never lied to them about Santa Claus), and I believe, now that they are grown, they have absorbed and internalized the lesson. Christmas, to me, is either all about Jesus being born into the world for us or it is about nothing.

        Scrooge (LOL)

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