Dreaming of a simple Christmas

Published December 1, 2005

Assemble a box of old dress-up clothes and accessories from mom’s, dad’s, aunts’ and uncle’ closets.

Excited about celebrating Christmas but can’t face the prospect of another round of shopping and eating frenzy?

You are not alone in wanting to get off the consumer-driven holiday train. A growing number of people from bastions of consumerism such as Canada and the United States are buying into the idea of spending less during the holidays and recapturing the true meaning of Christmas – peace, love and goodwill to all.

In 2004, according to Ecumenical News International, 70 per cent of Americans polled told national surveys that they would like to see “less emphasis on shopping and consumer spending” during the holidays.

According to the credit card tracker www.CardWeb.com, last year Americans charged $108 billion in retail purchases between Thanksgiving and Christmas day or spent an average of $1,300 per family. Canadians spent an average of $575 on gifts and gave an average of 11 gifts during the holidays, according to a 2003 poll conducted by Canadian Press/Leger Marketing.

Together, Canadians and Americans make up 5.2 per cent of the world’s population, but their portion of private consumption expenditures (the amount spent on goods and services per household level) is 31.5 per cent, or more than six times what constitutes a fair share, according to the Worldwatch Institute.

Faced with such statistics, movements across North America – some of them church-based – have been popularizing the idea of a simplified Christmas.

From alternatives to store-bought gifts, to setting a spending limit, to simply buying nothing, these groups have come up with ideas on how to eschew commercialism during the holidays.

Buy Nothing Christmas, a campaign begun by Canadian Mennonites, urges a “Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged.” Its Web site, www.buynothingchristmas.org, is replete with ideas such as a kit for a Christmas musical, a “Christmas catalogue with things that you really want … and already have,” and a “fresh, radical way of reading the Christmas story.”

Alternatives for Simple Living (www.simpleliving.org) suggests that providing money to buy a goat for a farmer in Honduras or food to victims of war would “give Jesus a birthday gift he really wants.”

Since according to polls Christmas is Canadians’ favourite holiday (6 out of 10, said the 2003 Leger Marketing survey) and a majority (72 per cent, said the 2004 Ipsos-Reid/MasterCard survey) feel that exchanging gifts is an important part of it, the Anglican Journal shares some suggestions on how to celebrate Christmas without going overboard.

Make, don’t buy

  • Make a mini-documentary about your parents.

    Interview them on videotape about their memories (childhood,

    adolescence, courtship, marriage and family life), interview other

    relatives and friends about your parents; include family photographs

    and heirlooms in the video and use your parents’ favourite music as

    background. Give copies of the video as a gift to your parents,

    siblings and relatives.

  • Collect quotes that make you think

    of someone – they can be handwritten or printed in colourful textured

    paper and framed. If you are feeling more creative, turn it into a

    small scrapbook of quotes that can be carried in a purse.

  • Assemble

    a box of old dress-up clothes and accessories from mom’s, dad’s, aunts’

    and uncles’ closets. This box of vintage boa feathers, high heels, bow

    ties, pants, hats, funky bracelets, earrings and other gewgaws

    guarantees hours of creative fun for girls and boys aged 5 to 10.

  • Write

    stories (with illustrations or magazine cutouts) with your children

    and/or nephews and nieces as the main characters and read it to them

    aloud as you are gathered around the Christmas tree or around the

    kitchen table with mugs of cocoa and cookies.

  • Start a family

    tradition of having a Christmas newsletter (e.g. The Smith Times), with

    stories and photographs about family milestones, announcements, and

    other events that happened during the year; give each family member a


  • Make a scrapbook for your son or daughter (e.g. memories

    of ages one to 10), which includes photographs, mementos and stories

    about them.

  • Make a wardrobe sachet from scrap fabric filled

    with lavender, rose and other soothing herbs that can be bought in bulk

    at health food stores.

  • Bake holiday cookies, pies or cakes and deliver them to family and friends before the Christmas rush.
  • Make your own jams, bottled and decorated with colourful scrap fabric or tied with a ribbon.
  • Make

    coupon books for things like, “Wash the dishes every weekend for one

    month,” “Shovel the snow on driveway,” “Cup of tea and sympathy,”

    “10-minute backrub,” “Free hug,” “Free knitting lessons.”

  • Make a recipe index, which includes family and personal favourites, and put in a personally decorated box.
  • Make

    personalized locker and refrigerator magnets: cut a favourite

    photograph to desired shape and size, put in a clear plastic frame and

    glue a magnet (which can be bought at craft stores) on the back.

  • Assemble a small album of recent family photographs for grandma and grandpa who live far away.

Activities as gifts

  • Take your nephews and nieces, elderly relatives,

    or your harried neighbours’ young children out on a special day in

    December to give their parents and or/caregivers a much-deserved break.

    A half-hour walk in the park, with flasks of hot drinks, freshly-baked

    goodies and good conversation will keep everyone warm; you can also

    visit a museum or just go for a ride around town eating munchies along

    the way.

  • Celebrate an international Christmas by having an

    afternoon tea with homemade cookies from around the world (you can

    feature a little flag on each plate). Check out http://www.christmas-cookies.com/recipes/bycountry.php

    for recipes; to liven it up, play a Christmas trivia game by assembling

    a set of questions about Christmas (the Web has 163 million entries for

    “Christmas” alone).

  • Have a “make and decorate your own Christmas cookie day” with the family.
  • Organize a Christmas pageant at home featuring music, poetry, dance and drama (with homemade props and costumes).

Volunteer, give cheer

  • Visit the elderly in nursing homes and be

    prepared to sing some Christmas carols (in case they want to hear some)

    or help them write their holiday cards.

  • Help out at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve.
  • Spend

    some of your Christmas money on canned goods to donate to the local

    food bank, involve your children by asking them to help you shop, pack

    and deliver the goods.

  • Prepare a Christmas basket for someone who is going through rough times.
  • Serve Mom and Dad or grandma and grandpa a delicious breakfast in bed.
  • Knit some shawls, gloves and hats and donate to a women’s shelter.

Recycle, reuse

  • Use cartoon pages of newspapers and colourful pages of magazines as gift wrap.
  • Give a niece the pair of earrings or jacket that she has always admired.
  • Collect

    tins from relatives and friends and return them as care packages (e.g.

    stuff them with chocolates, scented candles, baked goodies).

If you still want to buy

  • Get more bang for your buck at thrift shops.
  • Shop

    at fair trade stores like the Mennonite-run Ten Thousand Villages,

    which sells products that provide employment to co-operatives in

    developing countries.

  • Shop at church bazaars and alternative gifts fairs.
  • Suggest a spending limit of $5 or less; challenge everyone to stick to it and be creative.
  • Check

    out the online catalogues of church and non-profit organizations which

    suggest alternative gifts: e.g. Christmas cards and HIV-AIDS bracelets

    from Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (www.pwrdf.org),

    the Bishops’ Blend fair trade coffee gift box and other gift items that

    benefit children and families living in poverty worldwide are available

    at Episcopal Relief and Development (www.er-d.org or request a catalogue at 877-469-1431); get more ideas from www.leprosy.ca, www.unicef.ca, www.oxfam.org, www.beyondborders.net and www.worldvision.ca.

  • Make a donation in a gift recipient’s name to a church, a local or international charity: e.g. Church World Service (www.churchworldservice.org) has a “tools and blankets program,” www.oxfam.org has a range of “alternative gift vouchers.”

Sources: www.simpleliving.org, www.ehow.com, www.buynothingchristmas.org, www.credit-union.com/magazine/financial_tips, www.newdream.org, www.xmasresistance.org


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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