Resources for Simple Holiday Gifts & Fun

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Enjoy tradition or create new ones.

Some families choose to generate their own fun and meaningful traditions that have little emphasis on gifts. Here are just a few examples.

The children in one Florida family wake on Christmas morning to lollipop trees: dozens of lollipops and other tiny items tied by ribbon to tree branches in their yard. After scrambling to harvest from trees tagged with their names, the family heads the beach for a picnic with extended family before going home to play games.

Inspired by the book Night Tree, a family from British Columbia spends a day with friends and family making treats for birds and animals. They roll pinecones in peanut butter and birdseed, string popcorn, make cranberry garlands. At dusk they bundle up, carrying these treats along with cracked corn and suet cakes, to decorate on and around trees while singing Christmas carols. Afterwards they go back to sit by the fireplace and eat dinner together. Their children now insist that they decorate trees with food all winter long, spreading holiday good cheer throughout the season. 

A Michigan family gives one main gift that benefits everyone, other gifts must either be handmade or repurposed.

An Austrian family has stopped loading up children with Hanukkah presents. Instead each family member creates clues for a scavenger hunt to find wrapped and hidden gifts. As the children have gotten older the clues and hiding places have become more elaborate. Instead of hiding gifts in the house, now gifts are stashed at distances requiring hikes to reach them.

A New Jersey family chooses to remember a much-loved grandmother by making huge batches of her best recipe for the holidays. It keeps them in a flurry of preparations for several days. Then on the afternoon of Christmas they top her pecan rolls with icing and deliver them, as a surprise, to those who have to work on Christmas. They stop by the local fire station, police station, hospital, and nursing home leaving trays of rolls along with crayoned good wishes. They feel they’re sharing a little of grandma’s love with the community where she lived all her life. It’s their favorite part of the holiday.

For more inspiration, consider the following resources.

Ten Ways To Take Back The Holidays” (New Urban Habitat)

Avoiding Consumerism at Christmas” (Natural Life Magazine)

A Non-Consumer Christmas” (Get Rich Slowly)

Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas

Simple Pleasures for the Holidays

Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season


Make it yourself.

Overspending to show we care has gotten out of hand. American Consumer Credit Council reports the average American family has approximately $5,000 in credit card debt, but will spend $704 for holiday gifts. Longstanding movements against rampant materialism such as Buy Nothing Day and Buy Nothing Christmas ask us to consider a different approach. They advocate handmade gifts, gifts of service, and simple holiday togetherness as alternatives to spending. In my family, kids make a gift for everyone, putting the focus on giving as well as receiving.

For ideas, check out the following resources.

34 Homemade Gifts to Make Yourself” (Get Rich Slowly)

Gift Ideas” (Make It and Love It)

Holiday Gifts Kids Can Make

FamilyFun Homemade Holidays

Christmas Crafting with Kids


Spend consciously.

Your spending choices have a powerful impact. One in four Americans is now identified as a consumer attracted to “goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development, and sustainable living.” These consumers are a 290 billion dollar market. Simply by purchase decisions, shoppers have forced industries to limit the use of BPA, avoid bovine growth hormone in dairy products, reduce packaging on all sorts of products, and make organics more widely available. We do vote with our dollars.

Each time you spend, you’re saying “yes” to the businesses and products your money supports. Choose who gets your “yes.” You can easily find out how big companies are rated in such areas as environmental responsibility, gender equality, and worker’s rights using the following resources.

Knowmore is a web community sharing information about corporate responsibility with a searchable database for conscious consumers and activists.

Crocodyl provides searchable profiles of corporations. This service, offered by, is based on extensive information provided by researchers, journalists and non-profit organizations.

Environmental Working Group provides up-to-date reports for conscientious shoppers. Recent ratings include least polluting cars and safest personal care products.

Center for a New American Dream offers detailed resources for making one’s own ethical choices, aimed at both adults and children.

The Better World Shopping Guide: Every Dollar Makes a Difference is a pocket reference grading companies in a range of sectors, from department stores to prepared foods.


Cut Down on Toys

Not in a Grinch-y way, just a don’t-go-crazy way. Here are some useful ways to make your gifts fun and meaningful without burdening your house (and the planet).

100 Non-Toy Gifts for Toddlers to Teens 

Give four gifts in the categories of Want, Need, Wear, Read.

Give gifts that support a good cause.

The holidays may inspire you to donate, particularly in the names of people important to you. It’s particularly meaningful when that gesture connects to what the recipient means to you. You can protect endangered land for someone who grounds you, donate baby chicks for your favorite chick pals, give the gift of vision for someone who helped you see in a new way. Let them know what they mean to you and why you chose that donation. Sometimes donation gifts don’t seem particularly festive when others are unwrapping presents. It’s easy to pair a donation with a small related gift. For someone who has sweetened your life, you might tie a gift tag on a jar of local honey, add a donation of bees and a beehive for new beekeepers in the developing world.

Gifts: Personal As Well As Global” (Wired) for more gift pairing ideas.

Glorious Do-Gooder Gifts” (Wired) to support charities. Or make a donation to a local charity, arts organization, or other cause dear to the heart of your recipient.

When you buy a gift from a museum, house of worship, or any non-profit you know part of the purchase price helps to benefit that institution. It’s easy to find beautiful, useful, or just plain fun gifts that also do some good.

Consider a giving a certificate to a charity clearinghouse, allowing your gift recipient to choose his or her own causes.

Give wisely. Before donating to any cause, check them out using Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.

*Buy right in your community

When you do buy gifts, consider shifting your money to independently owned businesses. Research shows that only $13 of every $100 spent at a big box store stays in the community. But when you shop at a locally owned store, $45 of $100 remains to boost your area’s economy. Other studies have found somewhat different figures, but all indicate that supporting locally owned stores is a viable way to promote jobs and increase economic activity.

Don’t limit your local present-buying to something that will fit in a gift bag. Consider the following ideas.

Give gift certificates from locally owned landscaping companies and greenhouses, restaurants and coffee shops, golf courses, skating rinks, city tours, and galleries.

Give memberships to museums, theater companies, recreation centers, gyms, clubs, and art centers.

Pay for a lesson or two in horseback riding, yoga, sculpture, glass blowing, tai chi, skiing, or whittling.

Find a local worker who specializes in house cleaning, home repair, car repair, lawn mowing, driveway plowing, or plumbing, then pay for a few hours of his or her time in advance.

Buy from area artists including potters, knitters, jewelry makers, calligraphers, woodworkers, and painters.


We try to say something with our gifts: I care about you, I’m thinking of you, I get you.  We also say something about ourselves and our values with each choice we make too. It’s possible to welcome the brightest possible future even through our holiday gift-giving choices. Are you making a shift?

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