Ah, yes. Costco has had its Christmas merchandise out since Labor Day, a sure sign that a white-plastic Christmas is y-cumin’ in. Some of us suffer from chronic skepticism about the annual merchandising frenzy. But you don’t have to be totally cheap to come up with a pretty Christmas celebration that won’t leave you feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge.
Here are a few strategies that have saved me some bucks:
1. Stop sending out Christmas cards. Just because someone sent you a card last Christmas doesn’t really mean you have to reciprocate. Add the cost of postage to the price of the cards themselves and this custom gets to be an expensive proposition. Send cards or Christmas letters only to your closest friends and family, and, whenever possible, hand-deliver them.
2. But when people send you cards, put them in an envelope and save them with your Christmas wrappings. Next year, take a pair of scissors, cut out the cute images, and use them to make gift tags. Simply take a piece of good-quality paper, cut it into a rectangle as wide and twice as long as needed to accommodate a cut-out Christmas card image, glue the image to one half of it, and fold the other half under. Voilà! A free and very pretty tag.
3. Make your own Christmas wrapping. Get some brown wrapping paper or white butcher’s paper and a set of stamps. (Or, if you’re really frugal, save and cut open paper shopping bags to lay them out flat.) Each time a gift is wrapped, stamp it with cute little designs, and then tie it up with pretty ribbon or colored rope. A variant on this, if you have children, is to roll out the paper and have the kids paint Christmas motifs on it. When the artwork is dry, roll it back up and you have bright, colorful, and meaningful wrapping paper.
4. Get a living Christmas tree. Planted in a good pot, a small pine will live several years—once I had one last four years. Cart it inside for the holidays, decorate it, and then take it back out when the celebrations are over. Water it well before bringing it in the house and again when you return it to its backyard habitat. If you have a place for a big tree in your yard, you can plant it in the ground after it outgrows its pot.
5. Shop in artist’s consignment stores for unique and interesting crafted gifts. Last year, I found an incredible pair of handblown, solid glass mugs for M’hijito, heavy manly things with swirls of royal purple running through them. The store had so many hand-crafted possibilities it was hard to make a decision, and most of them were reasonably priced.
6. Shop for Christmas gifts all year round…especially in the post-Christmas and midsummer sales. This lets you buy things you know are wanted without paying top dollar, and it frees you from the crazy-making Christmas rush. By spreading the cost over the entire year, it allows you to buy plenty of presents, but pay for them without running up a tab on the credit card.
While it’s true that Christmas is a part of the universally human gift economy tradition, by emphasizing fellowship more and piling junk on everyone around us less, we can keep the costs within reason and have memorable holidays every year.