A New Kind of Christmas

I love Christmas! Every part of it—from searching and finding the perfect gift and stocking stuffers, picking out cute wrapping paper, organizing presents under the tree, decorating the lawn and house, dressing up, spoiling friends, the list goes on… And that’s exactly why it was so hard to give up my typical Christmas ways!

Spruce Meadows Christmas Market

Our family is on a pursuit to be more meaningful with our time by using it for personal interests and hobbies, outdoor adventures, and family activities. (And for all you mamas, solo grocery shopping and errand running do NOT count). There are two things we’ve had to change to make this happen—we’ve had to start managing our time differently and also spending our money where it matters. Unfortunately my favourite holiday of the year took a major toll on both of those things and it only got worse after having kids.

Over the past two years we’ve been working on changing our ways—particularly around Christmas. Now our major theme for the holidays is “Experience over Matter” and here’s what I mean:

1.The Experience

Cute reindeer decorations, garlands galore, and fuzzy Christmas pyjamas just make the season all that much more snuggly, warm, and merry don’t they?! But when it’s done, they go into boxes and get stuffed away in some closet or corner of the basement for the next 11 months. Holding back on seasonal purchases is the hardest part for me since I get so easily excited at the sight of Instagram worthy decor but we’ve decided that if there’s “no experience to it, we don’t buy it.” (And unfortunately shopping doesn’t quality as an experience).

Photo courtesy of Tova Fertal – Calgary Outdoor Playgroup

On a glorious note, we do consider experiences like picking/cutting down a tree and decorating it, baking cookies, and making crafts all family activities. I also plan to add a Christmas Activity Advent Calendar that Tova in my local outdoor Facebook group shared. She created personalized tokens for each day of the month and incorporated activities both big and small with varying price tags. Click here to read a list of the activities shared by members of the group! (Tokens by FranJohnsonHouse).

These are all experiences that we can shape based on time required and budget but more importantly, activities that we hope our kids will cherish as memories and yearly traditions.

2. Prioritizing Family Adventures

Finding the perfect gift for someone and watching their eyes light up is one of my all time favourite feelings—especially with my kids. But soon enough, that toy is just another “thing” in the pile of “stuff” that I need to clean every day.

We’ve decided to cut out the plastic and after reading a brilliant article (here’s a similar one), we’ve taken the following approach within our family:

  1. A spoiler gift—normally something unnecessary that’s simply wanted (while trying to support local shops if we can)
  2. A book—an album for each kid highlighting the trips/adventures/special moments they’ve had in the past year
  3. A family adventure—a small gift that acts as a clue for an upcoming adventure in the New Year
  4. An ornament—both of our families have always had the tradition of an annual ornament

It’s easy for the buying to quickly spiral out of control (which always happened in my case) and nothing is worse than starting the new year in a pinch and not being able to afford the time or money to put those gifts to use.

Rather than buying gifts, we were able to put our money towards a 3 week surf vacation in Mexico with our son when he was 6 months old. This year we were able to take a 1 month long road trip throughout BC and spend time in some of our favourite places including Whistler and the Okanagan. Unfortunately I can’t share next year’s adventure yet since it’s still a surprise!

It also provides us with the flexibility to plan a trip based on changing annual budgets and will hopefully give the kids something to look forward to other than the instantaneous gratification of unwrapping toys.

3. Getting Crafty

There are special people in our lives that we still love to spoil no matter what but we do it differently now instead of buying things. For grandparents we design and print a calendar using family photos. We also make paintings using canvases that I buy for super cheap on Kijiji (yes they are already painted but we paint over them and it adds cool texture). My son was 14 months old when he created his first masterpiece 😉

There are so many options for crafts (we also make annual hand print ornaments) and this not only creates an activity for cold afternoons but my son goes crazy when he visits their houses and sees his artwork on the walls.

4. The Gift of Adventure

We try not to impose our values on friends and family since Christmas means different things for everyone. However insisting on a “no-gift” Christmas does relieve pressure for those on a tight budget or grandparents with 16 grand children (like my husband’s side!). We also encourage them to spend time with the kids instead of gifts—which to me, is the gift that keeps on giving since I don’t have to pay for a babysitter AND me and my husband can squeeze in a date! (Which feels priceless right now!)

For people who do insist on a gift, we often recommend an item needed for an outdoor activity (touque, squirt gun, long-underwear, helmet), gift cards to local activity centres, or a small amount of money towards their gymnastics or music classes.

Not only are we building new family traditions and memories but we experience benefits in many other areas including:

  • significant waste reduction (less wrapping paper, plastic, consumer waste)
  • more time with family (less time at the mall, shopping online, CLEANING)
  • avoiding useless objects and redirecting our money towards more meaningful experiences
  • relieving ourselves of consumer pressures and the stress of spending

This certainly isn’t for everyone but it has helped our family focus on what truly matters (for us). And although it can be a tough pill to swallow when I see everyone’s new Christmas goodies on Instagram or my need to practice self-restraint while reading all these amazing gift guides—I keep reminding myself that when I’m sitting on the beach, sipping wine in the Okanagan, or skiing untouched powder, it’ll be nothing but a distant memory and completely worth the sacrifice.

Merry Christmas!




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