Fun and Frugal Holiday Traditions
Spending money often plays a big role in holiday celebrations. But usually what we enjoy (and remember) most is the time spent with friends and family -- not all the material aspects of Christmas.
So we asked readers to share their favorite free or frugal holiday traditions -- and share they did. There are so many wonderful ideas that you're bound to find at least one you'll want to make your own tradition. If you already have a free or frugal tradition, share it in the reader comment box below for others to enjoy.
The Christmas tree
"We went up to the Jemez Mountains (in New Mexico) to cut down our tree. It's a $10 permit from the U.S. Forestry Service. The experience is a wonderful combination of a beautiful country drive in the mountains, hiking, tree hunting, snow playing and cutting the tree."
"I have purchased an ornament for my daughter on every trip we have ever been on together. When we decorate her tree, it is a lovely hour of 'Remember when ...' Memories and stories evoked by the ornaments are free but grow in value every year!"
"Christmas wine exchange. Instead of buying gifts for adult members of my family, we all bring a bottle of wine to the big Christmas celebration. So much easier and cheaper than the whole 'find something for an adult who could go buy something they really want themselves' game."
"When I was a kid, my family would 'elf' people. Some years that would mean leaving a box of food -- or baby formula and diapers -- on the doorstep of someone in need. Other years we would leave small gifts or goodies on someone's doorstep each night for the 12 days before Christmas. Either way, we would do it anonymously, and we'd have a blast sneaking around in the snow together ringing doorbells, trying not to get caught! (You don't have to spend a lot. Most of our small gifts/goodies were homemade. And you'd be amazed how big a box you can fill with just $25 to $50 worth of food.)"
"My husband and I spent (probably) 20 of the last 23 years making Christmas Eve visits to a half-dozen homes with my husband in a Santa costume. We were raising money for the Christmas Meals Program (for senior shut-ins). Meals on Wheels doesn't deliver on Christmas, but the people who get the daily warm meal (and personal visit) depend on it. My husband was in charge of the Christmas Meals Program for several years. One year our metro area got 12 inches of snow on Christmas Eve day; we had leased a four-wheel drive SUV the day before, just in case, based on the weather alerts we were hearing, and it was a good thing! We already had spent the money, so we HAD to make the appearances at the parties, and there were lots of kids at those house parties, who would have been disappointed if Santa hadn't made it to see them as promised!"
Entertainment and caroling
"Our family likes to go on holiday light scavenger hunts. We'll hop in the car with a list of things to find -- ten lighted candy canes, Santa on the roof, purple Christmas lights, etc. -- and see how much we can find. We jot down the address of our favorite display, go home and write the family a thank-you card telling them how much we enjoyed their effort this year, and pop it in the mail. COST: $5 for gas, $0.44 for a stamp."
"We go to a local Messiah sing-a-long at the high school. The local adult symphony plays."
"When I was growing up, my family would go see the free Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance on the Sunday before Christmas. I remember complaining a lot beforehand -- waking up early to secure a place in line, standing out in the cold wind, ice and snow. And when we’d finally get inside and find a seat they were hard-as-a-rock benches with no legroom. But once the performance began, all my Scrooge-ish feelings would melt away. I’d become lost in the music, the lights, the atmosphere. I would wish I could sit on that miserable pew forever."
"Every year after Thanksgiving, my husband and I take our kids to the library, where we comb through the holiday CD section. We trek out with arms full of music, and spend the next few weeks listening to them all. Anything is fair game, from Barenaked Ladies to Elmo to Gregorian chants.I also love to play Christmas music on the piano. My husband chimes in on the guitar, and our kids dance along. It’s amazing the power music can have. When my kids are being especially whiny and uncooperative, all I have to do is sit down at the piano and start playing “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” and all of a sudden everyone is smiling, laughing and jumping around the room like crazy elves. Plus, I love hearing what my kids THINK the words are to the songs as they sing along."
"I work with the youth group at my church, and every year we go caroling to deliver cookies to the elderly or widows in our congregation, and stay to visit with them for an evening. The kids always enjoy it more than you think they would, and constantly ask when we're doing it again! It doesn't cost much to spread some holiday cheer, and it helps make the Christmas season more meaningful."
"I remember spending a Christmas at my cousin's house in Arizona one year, and they had a tradition of breaking a pinata on Christmas Eve, and having a family talent show. I remember my cousin and I choreographing a silly dance and singing 'O Christmas Tree,' but we didn't know the words, so we just sang 'O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree...' over and over. Naturally, we were a hit."