Joy don’t cost a thing: holidays on a budget

So we are cutting back and looking for ways to celebrate the season without spending a lot of any money. Tonight we had a magical evening, we took the kids on a Christmas Lights Pajama Cruise. Cosmic Mama and I loaded all the monkees in her van and took the kids out to tour  Olympic Manor a neighborhood known for its Christmas light extravaganza. We wrapped the kids up in blankets, put on some holiday music and off we went. We sang carols and ooohed and aaaahed at the people’s loving handiwork. We marveled at the nativity scenes and stars, mixed in with the polar bears and peace symbols. It made the season feel bright and hopeful.

Reindeer Alley

The loving handiwork

I highly recommend you steal this idea. And there  are many more great ideas courtesy of Cosmic Mama, the Jezebel commentors and your truly. So, after the jump, tons of ideas on how to bring some holiday spirit to your heart, home and family for FREE!

Begin by bringing the spirit into your home and heart

All of this comes from another most awesome Jezzie commentator, Syneblue. These are her tips on making the home feel festive on a budget.

Air pop popcorn and make popcorn and cranberry strings for the Christmas tree. Get a bunch of Christmas picture books from the library and read one every night leading up to Christmas. Play lots and lots of Christmas music. Try to alter any baking recipes to let your kids help. Teach them how to cut snowflakes out of newspapers and let them decorate their room.

Many churches have free/donations only Christmas pageants or plays. Check for local charities in your town that will let your kids decorate and mail Christmas cards to the troops.

Very, um, smelly (I guess that’s the word?) foods are the best for making the house feel festive. It is not Christmas at my house until I have a mug of spiced apple cider, with the smell of cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg. Scents just bring you there – boom! Find a cheap but festive recipe for Christmas breakfast – like a spiced apple cider or cinnamon rolls with red and green sprinkles, or omelets with red and green bell peppers. Show the kids the recipe and explain that this is special Christmas-only food. Make a big deal about shopping for the ingredients and prepping the food that morning.

Also, many very good presents, CDs, computer games, books, books especially, can be purchased gently used online or in second hand stores.

Start some new family traditions

We sat down and attempted to make snowflakes. I say attempted because the only one who made any was me. And mine looked nothing like the killer one this chick made:

Here’s what 40 minutes and tons of paper scraps produced in our house. Luckily, it’s all about process, not product (which is my mantra for every art project we do). And the picture my son made out of my snowflake scraps is strangely reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s shirt. I would show you Baby Applebum’s creation, but it got thrown away by accident by overzealous clean-up helpers.

Charlie Brown Christmas Truck

Charlie Brown's Christmas Truck

And let me take this moment to remind you that most people’s favorite memories of the holidays have nothing to do with gifts. Rather, people fondest memories are of time spent with family and friends or doing kind acts for others. Here is a memory from a Jezebel commentator, Dangling Modifier, that totally inspires me:

One tradition that my family did was to make presents and give them to another family ala secret santa. We’d make cookies or homemade ornaments, you name it. We actually did this for 12 days (Xmas countdown), but it could be pared back to one time. It really gave us a sense of selflessness, because we weren’t sitting around wondering what presents we were getting for Christmas. We were more excited about what we were going to give. When Christmas morning came and we didn’t get everything we wanted (but still a few presents), it didn’t matter as much, because my siblings and I really started to understand that it’s more about the giving than the receiving. If anything, it is a fun tradition that we still do to this day, even though I’m in my mid-20s.

And one last memory from Syneblue:
One year my dad made ‘Santa footprints’ with some ashes and an old pair of boots. I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas that year, but I will always remember the year Santa didn’t wipe his feet. How my dad managed to swing that without my mom killing him for getting ash on her carpets is still a family mystery.

Look around your community

There is so much going on this time of year, you just have to look around. Here is a sampling of the free events in our area. Downtown, there is a Gingerbread Village at the Sheraton Hotel that you can visit. The Seattle Center hosts Winterfest, which includes tons of free and affordable concerts and celebrations from now until New Year. See for yourself, the website is excellent.

Our beloved holiday train

The Seattle Center also has an electric train and miniature holiday village set up that our kids love. Visiting the train has become an Applebum family tradition, they even let the kids take turns operating the electric train. There is also a carousel nearby, it’s not free but definitely affordable on a budget.

In downtown Seattle, there is a swanky shopping center that has indoor “snow” every evening at 6 pm. Often there are high school choirs or bands playing as well. Nothing says Christmas season to me, like choir and band holiday performances. I can’t tell you how many recitals and concerts I was in growing up, it’s wonderful to support the next generation of music lovers and their devoted teachers.

Follow the stars.

Every city has its own traditions and celebrations. It’s not hard to find this information just start talking to your friends and neighbors or ask for ideas on Facebook.  Parents Connect has listings of holiday events by city or you could just Google: holiday events your city, state. You’ll be amazed at how much is going on all around you.

Would love to hear from you! What do you do to make your holidays feel bright?

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