Whether you celebrate Christmas or Yule, something else or nothing at all, the upcoming months are a good opportunity to spend time with your nearest and dearest and maybe introduce some new traditions to make those wintry family memories even more special! As I’m always on a budget, I’m keeping costs to a minimum, so here are a few affordable or free festive suggestions from the Punky Family and beyond…
The build up to Christmas can be as exciting (and expensive) as the day itself. Here are some ways of upping the anticipation while keeping a check on the budget:
Picture or chocolate advent calendars are cheaply available, but if you want something a bit different, why not try making your own punked up version? There are loads of ideas online, or you can buy fabric or wooden calendars to reuse every year. I fill our wooden one with small sweets, or things I think the kids will like, e.g., acorns, conkers, buttons – whatever tat I have lying around! This year I will also be adding some little cards with acts of kindness on for us to do, like donating toys to charity, collecting food for a local food bank or bestowing a random act of kindness on an unsuspecting victim.
There has been a recent trend in advent books, where children receive and read a new book each day in December. While lovely, this can also be expensive, so you could try reintroducing a few books which have been forgotten for a while, some library books and a few from a charity shop. I picked up a boxset of 26 Thomas the Tank Engine books for £3.00 from a charity shop a few months’ ago so will be attempting to read those with my eldest this year. I predict we get to about day four before he wants to abandon Thomas and return to his usual favorites!
Elf on the Shelf seems like hard work to me but I like a bandwagon so will be introducing my 99
p charity shop elf this year (who is not only cheaper than the official one, but also less scary looking in my opinion) I expect our elf will probably be fairly lazy and move about the house every few days rather than every night of advent, but there are loads of ideas on Pinterest for those with more enthusiasm and stamina than me!
For children who believe in Santa, preparing a beverage and snack for the main man and his reindeer on Christmas Eve can be fun. You can leave all sorts of tasty treats (handmade if you’re looking for festive activities for the kids) as well as reindeer dust (oats and glitter) or a candle landing strip to guide Santa to your house. Christmas Eve plates are also available, or, for another activity to distract the kids, you can make your own using a plain plate and some permanent markers like Sharpies. There are loads of ideas and examples on Pinterest.
You could create your own custom by reading the same book, e.g., The Nightmare Before Christmas or watching the same festive film every Christmas Eve. I love a good old musical or a bit of Mickey Bubbles while I’m wrapping presents, but you might have less questionable taste in music or prefer a comedy, documentary or even horror film to create your own alternative Christmas.
Decorations And Bling
I love going over the top at Christmas, our only theme being, “You can never have too many lights or too many baubles!
My husband isn’t so keen… It’s increasingly easy to find an array of decorations in different palettes, so if you’d rather have a tasteful monochrome tree, go for it, or if you prefer all the glitz, that works too. You can even save Halloween accessories or buy some in the post-October sale for a truly punky Christmas tree!
While I was growing up, my parents persisted with the Santa story to the extent that he even delivered our tree and decorations. My brother and I would return from school or elsewhere and find a cut tree and dusty bags and boxes of decorations in the fireplace. It seemed magical at the time, but was actually my parents’ cunning ploy to stop us nagging to put the tree up early. My kids are still little but I’m seriously considering adopting this approach.
Every Christmas, my Mum and Grandma would buy each other a new bauble for their tree – the gau
dier the better. When I left home I joined in too and since my Grandma passed away before my children were born, I love talking about her and explaining all the baub
les and stories behind them while we’re decorating the tree. It also makes for a truly kitsch hotchpotch of blingy festive tat! Some Punky Moms said they buy a new tree bauble for each of their children each year. Then, when the children are grown up they have a readymade collection of decorations for their tree if they choose to have one. It’s an idea I’m definitely going to steal this year.
Making Festive Things
I find that craft activities are always a good idea in theory, but the reality in our house is often heaps of mess, tears (both mine and the kids’) and general misery all round. However, in the spirit of Christmas I will persevere and enjoy it this year…
When I was in reception at school I made a tree topper ‘angel’ from an empty toilet roll, some cotton wool and a doily. The decorative elements went AWOL decades ago and so for many years we had a plain empty toilet roll atop the tree. Not pretty but it had its own charm! If you have perfectly themed decorations going on in your home, you might need to be a bit pickier about your kids’ craft projects, or just learn to love alternative decorations!
Handmade gifts are always a lovely, thoughtful idea. Unless you’re me, with a distinct lack of any creative talent. Most grandparents usually appreciate anything their grandchildren have had a hand in making though, so even if you’re creatively challenged like me, it may be worth attempting some festive crafts if only for them.
In my family there has always been a big focus on stockings. As well as presents under the tree, most of us get each other stockings too, so nowadays I get one from my parents and my brother, then give them stockings in return as well as doing stockings for my kids and nieces. As a child I received stockings from my parents, grandparents and uncle (via Father Christmas), and opening stockings was always my favorite part of Christmas. We used old nylon tights (one leg for a stocking) as they’re almost infinitely stretchy so able to accommodate all sorts of oddly shaped tat. Empty stockings would be left on the end of our beds and we’d wake up in the night to feel the reassuring weight and crunch of filled stockings in their stead. The noise of nylon tights on cheap wrapping paper perfectly sums up Christmas for me.
Food And Drink
You could try buying nice things (that will last) throughout the year to spread the cost (I can’t: I’d eat it!) or use loyalty points and benefits you might have accrued throughout the year to have a festive splurge. Anything goes at Christmas, so if you fancy chocolate liqueur on your breakfast cereal instead of milk why the hell not? I feel like a bit of a failure if I’m not feeling ill mid-morning after overdosing on Bucks Fizz and chocolate.
There’s no benefit to being a slave to generic tradition if it doesn’t suit your family. If you don’t like turkey, choose something special your family will love instead. Some of my favorite Christmas lunches as a teenager were curry-based and my husband’s family always have a prawn cocktail starter before their Christmas turkey. Christmas pudding isn’t always a hit, so Eton mess, trifle or chocolate fudge cake might end up as a preferred festive favorite. Creating your own festive family cocktails (alcoholic or not) can be fun too. Mulled wine and eggnog isn’t for everyone.
Kids get up at stupid o’clock normally and even earlier on Christmas Day? Make an adventure of it with a special early breakfast, then a walk to watch the sun rise before getting into the present opening spirit. This sounds delightful to me in theory but I know I’ll be full of the swears come Christmas morning when it’s my reality.
Make the most of your locality and what it has to offer in the festive season to spend time together. Got an amazing department store or garden centre display to look at? Check it out. A beautiful park for a blustery family walk? Do it. Try visiting a local Christmas market to get in the spirit and inspiration for gifts and crafts. Too cold and miserable to go out and about? If you have a car, bundle the family in when it’s dark to check out local lights and decorations, or, stay in and light the fire or candles, snuggle up with the kids, hot chocolate, blankets, and a family film and pray for no tantrums!
Those who celebrate Yule use candles or light a yule log to focus on letting in the light. Pagans also look after the environment and wildlife to maintain the balance of nature, for example by leaving food for birds and other local wildlife. In addition there is a big emphasis on giving to others and being generous in every sense (see below). While it is not respectful to just adopt the religious and cultural practices of others without understanding and appreciating the underlying meaning, I know I can certainly learn from their selfless practices. Listen to our Winter Solstice mixtape.
Doing Some Good
Helping those in need should be something we do all year round but I’m very guilty of not doing anywhere near as much as I should, so I’d like to make helping others a Christmas custom that we carry on throughout the year. This is a base tenet of Pagan Yule but the festive season is a good time to reflect on how lucky we all are and what sort of positive impact we can have on others, whether by donating goods or gifts to others (please research your cause in advance as some well-meaning acts can sadly do more harm than good), volunteering or taking the time to visit or include those who you know might be especially lonely at this time of year. See Giving Back this Holiday Season.
I have an amazing friend who spends most December 25ths volunteering at a women’s shelter, but that’s not practical for everyone so there are always other gestures we can make. Donating to your local food bank, inviting someone who would otherwise be on their own to spend the day with your family, or dropping a handmade gift and some festive cheer round to a lonely neighbor can help to embrace the non-commercial spirit of Christmas giving.
Focus On Family
One idea to make Christmas, and the rest of the year, more memorable is to take some time out to document family developments over the year, e.g., births, deaths, new jobs, milestones, challenges. Over time you’ll build up a recorded history of all those things which are so important and fundamental at the time but which are somehow easily forgotten. Alternatively try writing a letter to your child/children on Christmas Eve and storing them up for them to look back on when they’re older. If you’re anything like me, Christmas Eve will be super stressful, but perhaps the lull after Christmas might lend itself to memory recording instead.
A friend of mine always has a minute’s silence at midday on December 25th to toast family wherever they may be, whether they’re no longer with us, or celebrating elsewhere and having a similar silent toast from there. I’d like to do this, but in all honesty will probably forget. I may adopt the idea of leaving a drink out for my ancestors instead as I think this will be a good talking point with the children and a chance to discuss their heritage with them.
Make Your Christmas, Yours
If you’re having a tiny Christmas or are splitting your time between different parts of the family, you can still introduce some traditions but perhaps on a smaller scale. Or, you might create something totally unique to your family. A part of me would like nothing more than to spend all day in my PJs eating crisps and chocolate and drinking Baileys. On my own. But I think that’s not really in the festive spirit!
Above all please do everything you can to enjoy the hectic festive season. Eat, drink, be merry and embrace others’ traditions, but respectfully; after all appropriating others’ culture is not appropriate. Learning about the traditions of others, or your own family heritage can be very rewarding in itself though, so why not go ahead and get talking?
Happy Christmas season one and all!
Jane is a UK based former librarian and mother of two “spirited” toddlers. Keen on all things non- toddler compatible: reading, sleeping and drinking copious amounts of alcohol – especially gin and tequila, she is nevertheless learning to love the torn book pages, sleepless nights and sober responsibility of child rearing.