Christmas: The Best or Worst Holiday?

This weekend, I was listening to a podcast (as I usually do). This podcast had a guest by the name of Max Lucado. Max Lucado is a pastor and christian author. He specifically talked about how Christmas is either the best or the worst holiday. For someone like me, I have always had family to share this great holiday season with, so it has always been a great holiday for me. 

For some people, this holiday can be very difficult. For couples recently divorced, the days without kids can be very lonely. For families struggling to pay the bills, the Christmas holiday can put a lot of stress on the parents to meet gift and decoration expectations. For everyone, too large of gift expectations can put a struggling family deep into debt.

I had never thought of this side of the holiday season, because I have always had families to visit and enough money to buy gifts and still comfortably pay my bills. I didn't have kids and I didn't have the added pressure of supporting a family. I can't imagine going through a holiday season and wondering whether I would have enough money to make it to the New Year.

Even though there seems to be a lot of pressures placed on gift giving during this holiday season, you don't have to fall into this trap. You don't have to succumb to the pressure. You can just take these strategies and alleviate your financial requirements during this holiday season.

Strategy 1: Ask for Gift Exchanges

There are some extended families that expect everybody to get gifts for everybody in the family. This can be very daunting for anybody trying to get out of debt or stay on a budget. Asking for a simple gift exchange, can knock the gift giving down from 20 to 1 for a particular family. We do a gift exchange with each side of my family. This requires my wife and I to purchase 8 gifts total (2 gifts each for each side of our respective families).

Strategy 2: Opt Out of Gift Exchanges

I don't know how all families will react to the idea of somebody opting out of the gift exchange, but my family had no problem with it a couple of years ago. We had a family member who asked to opt out of the gift exchange for that particular year due to circumstances of the year.  My family was perfectly fine with this decision and it was a huge benefit for my family member.

Strategy 3: Avoid Work Gift Exchanges

Every year, my school has a Secret Santa gift exchange. I played along and spent lots money diving into this fun event. Just recently, I have decided to avoid this event, because I wanted to avoid the cost and save the money. I have enough stuff and I don't feel like I need anymore stuff. So, I just avoid the work gift exchange and save the money that I would have spent on the gifts. 

Strategy 4: Make Your Own Gifts

This strategy can be a very economical way to cut your Christmas gift giving costs. Both my mom and my sister have used this strategy. When I was young, my parents didn't have a lot of money. So, my mom hand painted ceramic Christmas scenes and Nativity scenes and gave these as gifts for multiple Christmases. This may have required a lot of work for my mom, but saved their young family lots of money. Similarly, my sister used pinterest to give her lots of creative ideas and homemade gifts using melted crayons, canvas and a simple quote. These were great decorations for my younger sister's rooms and they still hang them up today. Now, I have not been creative enough to use this strategy, but I strongly suggest it to any young family looking save money this holiday season.

Strategy 5: Cut Gifts to Spouses

I have talked about this idea in an earlier article, but this is a great way to save. My wife and I have been married for three years. Right after our wedding, we had a discussion on gifts and decided to only get each other gifts for our anniversary. Therefore, over the Christmas season, we don't get each other a gift. Instead, we pool our money and buy stuff throughout the year that we both discuss and agree on. This has been a great money saving tool for us and allows us to focus on getting each other a special gift each year on our special day.

Strategy 6: Don't Go Overboard with the Christmas Decorations

Decorating for Christmas is one of my favorite traditions. My family and I would always decorate the house on the weekend after Thanksgiving. As a kid, I always wanted those elaborate Christmas decorations that would take weeks to put up. I thought it would be so cool, but my family always put up those simple icicle lights and we were done in one day. The simple one day decorations can save any family so much money. Not only will the energy costs be less than any family going overboard with decorating, but the cost of the decorations will be less also.

For example, my wife and I have spent nothing on purchasing decorations this year. We are using a 9-year old Christmas tree, handed down Christmas lights, handed down Christmas decorations, and reuse our own decorations. I had to throw away two strands of lights, but I was able to use the bulbs from the dead strands to re-light other strands. Now, we will have the added electricity costs of running Christmas lights for an entire month, but you can decrease these costs by putting up less Christmas decorations.

Strategy 7: Purchase Your Christmas Decorations after the Christmas

With our Christmas tree nearing the end of its life, my wife an I have decided to buy a tree at the end of this holiday season. The stores drop the prices of all Christmas decorations the next day. This will save us a ton of money this season and we will have discounted Christmas decorations for the next holiday.

The Conclusion

Christmas can be one of the most expensive holidays for families of all sizes. These expenses and expectations can put a lot of stress on young families. These stresses can push these families to worry about their expenses, instead of the reason for the season. This holiday, in all of its glory is to celebrate the beautiful entrance of the king of kings. To celebrate the birth of our savior in a simple manger. The Lord came to us from humble beginnings. There is nothing wrong with humbling ourselves to the Lord and trusting him to help us through difficult times. There is nothing wrong in celebrating Jesus Christ, without exchanging gifts.

Our savior did not come to this world for gifts. He came to this world for the people. He came to save our souls. He came to forgive our sins. He came to peacefully lead. Following the Lord's example, we must understand that stressing over stuff is not the reason for the season. And we should worry more about time spent with family than the costs that this season can sometimes bring. To me, I would rather spend time with family and avoid all of the Christmas gift giving (I believe that I have enough stuff already). I'm sure you already have enough stuff also.

Christmas can be the best or the worst holiday, depending on circumstances and expectations. Max Lucado said it best in his most recent blog post, "Do We Really Need Christmas This Year?"

“We could use a season that is dedicated to giving, not receiving; to caring, not critiquing. Put away our differences. Put up the Christmas tree. Take comfort in the familiar story and the ancient carols. Our world, like that of Bethlehem, is difficult and crowded. Our days can feel as cold and uncertain as that midnight manger. Yet, in the midst of it all, let’s do what Mary did. Let’s invite the source of peace to enter our world. Let’s find hope, once more, in the infant King.”
— Max Lucado

In my opinion, the Christmas holiday is the best holiday. It's a season of caring and helping each other out. It's a season of remembering the birth of Christ. It's a season to remember the hope that Baby Jesus brought this world. We can have this hope and we can have this peace, but we must remember that this is about our savior, Jesus Christ's birth and not about "stuff." When this season is remembered for that, then it's the best season. 

What are your feelings on the Christmas Holiday? Best or Worst? Most stressful or most rewarding? Answer in the comment section below.

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