Nowadays, the rush to buy holiday gifts begins as early as Halloween. Before the Thanksgiving turkey is even in the oven, it’s into high gear with “Black Friday” moved up to Thanksgiving eve, if you’re lucky, or even the Monday before.

The holidays are meant to be a time of peace, reflection and celebration, not an exhausting, frenzied rush to buy just the “right gift” for the family member who really doesn’t need another “thing.”

We all want to show our loved ones that we care about them, but we don’t want to go crazy in the process, leaving a trail of trash that will stay in landfills long after the season has passed. So how do you make that magical holiday of your childhood memories happen?

If you’re looking to wrap your holidays in more meaning and less stuff, The Center for the New American Dream has answers. First, take their pledge to celebrate the holidays with more joy and less stuff. Then, follow some of these tips:

Give the Gift of Time: You can create your own New Dream Coupon Book and give vouchers for everything from babysitting to pet-sitting, to making dinner, to offering to teach a skill, to organizing an outing.

Give Handmade Gifts. Think about a memoir of cherished memories, a book of family recipes, a collage of photos from the past year, or a calendar filled with the birthdays of everyone in the family.

Offer to teach a skill. Everyone has skills. Share them. Knitting, photography, computer skills, financial planning, teaching a foreign language, music lessons, canning, cooking a favorite recipe. These are gifts that can last a lifetime.

For Kids, Give Gifts that Encourage Creativity such as arts and crafts supplies, books, a magnifying glass or building blocks. Kids also love the New Dream coupon book which could include coupons for getting to stay up 15 minutes later, being excused from a chore for a week, game time or special events with parents.

Draw Names for Family Gifts. I know many families that have done this. Keeping identities “Secret Santa” style makes it extra fun.

Let’s also re-brand “Black Friday” to “Buy Nothing Day”. We can spend the day after Thanksgiving doing community service, visiting an elderly friend, helping a neighbor, or just enjoying time with family and friends.

The Center for the New American Dream offers many additional ideas to wrap your holidays in more meaning and less stuff. Download the booklet “Simplify the Holidays” and pass the site on to your family and friends.

If you feel trapped sometimes by the season, you aren’t alone. New Dream can help you create holidays that instill meaning into the season and encourage more sharing, laughter, creativity, and personal renewal.


Member Jan Montgomery is on the board of directors of the Center for a New American Dream. She worked for 10 years in historic preservation helping save and restore one of Milwaukee’s original neighborhoods, and 20 years in marketing and public relations for nonprofits and corporations.

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