Friday, December 31, 2010

The Evolution of Free Christmas

Grampy Santa and some of his elves before the exchange...

As a child, at extended family Christmas parties, we did the usual family name draws and Yankee Swaps.  But, over the years, as party attendees transitioned from grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins to parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and children, we found our traditional exchanges changed as well.  My siblings and I decided it was more fun to watch nieces and nephews excitedly tear into gifts meant just for them than it was to see them open "whole family" gifts or silly swap ones.  That said, as the number of nieces and nephews increased without a corresponding increase in each of our family's coffers, we knew we could not afford to continue buying separate gifts for each child.  So, the Inexpensive Store Draw Christmas Exchange was born.

My brilliant sister came up with the idea.  At Thanksgiving, each family would draw the name of one inexpensive store -- the Dollar Tree, Target's Dollar Spot, Ocean State Job Lot or the Christmas Tree Shops.  Then, we would purchase gifts for every member of the extended family at that store -- with an emphasis on "silly" or "thoughtful" and a cap of no more than $5 per person when making gift choices. That way, our budgets would not be strained, yet fun would still be had on Christmas day and - bonus - time shopping could be abbreviated since all the gifts would be purchased at a single location.

The idea worked!  Our Inexpensive Store Draw Christmas Exchange elicited many smiles and a fair share of laughter for all both while we shopped for gifts and when we exchanged them on Chrismas day.  But, then, da da da dunnn...  Economic woes hit each of my siblings families and mine even more.

What to do?  Face limitations but keep a spirit of fun by adapting our extended family gift exchange even more:  We made it FREE!  Yep, free.

How?  Well, at Thanksgiving, each person came up with an idea for securing free gifts - freecycled items, recycled items, something from your personal toy box, a prayer, a recipe, something from the beach, something from the woods, freebies from stores and so on.  We wrote these on slips of paper and each aunt, uncle, niece and nephew drew a slip.  Before Christmas, it was each person's responsibility to come up with gifts for everyone else in the family based on their slip - interpreted however they wished, but with the primary "rule" of not spending any money.

The result?  Much thought and creativity during Advent and one of the funniest, warmest Christmas exchanges we'd had in a long time.  A true hit for all -- and a new tradition born.  One that encourages a plethora of shared laughter and inventive thought while de-emphasizing materialism.

Sharing a joke from a Freecycle book...
And so it was, our family enjoyed Year 2 of Free Christmas this year.  The Mike, the kids and I had fun coming up with gifts for the categories -- Freecycle, Recycle, Nature, Poems and Memories -- and the whole family enjoyed Christmas Day.

Yep, Free Christmas is a keeper in our family. It helps us share love and laughter with one another -- two things for which we are eternally grateful!

This post is being shared at Life as Mom's Frugal Fridays. Check out the links there for other ideas to keep your life and learning budget-friendly.


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