Family

Best Gifts to Experience

Lessen your stress this Christmas, bring the family closer

American consumers will spend an average of almost $1,000 this Christmas season, according to the National Retail Foundation. The obligation we feel to buy gifts and give to charities can be too much. The costs can put us in debt.

Finances are the greatest Christmastime stressor, according to a Healthline survey. Simply put, the financial stress of Christmas can ruin the Christmas spirit.

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But there are fun, low-cost ways to reclaim the spirit of Christmas, relieve stress, and add joy to the season for all of us and our families.

Christmas is intended to be a celebration. Piling on debt to buy things that people don’t need wasn’t part of the first Christmas. The angel choir praising God and proclaiming peace, shepherds bowing in awe around the manger, God’s promise of a savior fulfilled by Jesus born in Bethlehem — this is Christmas. This is the reason for celebrating.

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If you’d like to decrease your Christmastime financial stress and increase your holiday joy, have a conversation with your family about what the spirit of Christmas really means to them. Find ways to focus on fun family activities that inspire that spirit.

Researchers at San Francisco State University and elsewhere have concluded that experiences contribute to lasting happiness more than material goods. Consider this when talking with your kids: Ask them what their best Christmas memories are. If they’re too young to have Christmas memories, now is a good time to start making them. The quality time you spend together with your spouse, siblings, children, and others you care about can produce lasting memories that bring joy for years to come.

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Here are a few low-cost family activities to consider when developing a strategy for making Christmas memories.

My daughter volunteered to be a guide for a walk-through nativity scene sponsored by local church and community organizations.

1.) Sing Christmas carols. 
My family enjoys this one. We like to get together with a few friends and sing some favorite Christmas songs in a living room or door-to-door in the neighborhood. It’s not necessary to know a lot of songs. You can sing the first verses of a few favorite carols. If you choose to sing to neighbors, just knock on the door and start singing. Often people come to the door to listen, smile, and sing along. This is a fun way to spread joy. Afterward, enjoy some hot drinks (in the north) or cold ones (in the south). If you’re more ambitious, put together a small choir and a set of songs to sing at a retirement center or nursing home. Call in advance, so the person in charge can help you set the time and arrange for an audience.

2.) Volunteer for a charity.
Last December, my family volunteered to help a motorcycle club deliver blankets and gloves to homeless people camped out in Portland, Oregon. We don’t belong to the club, but they welcomed our help. Other volunteer options include serving meals to homeless people, stocking shelves at a community food pantry, or delivering food boxes to hungry families. Check your local newspaper for opportunities.

3.) Bake treats for neighbors.
My family has enjoyed baking bread and cookies and delivering them to neighbors at Christmastime. Boys and girls often enjoy mixing ingredients and decorating cookies. Our neighbors appreciate receiving the gifts — and sometimes even return the favor. Wrap up your gift in a red ribbon or recycle last year’s Christmas gift bags.

4.) Enjoy a Christmas concert.
Churches and other organizations offer free Christmas concerts in December. Few things can be more uplifting than a performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” or inspire more cheer than a band playing Christmas tunes. A local holiday events calendar in your newspaper or online will list concerts.

5.) Take a Christmas tour.
This Christmas season, my daughter volunteered to be a guide for a walk-through nativity scene sponsored by local church and community organizations. Check your community calendar for local Christmas displays and tours.

Jon Beaty, life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”

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