Living on a remote little island, I am physically far removed from the never-ending pressure of my family, friends, and big commerce when it comes to Christmas.
Without advertising pushing it into our faces non-stop for two months straight, here on the island, we don’t even think about Christmas presents or Christmas trees in our house.
Most of us don’t even think about Christmas, period (and we’ve all admitted that it’s such a relief).
Once we’ve removed ourselves from consumerist society, Christmas gets exposed for what it is: a very costly, wasteful, mandatory binge dressed up as a merry gathering with family or friends.
When I was still living in my country of birth, I struggled with Christmas for many reasons.
>> I didn’t like the powerful manipulation through ads, billboards, commercials, and catalogues telling me I’d better start shopping for Christmas.
>> I didn’t like the amount of time and money I had to spend to comply with the Christmas expectations of my family and friends.
>> I wasn’t always happy about having to spend many hours confined in a small space with certain people that would always push my buttons.
>> I found it a bit boring to repeat the same thing year after year.
>> I hated the two-day bloat and the sluggishness from sitting inside all day and eating too much—just because it was all there and it tasted so good. I was always unhappy about the two extra pounds of me that I got for Christmas, but were never on my wish-list.
>> I never liked the stress before and the mess afterward.
>> I didn’t want to add another pile of Christmas trash to the landfill.
>> I wouldn’t mind sharing my Christmas money, but not with money-making corporations.
>> I always preferred quality over quantity, and Christmas seemed to be all about the latter.
And I bet I am not the only one who feels this way about Christmas.
For those who recognise themselves in these uncomfortable Christmas feelings, I’ve put together a list of alternative ways to celebrate Christmas.
1. Get out of here!
Go on vacation. Get away and skip the whole stress of shopping, preparing, cooking, and cleaning. Just go and relax somewhere–where we don’t have to deal with our difficult brother or stepmom. You may not live on a tropical island, but you can sure go there for a little get-away! (Or, just rent a cabin in the woods.)
2. Make it a spa day.
Either with our whole family, or just with our partner or a few friends. Some spas might have special Christmas arrangements, others will go about things as normal for those of us who are really not into the whole Christmas thing.
3. Go for a walk in the woods or along the beach—get some air.
Set up a treasure hunt for the whole family. Hide little presents and treats on the way. Everyone will have fun. Cut some sticks to make skewers, make a bonfire (or bring a simple barbecue), bring marshmallows and graham crackers, and have fun roasting them and making s’mores. Build the biggest snowman ever.
4. A Christmas game:
Bring out the cards and all the old board games that you can find, or shop for some unusual new (or used) ones, set up teams, and play (don’t forget Charades)! Instead of heaps of presents, there may be prizes to win, or everyone gets to take home one game. Most likely, the whole family forgets about dinner and gifts. It’s simple fun for everyone—and definitely makes for a Merry Christmas!
5. Get a giant jigsaw puzzle and get going.
It’s amazing how many people get pulled into a puzzle once it’s on the table. The nice thing is that everyone can drop in and out to their own liking, making it less of an obligation. Kids and adults can work together, or you can set up a separate low table with a kid’s puzzle for the littlest ones.
Don’t worry about the big table being covered with the puzzle. Instead of a huge Christmas dinner, set up a “grazing” buffet in the kitchen where everyone can just grab a bite when they feel like it.
We can take the free time of the holidays as an opportunity to clean out our house, finally paint that room, or fix those shelves. This home-decorating project might also be the best excuse to get away from our in-laws.
Or, as a Christmas gift, we can take the whole family to visit our bachelor uncle and help him clear out his garage, organise his kitchen, or redecorate the bedroom.
Being together with our family over Christmas can be heartwarming and loads of fun, but especially for those families that might get a bit tense after a few hours of sitting around and making conversation, having something to do might defuse the tension and create a more relaxed atmosphere through some active teamwork.
Turning off our phone, computer, and TV, and telling family and friends that we’re going away on vacation, we can then stock our fridge with our favourite finger foods, prepare some delicious smoothies beforehand, or just order take-out. Then we can curl up in a corner of our sofa and read some of those books that have been sulking on our bedside table, unread for years.
8. Make it a charity Christmas:
We can spend (part of) our Christmas visiting people in hospitals, orphanages, elderly homes, hospices, or shelters. There are loads of people who spend their Christmas away from home, and not by their own choice. We could bring half of our Christmas dinner (that way we won’t overeat), a small gift, a piece of cake, or just our company. There will always be someone who will appreciate our visit. Don’t forget to bring something for the people working in these places too; they’re doing their jobs while the rest of the world is celebrating.
9. Family Christmas trade:
Instead of spending a fortune on gifts and receiving a bunch of useless things, a family trade can be a fun alternative to the unsustainable tradition of Christmas presents. Everybody brings items (in good shape) that we have but never use and puts them under the Christmas tree: clothes, jewelry, tools, pots and pans, books, our trainer-bicycle—anything that is gathering dust at home. Then we can all draw numbers or take turns picking out something we really like or need. What’s left because nobody wants it, we can take to a charity afterward. The nice thing is that kids can participate equally, bringing the toys or games that they don’t play with anymore.
10. BYOF (bring your own food) or pot-luck dinner:
If no one in our family feels like hosting the party—because they don’t want to do all the shopping and cooking—a pot-luck or BYOF-dinner is a wonderful alternative.
If everybody still wants a special dinner, organise a family-dinner “meeting” several weeks before, inviting everyone to bring some recipes that they like. Vote for each dish, and divide the recipes equally amongst all dinner participants. Kids can help make desserts! On Christmas Eve, each person is responsible for serving their dish (and cleaning up after it).
If nobody cares about a fancy dinner menu, take your chances and let everyone just bring what they like in a proper pot-luck.
Here on our remote little island, we don’t have access to a lot of fancy ingredients, so our Christmas dinners are, by default, a bring-whatever-pot-luck buffet. Nobody will have spent weeks shopping and days cooking, but there’s always heaps of good food! Our Christmases are always great fun with someone playing their guitar, and when all the food is finished, we’ll dance!
11. Healthy Christmas:
Going completely opposite to eating way too much and sitting still all day, we can turn our Christmas into a family health challenge instead. Making a fun exercise plan for the day (either in a gym, outdoors, or just in and around the house, and inventing simple exercises using household items), we can set up a family competition with several teams and a couple of healthy prizes to win.
We could even agree that all Christmas gifts have to tie into this health theme (and on top of that, have each person go up and down the stairs twice or do some crunches, push-ups, or leg-lifts before they can open their present).
Instead of a copious meal, prepare a bunch of healthy snacks and drinks, and maybe even dare the whole family to join in a little half-day fast. Being together makes this a fun health effort where we support each other while sharing the experience. This Christmas, no one will feel bloated or sluggish, and some might even lose some weight!
By choosing an alternative way to celebrate the holidays, we may avoid a lot of stress, spend less money, and have more fun!
And, we are making a difference not just for ourselves and our dear ones, but also for the environment, for our health, and for the less fortunate people in our community.
Merry Alternative Christmas!