A couple of years ago, I celebrated the holidays for the first time with my husband’s parents. They bought me a beautiful (not to mention expensive!) silver necklace wrapped in a gorgeous gift box. Imagine my embarrassment when all I brought over for them were homemade sugar cookies. Oops.

Since that stressful debacle with my husband’s parents, I began to get my Christmas priorities all mixed up. The next year, I hopped on board the holiday bandwagon and competed with my relatives as to who could buy the best gifts for each other. When it was all said and done, I was left with some pretty cool presents, but also with a strange empty, shallow feeling, and a hefty credit card bill.

Well, I have wised up. I now refuse to give in to this Christmas-present pressure. I mean, I know people who take up second jobs during the holiday season just to be able to pay for their gifts! Well, I refuse to spend what little free time I have working just so I can afford to buy my one-year-old nephew the coolest, new Laughing Elmo doll, when I know a pack of Dora the Explorer stickers will make him just as happy.

Who made up this childish game where friends and relatives try to out-gift each other by purchasing the most expensive toys, clothing, and electronics for each other, anyway? I say we take a stand. Enough buying into those phony marketing schemes, which state that in order to make Cousin Joey happy, he must have that brand-new $300 watch that everyone else has. Forget about that! Here are some inexpensive ways to make sure your friends and relatives enjoy what the holidays are really all about—family.

  1. Set a Spending Limit

    People seem to get carried away when it comes to buying presents. Between the traveling, the food, the entertainment, and the gifts, the holidays can end up costing you a fortune. And, if you are anything like me, you do not have anywhere near a fortune to spend. I suggest you talk to your friends and relatives about setting a spending limit. This way you won’t receive, oh, I don’t know, say, a silver necklace (from your in-laws) after you only brought them cookies.

  2. Movie Madness

    Instead of purchasing the newest blockbuster hits on DVD, consider buying some holiday movies for your relatives. Then, after dinner, you can all gather in one room and watch the movies together. And best of all, there are films out there available for all types of movie-lovers. Some popular genres include:

    • Romance—So, your aunt is having Christmas dinner at her home, and she just so happens to be a romance buff. Try giving her the DVD version of An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant. The final Christmas Eve setting is truly touching.
    • Comedy—If you are a comedy fan like me, how can you go through the holidays and not watch A Christmas Story? With classic lines, like “You’ll shoot your eye out,” my family and I spend the time giggling instead of arguing.
    • Kids—For all the kids and the kids-at-heart, your Christmas cartoon choices are endless. Spend some quality time with the younger generation, and watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, or A Charlie Brown Christmas.
    • Newer Classics—Some people enjoy the newer films much more than the older classics. No problem. Give them these fresh holiday flicks, like Elf, The Polar Express, or The Santa Clause.
    • Buying movies for the family gives you a great excuse to hang out together (and doesn’t break the bank account, either).

    3. Make Your Own Gifts

    I know what you are thinking: “No one really likes those homemade gifts, do they?” The truth of the matter is, yes, they really do. Most friends and relative truly appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that goes into handmade presents.

    Here is one great idea that everyone seems to enjoy receiving. And don’t worry if you are not crafty. You don’t need to be!

How to Make Your Own Christmas Ornaments

Instead of spending tons of money on store-bought ornaments, make your own. All you need are:

  • some cookie cutters;
  • a rolling pin;
  • clay you can bake in your oven (available at any craft store);
  • different colored paints,
  • glue, and
  • ribbon, preferably red and green.

After you gather your supplies, use your rolling pin to flatten the clay on a nonstick surface. Then, just as if you were making cookies, use your cookie cutters to cut various shapes in the clay. Place the pieces on a baking sheet in your oven for the time directed on the box of clay. As soon as the clay ornaments are finished cooking, take them out of the oven and allow some time to cool.

When the ornaments are cool, paint them to your liking. For example, if you made a Christmas tree ornament, paint the clay green and add red and silver dots to represent lights. You can even paint the gift recipient’s name on the ornament if you would like. After you allow some time for the paint to dry, glue a looped ribbon on the top of the ornament so it can be hung from the tree.

If you want, place the ornaments in fun holiday-themed gift boxes to make them look extra-special. Voila! You have an inexpensive Christmas gift to hand out to your relatives.

So people, I ask you this: Whatever happened to spending time together, enjoying good food and company? Listening to cheesy music and relaxing by the tree have been replaced by starry-eyed dreaming about Christmas wishes of PlayStation 25 from Sony, the million-gigabyte iPod from Apple, or the 50-karat diamond pendant from Kay’s Jewelers. Bigger is better, right? Well, not in my world, it isn’t. At least, not anymore.