A greener, cheaper Christmas: alternative ways to celebrate
Different approaches to celebrating the festive season without breaking the bank.
I’ve had two family Christmases every year since I was very young, both with their own traditions. Of course Santa Claus would visit in the night, trading our year of good behaviour for presents, while drinking our milk. And occasionally, his reindeer would even leave some poop on the lawn (covered in glitter).
However, when it comes to family time, my mum's side and my dad’s side do things pretty differently.
On Mum’s side, almost all the extended whānau gather. While the kiddies get presents, those of us over 16 play our Stealing Santa game.
Everyone buys a present, with a minimum budget of $50 (recently increased from $30) and brings it to the Christmas Day celebrations wrapped anonymously and tagged with ‘Secret Santa’. Then, with the gifts pooled, everyone pulls a number from the hat, from one to however many gifts there are.
Starting at number one, whoever drew the unlucky spot selects a wrapped gift from the stash and opens the parcel. It may reveal a new cookbook, a box of wine glasses, a board game, a spa voucher – maybe even those two camping chairs that are on their fourth year in the game, continuing to be rewrapped inconspicuously.
Whatever their gift is, it’s now number two’s turn. They can choose to steal number one’s gift, or they can select another gift to unwrap. Say they unwrap a new present, and then number three steals number one’s, who steals number two’s, who selects a new gift to unwrap before it’s number four’s turn.
This continues, with ever-changing rules about how many steals a gift is allowed, to how couples can’t (or can) cheat the system, until the last present is eventually taken.
This approach to Christmas always makes the get-together more affordable, as well as fun! When you’re on the younger side and get stuck with a vase or chopping board it may not be the best. But then you can always be safe about it and buy a gift for yourself to choose – or secretly trade with another player after the game has ended.
In contrast to this, on Dad’s side we almost always have a glorious hāngī on Christmas Day with all the whānau.
Preparing the hāngī allows for meaningful family time, and since you leave it in the ground to cook, you get to spend more time altogether.
By doing this every year, we are keeping this cultural practice alive in our whānau, and it becomes something we can pass on to younger generations.
Once the feast is pulled from the ground and laid out, it doesn’t take long before everyone is lined up with a plate. The smoky, earthy flavours infused with the pork, kumara, potatoes and chicken make it a meal I look forward to every year.
Everyone brings food to contribute – either for the hāngī or just a salad or dessert – and this lightens the financial load. Doing it together not only saves money on the celebrations, but you get to spend more time with your loved ones, and with full bellies too!
Small and thoughtful
The Martinez family moved to Aotearoa from the Philippines in 2007. They’re Catholic and spend Christmas Eve evenings at their church for Mass, followed by dinner and presents at midnight.
Among the seven of them, along with their little dog Nelly, they exchange presents with their parents, alongside a game of Secret Santa. After drawing a name from a hat, each person buys their secret recipient a gift, with a maximum spend of $10 each. This gives them a way to be creative and silly, while also thoughtful with their gifts.
On Christmas Day, they have a big family lunch and spend the afternoon together. Christmas time for their whānau is about being thankful, praying for a good year to follow and spending quality time together.
A crafty Christmas
Since Chelsey was young, she’s been exercising her crafting skills by making handmade gifts for everyone in her family. She finds it saves money and encourages her to try new creative projects. And the recipients appreciate a handmade gift and the effort that went into it.
Using Pinterest to find ideas, she spends up to three months working on little projects for her cousins, grandparents, parents and siblings – from pillows to worry dolls, slingshots to friendship bracelets.
She believes it’s a great way to get kids involved in Christmas and encourage creative thinking, while saving money. Plus, as she’s grown up, she’s been able to try bigger projects such as crocheting vests and sewing.
This sort of approach to Christmas is environmentally friendly too, when you can recycle and reuse general household items, old clothes and knits, or find secondhand things to use.
There are many ways people are being creative as well as environmentally and financially conscious this Christmas.
5 things you can try this Christmas
Playing present games
By planning out present games like Secret Santa, you can save money on presents while keeping it fun. Try making your own rules to suit your family! One example is that you have to buy the ugliest thing found in a secondhand store and the recipient of the gift needs to keep it on display in their home for a year.
Try making something as a gift. The possibilities are endless and whatever you create will be sentimental and personal. Challenge yourself with a new skill, while also taking a step away from overconsumption in the holiday period.
Gift your time
Giving your time to someone can be just as meaningful, and perhaps more impactful than a material present. For example, you could help look after someone’s garden, offer to collect their kids from school when you’re already collecting your own, water blast their house when you do your own, or clean their car. These small things can make a huge difference for someone, and cost nothing for you.
One gift, one experience
Instead of buying numerous gifts for your kids this Christmas, why not make the most of the gifts you do buy by pairing them with an experience? If you’re buying a bike, why not go cycling for a day, or hit the mountain tracks? If you’re buying a doll, why not host a special tea party with their friends and accompanying toys, or do a fashion show? These experiences last longer, add to the joy of the gifts, and save from overconsumption.
With new presents on their way in, go through what can go out. Donating old toys and clothes at Christmas time can help others with less have more too. Even better, also volunteer this Christmas and give back alongside your family.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
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