Alternatives to Traditional Christmas Gifts

Millions of people this year will find themselves with a lot less money than last Christmas season, and a lot more motivation to stick with cash for their gift-buying.

No doubt–it’s 100% tough to break away from the consumerist culture so prevalent in our world today. And I don’t think a clean break is necessarily the best answer–after all, the spirit of Christmas is all about giving. (Okay, so the true spirit of Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, but I think giving is a worthy goal and it doesn’t have to bankrupt you.)

I propose some other things you can give this holiday season that are much more frugal, but equally or more joyful. Here are five of my personal favorites and ones that our family has really focused on over the last few years:

Secret Santa

Our entire family is doing Secret Santa this year. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, everyone draws names from a hat. Without telling anyone else what name you’ve picked, you have to get a present for that person for Christmas. A dollar limit is set on the present.

When money’s tight, it doesn’t get much better than this. Everyone is guaranteed a present and each person only has to get one total present for the person they drew. It’s effective in reducing spending, it’s a lot of fun because it’s secret, and it takes the pressure off everyone to “perform” to some arbitrary gift-getting standard.

Handmade Gifts

When most people think handmade, they think sweaters and other things we’ll never wear. On the contrary–handmade can be many things, all dependent on whatever talents you might have.

One of my friends is a very talented graphic artist. All day long, she’s working with colors, graphics, doodles, and all things art. It also happens to be what she loves to do. Does it not make perfect sense then that on several special occasions, we’ve received a custom-designed artistic “piece” from her? One year, it was my face on a superman cartoon, this year–it was a piece of art for our baby. Each time, it was perfect and memorable. Give her some love for her new product.

Don’t you have a talent you can use to make someone feel special this Christmas?


Many people have experienced an interesting revelation lately–why go through the trouble of picking out, unwrapping, and getting presents we don’t really like most of the time, when we can put everyone else’s money to much better use by giving to a charity we care about?

Charity: Water was certainly not the first to introduce the “charity birthday” concept, but they did help to popularize it. This Christmas, why not ask for $20 from everyone who was going to get you a gift? Then give the total as a huge donation to a charity you really like. Make a difference, feel great, and use everyone’s money for a great purpose.

Round-Robin Do-Gooder

I learned this one from my wife. As young kids, each day leading up to Christmas for almost all of December, everyone would help one person with something. So if Mondays were your days, you’d get help cleaning the kitchen, extra help with your homework, someone would cook you dinner, someone else would make your bed for you, etc.

It’s sort of like a birthday, but it goes on for the entire month! How great to have that much help with your chores every few days. Definitely brings the family closer and makes everyone feel a little more special.


Last, but definitely not least, the gift of an experience stands solidly as one of my favorite things to both gift and to get as a present during any time of year, but especially Christmas.

While it may not be as “practical” as a gift that keeps on giving (it’s usually a one-time thing), it’s great nonetheless. You get to experience the deep joy when opening the present, and re-experience and enhance that joy when you actually use the gift.

Experiences are fun an easy ways to give someone something new and unique that they have never tried before.

What’s Your Favorite Christmas Gift Alternative?

I’m looking forward to reading your favorite gift ideas! As extra incentive to share, I will select my favorite comment from this post, and–if you are a blogger–I will select a recent post from your archives to write up as a full-length commentary.

I haven’t done it in a while, and this is a great opportunity to increase your visibility! 🙂

Photo credit: alancleaver_2000

13 thoughts on “Alternatives to Traditional Christmas Gifts

  1. I love the round robin idea. That one is totally new to me. I’m definitely going to see if I can get my boys on board with that. Another similar alternative is to give a hand-drawn gift certificate for a service like washing the car, doing dishes, making dinner, babysitting, etc. It can be redeemed anytime throughout the year, maybe on a day when the recipient needs it most.
    .-= 2 Cents´s last post: Should You Run Your Home Like a Business? =-.

  2. I second 2 cents’s love of the Round Robin idea. I’m also a big fan of giving experiences. A friend of mine takes me on a day trip each year for my birthday and it’s by far my favorite gift.

    I blogged about this gift idea already, but since I love it so much, I’m going to blabber about it here as well–making a micro loan. I’m doing this with a friend this year instead of buying a traditional gift. We’re going to get together at Christmas, plop ourselves in front of the computer and make a micro loan via Vittana (maybe even as well). We can recycle the same loan each year. One initial investment can become an annual tradition without costing us another dime. However, we’ll probably keep adding to the loan, because giving is the best expression of love in any season!
    .-= ConsciouslyFrugal´s last post: Judge Not, Lest Ye Wanna Get Paid =-.

    1. Wow! What a neat concept, and I especially like the fact that you can do it once a year. A new tradition, indeed!

  3. I was going to mention the charity option, but you covered it off pretty well. I would just add that the whole gift-giving process is a massive environmental disaster, creating piles of waste and consuming huge quantities of energy to produce items that are by definition unnecessary and in most cases unwanted. Even worse, in these modern times of plenty, we take the usually over-packages gifts and wrap them, then wrap them again (in a bag) and throw some extra krinkly paper on them just for good measure. It’s all very well for us to bitch about the emissions from the factory down the road, but at least emsissions from a food processing plant serve a purpose. The pollution caused to extract the resources, produce the gifts, ship them, wrap them and store them in a dump somewhere don’t even serve a purpose.

    But I suppose if we pollute with a smile, it must be OK. 🙂

    1. Yeah, no kidding. I was absolutely AMAZED at the amount of boxes and paper trash we had to TRUCK out of our apartment after both our wedding shower and our baby shower. Christmas is not far behind. It takes hours just to get rid of the packaging and actually get to enjoy whatever you got.

      My wife loves crinkly paper, by the way. 🙂 Had to throw that in there. I always shake my head when she goes nuts with it…

    2. David, have you ever seen the documentary “What Would Jesus Buy?” It’s about the activist/performance theater of Reverend Billy and the Church of Life After Shopping (formerly Church of Not Shopping, which I like better!). Anyhoo, it addresses waste, debt, consumer culture, apathy, Christmas–the whole messy motherload of which you speak. A great film. If you have Netflix, you can view it online.

  4. At work did had a white elephant. Everyone brought in a present and we went around the room, picking presents or stealing. It was a lot of fun, and even though I ended up with the worst present in the room (this was the only bad present) I had a good time. Assuming everyone brings in nice gifts, almost everyone is happy and everyone has a good laugh.
    .-= Daniel´s last post: Bank of America Sucks! =-.

    1. I have to admit–I never had the opportunity to do that (although I think I saw it on an episode of The Office once, of course–that one did not end as well as yours).

      It sounds like a lot of fun.

  5. We like to spend time with family. We deliberately do not buy gifts but rather do something as a family. Our parents have always liked the gift of time more than any one thing that we have bought. Anyway, it seem like parents have everything that they need or want already.

    1. That’s a great solution, and I think it’s very good that you’re sharing that with everyone in your family. When everyone’s on board, it makes it so much easier to execute–no one’s complaining about not getting gifts.

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