How to Make the Holidays More Meaningful & Less Material

how to make the holidays more meaningful

 How to Make the Holidays More Meaningful & Less Material


Every year, the Christmas shopping season creeps up earlier and earlier. Just the other day, I heard that JCPenny will open at 2 PM on Thanksgiving Day and their online sales prices will start four days before that. Kmart will open at 6 AM on Thanksgiving Day and remain until 10 PM that night.

Where has Thanksgiving gone? I remember back when Black Friday shopping actually started on Black Friday. Christmas music started after Thanksgiving too. Now as each year passes, stores open earlier and earlier. Shopping is taking over the turkey for the top spot on the fourth Thursday of November. And did you know that last year’s holiday sales were expected to exceed $1 trillion dollars?

This year, in order to keep my Thanksgiving about the things I’m truly grateful for, I decided to focus on making the holidays less material and more meaningful. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants their holiday season to feel that way. If you’d like to do the same, here are few ways to accomplish that.


Set guidelines with family and friends

When I was growing up, presents were a huge deal in my family. I remember spending hours helping my mom shop for and wrap presents. Then we’d carry over bags and bags of presents to a relative’s house for dinner, only to return home with bags and bags of presents that we had received.

As my generation of children grew up and life circumstances changed, our family downgraded our gift exchanges to doing Secret Santa and White Elephant exchanges. Then this past October, several of us casually decided on giving gifts only to the children this year.

Talk with your family and friends about their expectations for the holidays. You can mention that you’d like to change your approach to gift giving or forgo giving gifts altogether (at least for this year) and see if others will follow suit. You can suggest giving smaller gifts within a budget if you’d still like to have an exchange.


Set expectations with children

Children absorb information like sponges. If you spend the holiday season emphasizing quality time with family and gift-gifting rather than receiving, they’ll learn those ideas and repeat them as they get reinforced every year.

Point out instances of generosity as you come across them in your daily lives or when you see them in the media. Talk out loud about your thought process for giving or not giving gifts. If you are giving gifts, include your children in the selection process and talk about how much you think the recipient would like that gift.

When it comes to giving children gifts, you might want to give them everything, but they can still enjoy the holidays without receiving each item on their lists. One way to set expectations is to go by the four gift rule: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.


Focus on spending time together

Most people would probably agree that spending quality time with someone you love is more valuable than a material gift. I find this especially true since I and most people I know are very busy and it can be hard to make time for others.

Work is often lighter around the holidays and if you’re lucky, you get time off from work altogether. That makes for the perfect opportunity to spend time with loved ones. Here are some activities you can do together, but the possibilities are endless.

  • Attend tree-lighting ceremonies and holiday parties together

  • Cook a holiday meal as a family

  • Go ice skating together

  • Attend church together

  • Volunteer serving a meal or visiting a home-bound elder

  • Take a class and learn a new skill together

  • Bake cookies and build gingerbread houses

Another way to focus on family time is to cut back on use of electronics. That might mean putting cell phones and tablets away during dinner or when family and friends come to visit. You might find yourself more focused on the moment and they’ll appreciate your full attention.


Start new traditions together

We all know of some family or cultural traditions that have become overbearing, so much that it interferes with our enjoyment of the holiday. Set aside any guilt you have about changing up old traditions in favor of new ones that work for you. It only takes a few repetitions for something to become a new tradition.

In my family, it became too much for one person to have to cook an entire homemade meal and host dinner. In recent years, we’ve changed to potluck style dinners and even purchased Christmas dinner packages from the supermarket, supplemented with a few favorite sides and desserts.

We’ve also focused less on gift exchanges and filled our evening with board games and playing with the children. In the past few years, we’ve picked out the latest pop songs and dance crazes to rehearse and perform after dinner.


Say no to things you don’t want to do

The holidays are often a time when we overcommit ourselves. Christmas parties, extra visits to family, shopping, and cooking. I’m sure you can think of many more events and activities to distract you and fill up your time. But how many of them are things that you really want to do and add a lot of value to your life?

If there’s something you’ve been doing every year that you don’t like or don’t want to attend, give yourself permission to say no to it. Pick out the few activities that are most meaningful to you and leave the rest of your time unscheduled. You’ll have more control over your time and enjoy the season more. 


Give an experience rather than a something material

Research shows that purchasing experiences is more rewarding than buying material things. Experiences create memories, which people tend to value. If you want to give a gift, consider something that will build a memory.

  • Membership to a museum

  • Activity classes (e.g., pickling, knitting, pizza making, golf lessons)

  • Concert tickets

  • Sightseeing tour

  • A nearby day trip


It’s easy to get wrapped up in the materialism of the holidays. But with a bit of effort and the tips above, you can take back the holidays to make it more meaningful time with family and less about stuff. I’ll be enjoying this coming Thanksgiving Day with family, no shopping in sight.

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Are you looking to take back the holidays too? What will you do this holiday season to focus more on the meaning of the season and less on material things?