It's been a tough year for everyone. With the latest news on unemployment (still around 10 percent) and our economy trying to right itself, it's easy to catch a case of the "Bah, humbugs" this holiday season.
Last year, my husband and I agreed not to exchange gifts. It seemed silly to spend money on each other when we'd been married just over a year and had everything we needed. We weren't really struggling, but it didn't feel right spending money with the economy spiraling downward.
That Christmas wasn't very exciting. We quickly learned that while the holidays aren't about spending money or commercialism, there's something very uplifting about watching loved ones open a gift you've chosen just for them.
I can't tell you what I've bought him this year (that would spoil the surprise!), but I'm hoping he'll enjoy it. His main gift took more time than money to put together – and with a schedule as hectic as ours, time is a valuable gift.
His other gift was a bit more expensive, but he's been drooling over this item for months. Sorry honey, it's not a new truck and it doesn't have four wheels. But I did personalize it, and I think you'll love it.
It was harder to find gifts for our friends and family. But if we learned anything from our anti-gift Christmas last year, it's that the thought counts more than the gift itself – so we spent time thinking about each person and what they might enjoy.
We still don't exchange gifts outside of our immediate family, but wanted to spread warm wishes to our friends and neighbors. Our mailing list grew substantially this year. We mailed or delivered more than 30 Christmas and holiday cards. I don't know about you, but I love receiving mail. It really brightens my day. It doesn't cost much to mail cards (less than $1 each if you buy cards in bulk), but it spreads an enormous amount of holiday cheer. We'll stock up on Christmas cards on Dec. 26 to ensure that this tradition continues next year.
Our neighbors each received home-baked goodies and a card, hand-delivered. We're grateful to be surrounded by such great neighbors and want them to know how lucky we feel to live in our neighborhood.
Our closest friends will be treated to a meal at our home early next year. It's too hectic to get together right now, so we've agreed to save the festivities until January. It won't cost much to prepare a simple meal, but I am looking forward to spending time with them and catching up. It's certainly less expensive (and less stressful) than buying a gift for the couple who has everything.
The newest addition to our group of friends, born in early December, received a few Dr. Seuss "Young Reader" books. They'll entertain him for years to come and hopefully be the start of a lifetime of reading.
My youngest niece is 8 and more difficult to shop for. We borrowed a gift idea from Santa's list, so we know she'll love it. There are lots of great kids' gifts for $20 or less if you're willing to shop around. Online sales are a great place to start – and it's still not too late to get those gifts shipped in time for Christmas.
In addition to gifts for our loved ones, we also made a small donation to the local food pantry. We're very grateful that we have a home and jobs that we enjoy, and enough food to keep us well-fed and happy. I can only hope that our small donation will make one family a bit less hungry this holiday season. This is one gift that I'd like to give more often, and hope to continue making donations throughout the year.
It's been a tough year for all of us, but we could all use a bit of holiday cheer. How will you spread happiness and joy this holiday season?
Have a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2010!