How to Have a Safe, Frugal, Minimalist Christmas

The holiday season may look different this year, but it can still be good.

mother carrying Christmas tree with son behind

Henglein and Steets / Getty Images

My initial rough-draft title for this article was, "Ideas for a having a festive memorable Christmas despite lockdown restrictions and without too much consumerism." Of course, this was a far too unwieldy and wordy title to keep, but I think it does a good job at summarizing what many people are thinking about these days. 

There may be a tendency this year to think physical gifts can fill the void that the lack of social gatherings has created in our lives, but that's a dangerous path to take. We already buy far too much superfluous junk and generate obscene loads of non-recyclable trash, so please resist that urge! There have to be other ways to mark the holiday season, hence the following list of ideas I've come up with.

Experiences

Experiences are truly what make the holiday season feel festive, otherwise, it's just like a birthday. Put your efforts into doing things that make it special. Many of these experiences can take place at home. 

Plan a decoration-making day when members of your family or close social bubble come over to craft wreaths, garlands, table centerpieces, and outdoor planters using natural materials. Turn up the holiday music and pour cups of spiced cider for all to enjoy while you do so.

Have a baking day with your children or close friends, where you make dozens of different cookies, freeze the extras, or distribute safely to friends. Bake and decorate a gingerbread house from scratch; I do this every year with my kids and it's a tradition they look forward to all year long. (It's also a good way to use up any lingering Halloween candy.) Make a batch of delicious homemade eggnog.

Research what outdoor activities you can do as a family during COVID times. There might be festive options like taking a horse-and-wagon ride through the forest, going skating, staying in a yurt somewhere, visiting an outdoor Christmas market, renting a rustic cabin (depending on how much you want to spend, perhaps this could replace all the physical gifts), or visiting a Christmas tree farm. 

Consider having an outdoor Christmas dinner – a fancy picnic of sorts in a backyard or on a balcony. That way you might be able to invite additional guests, depending on local COVID restrictions. Cook food indoors and carry it out to eat, or cook it over a fire for extra fun and entertainment. Add some music and hot drinks and you'll set the right mood in no time.

celebrating Christmas in the forest
A couple celebrates Christmas in the forest. CasarsaGuru / Getty Images

Gifts

There's nothing wrong with gifts, as long as they don't drive the cycle of rampant consumerism, put one into financial difficulties, or create an awkward sense of obligation. Gifts can be deeply satisfying to give and receive, but they do deserve careful forethought. Make a budget and list of recipients in advance and stick to both. 

Talk to your family about picking names so that each person receives just one nicer present instead of several. Suggest sticking to only second-hand, homemade, or consumable gifts, rather than buying new. Always ask people if there's anything they need, and shop based on that.

Good gifts are ones that can be eaten or drunk (think homemade truffles, pints of ice cream, a bag of caramel popcorn, a wine subscription), ones that grow (houseplants, potted herb garden, succulents), ones that bring together family members (board games), and ones that get people outside (sporting gear, memberships to local hiking and ski clubs, a fire pit for the backyard). 

What you choose not to give has an impact, too. Consider skipping the holiday cards, paring down the wrapping paper (it's generally non-recyclable) and disposable decorations, and being very cautious about what goes into stockings. Always avoid plastic, prioritize biodegradable natural materials, and focus on what's practical and functional.

2020 has been a year like no other and its holiday season will be, too. Embrace its unusualness and make it memorable in its own way. Who knows – you might enjoy the frugal, minimalist, anti-consumerist, quiet, home-based approach so much that it becomes your new normal going forward. The planet won't complain.