Three Almost-Free Gifts for Your Children

You hit the streets on Black Friday, trekked to the small shops for Small Business Saturday, and blocked off your lunch hour on Cyber Monday. I trust that the biggest gifts of the season are purchased and en route.

But the spirit of the holiday season is sometimes best captured with gifts that don’t cost a thing.

Almost Free Christmas GiftsMy kids don’t ‘need’ anything, and the things they want are quickly escalating in price. They’re growing up so quickly that I find myself looking for nostalgic and personal ways to connect them with the true spirit of the holiday season. This year our season celebration will include three ideas that cost next to nothing.

1- Capture the history of your family this holiday season.

The popularity of genetic kits never really appealed to me. Sure, basic lineage information is interesting, but I was able to jump beyond genealogy and basic heritage using a Google form, Facebook and email. I’ve interviewed family members and collected photos of my ancestors and relatives. I asked my parents, aunts and uncles simple questions like “What are your earliest memories of holiday celebrations?” and “What historical events do you remember, and how did they impact you?”

In the process, I captured a few family recipes that have been passed down from each generation. As you can imagine, there are a lot of differences in how people remember their family history, and it’s been fun to compare stories from different perspectives.

Cost: Free/ $30. I’ve collected all these stories, photos and recipes into a google doc, free for anyone in my family to access. I love printed books, and paid just $30 for my mom’s family history bound into a Shutterfly book for my own home. My goal is to do the same thing with each branch of our family tree and to have a full collection of our family’s history to gift to my children.

2- “This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas, as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.” – The Polar Express

In The Polar Express, a boy receives a silver bell as a gift from Santa. The bell only rings if the person has faith in the spirit of Christmas. My husband and I try to capture the magic of this simple idea every year when we put a small, square box under the tree for each of my boys. My eyes well with tears every year on Christmas morning as they excitedly open the box, carefully lift a bell to their ear, and gently shake it to see if the bell still rings for them. Each year their bells hang on our tree as ornaments. Soon, when the time comes, we will transition from talking about faith in Santa to a discussion about our family’s religion, and why we still have faith even if it’s not in the form of a jolly man in a red suit.

Cost: $5 for bells. The bells are sold in bulk at nearly any store that sells Christmas decorations. I try to find a special box each year as well.

3- Make it a season of giving.

We live in a fantastic neighborhood, but we’re not exactly close friends with those who live nearby. Most of the year we wave politely when we see neighbors in between shuttling our kids to a playdate or a sports event.

Except for during the winter. While other neighbors might hibernate this time of year, we try to do the opposite. My kids love to shovel snow so they are excited to help as we unleash our beast of a snowblower and clear the ends of the driveways for nearby houses. We also make extra Christmas treats and cookies and leave them on the doorsteps of those neighbors we wave to throughout the year. It’s a small gesture, but I hope my boys see the importance of these connections.

Cost: $10 for treats, treat bags, and gas. And really, those are all expenses we would have incurred anyway.

I hope these ideas inspire you to think out of the gift box this year. ‘Tis the season, so let’s spread a little cheer.

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Renee holds three titles that are of utmost importance to her: mom to Cale and Ian; wife to Andy; and Communications Director for Grant Wood Area Education Agency. Although she has a Master’s degree from the University of Iowa, her heart still shines cardinal and gold for Iowa State University where she received her undergraduate degree. Renee’s a foodie who loves cooking, travel, her friends, her family, the Oxford comma, and happy hour. Cheers!