Tag Archives: Christmas holidays

Fun & Free Activities for the Holiday Season

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The winter holidays are upon us (even though it’s not officially winter yet). Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice/Yule, Las Posadas, Kwanzaa, or nothing at all, there are many fun and free activities you can participate in this holiday season. Communities big and small schedule lots of no-cost events during this time of year. For little more than the price of the fuel it takes to drive from one place to another, you can see pretty lights, hear choirs sing, and maybe munch down on some yummy treats. If you’re boondocking in the desert or forest, you can take advantage of the good times nature has to offer. Whether you’re single or part of a family, whether you live nomadically or stay in one spot all year long, you should be able to find a multitude of free and fun activities to keep you busy this season.

man sitting on log in the snow
Photo by Alain Wong on Unsplash

Go walking in a winter wonderland. Take a hike through the snow in the national forest where you’re boondocking or walk through the park in town. However you do it, bundle up and enjoy the beauty of winter. Don’t forget to stop and make snow angels or build a snowperson.

If your outdoors excursion includes other people have a friendly snowball fight.

If you’re in an area with hills, find some cardboard and go sledding.

Some areas have ponds that freeze thick enough for ice skating. If you already have skates, you may be able to hit the ice for free.

Of course, if you’re wintering in the desert, you don’t even have to bundle up to go for a walk or a hike. You will need sunblock and plenty of water though. (If this is your first winter in the desert, check out my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)

Get into the spirit of the season by helping others. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, food bank, or animal refuge. Get involved with a group that cooks and serves hot meals to hungry people. Do chores for a friend or neighbor with physical limitations. Babysit for a single parent so they can go shopping or attend their holiday office party. The gift of your service may be more precious than anything you can put a bow on.

Attend the town’s tree-lighting ceremony and other free holiday events open to the public. Some towns offer free concerts featuring the town band and/or choir.

Attend a public menorah lighting. Not sure if there’s one where you are? There are thousands of events listed here. Not sure what’s going to happen at a public menorah lighting or how you should behave? Check out Menachem Posner‘s article “What to Expect at a Public Menorah Lighting.”

Attend the town’s holiday parade. Maybe you’ll see Santa there.

If you have kids who celebrate Christmas and believe in Santa Claus take them to the town’s Santa arrival event. If there’s no such event where you are, take the kids to the mall or wherever Santa is holding court so they can tell the jolly old guy their Christmas wishes. You don’t have to buy the photos.

If your kids can’t see Santa in person, have them write letters to him. If you intercept the letters before they are mailed, you won’t have to pay for stamps. You can even write a response to the letters on Santa’s behalf.

Talk to your kids about winter holiday traditions around the world. Not sure where to begin? Read this article about how children outside of the U.S.A. celebrate Christmas. Get your kids talking about how other people’s holiday traditions are different from and the same as their own. You can also talk about Las Posadas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Yule/Solstice.

Shopping centers usually have holiday activities scheduled for the entire month of December. Go to the mall to hear school or church choirs perform. While you’re there, enjoy the warmth and the decorations. No one will notice if you don’t buy anything.

Attend a live Nativity scene and/or a Christmas pageant starring the kids at a local church.

Gather your friends, kids, and other family members and go caroling together. Walk through your neighborhood, RV park, or campground singing your hearts out. If you do a little planning, you can call ahead to hospitals, senior centers, assisted care facilities, or veterans homes and ask if your group can sing for the clients. You can sing traditional Christmas carols, holiday songs from countries other than the U.S.A., Pagan songs for Yule, and winter songs that don’t mention Christmas.

Gather friends and family to make holiday decorations together. Pool supplies folks have on hand so no one has to buy anything new. Use materials from nature. String plain popcorn. Browse these easy decoration ideas from Woman’s Day.

If you decorate a holiday tree, make it a party. Put on some holiday music and serve some light snacks if you’ve got ’em. Invite friends and neighbors or limit the guest list to the people who live with you.

Don’t limit your tree decorating to what’s indoors. Decorate the trees in your yard with strands of plain popcorn and/or old decorations you won’t be heartbroken to lose if they get wet.

Turn wrapping presents into part of the holiday fun. The Spruce Crafts shows you how to use plain paper and a potato stamp to make your own wrapping paper. The Budget Diet offers “16 Ideas for Wrapping Presents Without Wrapping Paper.” If you have room, invite friends over for a wrapping party. If you have kids, get them in on the gift-wrapping action. When I was a kid, I enjoyed helping Mom wrap Christmas gifts and getting a sneak peak at the presents my sibling would be receiving.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Read your favorite Christmas stories aloud. Let everyone have a turn. Find books that even the littlest readers can read from. Classics include the novella A Christmas Carol, the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as “The Night Before Christmas”), and the picture book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! My favorites include the short story “A Gift of the Magi,” the young adult novel The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and the Louisiana holiday tradition Cajun Night Before Christmas®.

Listen to a holiday podcast. I totally enjoy the Christmas themed episodes of Stuff You Should Know and Stuff You Missed in History Class from years past. If you need suggestions about Christmas podcasts to listen too, read “Top 15 Christmas Podcasts You Must Follow in 2019.” If you’re celebrating Hanukkah (or just want to learn more about the holiday), see “8 Podcast Episodes for Hanukkah” by Eric Silver. You can also listen to the Kwanzaa Central Podcast.

Photo by John Cutting on Unsplash

Host a winter movie marathon. Watch holiday classics (ones you already own or those you can find on YouTube or a subscription service you’re already paying for) from TV like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Benji’s Very Own Christmas Story, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. There are dozens of holiday movies available, some marketed to adults like A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas and some for kids like The Muppet Christmas Carol. My two favorite Christmas movies are naughty (Bad Santa) and nice (Elf). The Man’s favorite Christmas story is A Christmas Story.

Put on some holiday music and have a holiday dance party. Check out FlourishAnyway’s “126 Non-Religious Christmas Songs for Your Holiday Playlist.” Melissa Locker and Adam Schubak list “34 of the Best, Wackiest, and Weirdest Christmas Songs” for Elle magazine. Taylor Weatherby and Emina Lukarcanin compiled “23 Of the Most Unconventional Christmas Songs” for Billboard. Christmas wasn’t Christmas at my childhood home until we listened to the Elvis Blue Christmas cassette tape.

Need other ideas for holiday theme parties? Check out the Reader’s Digest article “12 Fun Christmas Party Themes You Never Thought of Until Now” by Ashley Lewis. While this list was written with Christmas in mind, you can change what you need to in order to make your party accessible to all your guests.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Perhaps you want to play a gift exchange game as part of a holiday party. Tell participants not to buy anything new. Part of the fun is giving away something you already have at home (whether “home” is a conventional structure, apartment, van, motorhome, camper, or car). If you need some suggestions about what games to play, check out this list of “18 Fun Gift Exchange Games & Ideas.”

If you’re having a holiday party, you might want to serve refreshments. Maybe you want to give yummies as presents. Keep it simple and stay within your budget by serving pretzels or popcorn and hot cocoa at your party. Whip up a batch of “Easy Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix” (which is less expensive than store bought) courtesy of the Eating on a Dime blog. If you want to make more extravagant treats, check out these “55 Budget-Friendly Dessert Recipes” from Taste of Home. Author Caroline Stanko says, “[e]ach recipe is made with 6 ingredients or less, and you probably already have them in your pantry!”

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

If you do observe a Christian religion or if you want get in touch with the religion of your childhood, attend a midnight church service. There’s something really special about celebrating the true meaning of Christmas, hearing the choir sing, then spilling out into the still, cold night.

What free and cheap ways do you celebrate winter and the winter holidays? What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? If you live nomadically, how do the winter holidays differ from when you celebrated them in a conventional home? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Please use caution when participating in winter activities. Ice and snow can be slippery and dangerous. Crafting can cut you. Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being.

Buy Nothing Day and Gifts That Don’t Involve Capitalism

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This Friday is not only Black Friday. It’s also Buy Nothing Day. Buy Nothing Day? you may be wondering. What does that mean?

According to the article “The Quirky, Anti-Consumerist History of Buy Nothing Day” by Nina Renata Aron,

Buy Nothing Day is an international day of anti-consumerist protest.

The day — which now also goes by the name Occupy Xmas — was founded by Ted Dave, a Canadian artist in 1992, but it gained traction through the 90s after activist magazine Adbusters…began to promote it.

Buy Nothing Day, on which participants are urged to buy literally nothing…is now observed in over 64 countries.

Photo by Anna Utochkina on Unsplash

Some folks use Buy Nothing Day as a time to reflect on the buying frenzy large portions of Western society participate in during the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s not a coincidence that Buy Nothing Day coincides with Black Friday, the “official” start of the Christmas shopping season.

(You can read my reflections on Christmas spending in the post I shared last Christmas Eve, “You Gotta Pay Santa Claus.”)

Earlier this year I read a zine by my friend Laura-Marie River Victor Peace. Laura-Marie creates zines (you can find more information about her self-published writing on Facebook) and blogs at dangerous compassions. The zine that I read that made me think of Buy Nothing Day is called Resisting Capitalism for Fun. In the introduction, Laura-Marie writes,

this zine is about some anarchist stuff-resisting capitalism, community, gardens, environmentalism, not buying things.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Why would I want to resist capitalism? you might wonder. Isn’t capitalism better than socialism or (gulp) communism? Isn’t capitalism about freedom of choice?

First of all, it might help to know the definition of “capitalism.” According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, capitalism is

an economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution, as land, factories, communications, and transportation systems, are privately owned and operated in a relatively competitive environment through the investment of capital to produce profits: it has been characterized by a tendency toward the concentration of wealth, the growth of large corporations, etc. that has led to economic inequality, which has been dealt with usually by increased government action and control

As to why we might want to resist capitalism, I read a great summary of the system’s problems in a Teen Vogue article called “What ‘Capitalism’ Is and How It Affects People” by Kim Kelly.

Individual capitalists are typically wealthy people who have a large amount of capital (money or other financial assets) invested in business, and who benefit from the system of capitalism by making increased profits and thereby adding to their wealth.

The kind of impact that capitalism has on your life depends on whether you’re a worker or a boss. For someone who owns a company and employs other workers, capitalism may make sense: The more profits your company brings in, the more resources you have to share with your workers, which theoretically improves everyone’s standard of living. It’s all based on the principle of supply and demand, and in capitalism, consumption is king. The problem is that many capitalist bosses aren’t great at sharing the wealth, which is why one of the major critiques of capitalism is that it is a huge driver of inequality, both social and economic.

(If you can’t imagine why in the world Teen Vogue is weighing in on the pros and cons of economic systems, read the op-ed piece–“How I Can Critique Capitalism — Even On an iPhone“– Lucy Diavolo wrote for the teen fashion magazine.)

Photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash

Whether you love capitalism or hate it (or feel something in between or even apathetic), you might want to step away from the shopping frenzy at malls and big box stores this holiday season. Maybe you want to save money by making gifts to give to your loved ones. Perhaps you want to keep your religious beliefs or family traditions instead of material objects at the forefront of your holiday celebrations. Your friends and family members might not need more objects to clutter their homes, and you want to give gifts that don’t take up space and never need to be dusted. Perhaps you have chosen to support artists, writers, and craftspeople this year. Whatever your reason for wanting to take a break from capitalism, I’ll share with you where to shop, what to create, and from whom to buy so you can make your holiday season a little less corporate.

Where to Shop

By shopping at thrift stores, you’ll keep items out of the landfill and possibly help support a good cause. Look for stores that benefit domestic violence survivors, animal shelters, and drug rehab programs. In addition to presents, pick up wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and gift tags.

Shop yard sales, garage sales, and fundraiser rummage sales. It might be too late to use this tip for this holiday season, but in the future, keep your eye out for gifts and other holiday necessities.

Search your local Facebook buy and sell groups as well as good ol’ Craigslist for gently used items that might be perfect for someone in your life. You’ll pay less than retail and help someone in your community finance their own holiday celebration.

Keep an eye on your local FreeCycle group to see if anything people are giving away fit your holiday needs.

Consignment shops tend to sell higher-end items, so check out the merchandise at your local ones when buying for friends and relatives who are perhaps a bit particular.

Do your shopping at community craft fairs, farmers markets, artist co-ops, and other places where you can purchase items directly from the people who create or grow them.

If you’re lucky enough to attend a zine fair, buy zines for the readers on your list. If you can’t attend a zine fair, look online for zine distros like the one Laura-Marie has for her zines. You can also take a look at list of zine distributors from Broken Pencil Magazine.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

You can use your points on BookMooch to get books to give to your readers. If you want to give only books in excellent condition, pay close attention to the condition notes. Alternatively, shop at locally owned used book stores. Consider looking for the childhood favorites of the adults on your list.

If you can’t find the right gift locally, shop at online stores that sell handmade products such as Etsy, Absolute Arts, Artfire, Articents, Hyena Cart, and Shop Handmade. Shopping on these sites will let you buy from creators and small business owners who will certainly appreciate your support.

Shop at museum stores. True, you probably won’t save a lot of money with this tip, but you will get high quality items for giving, and you will support the arts with the dollars you spend.

What to Give

If you can sew, make reusable tote bags. You can find lots of ideas on the All Free Sewing website. If you don’t have sewing skills, buy reusable bags at thrift stores and decorate with iron-on patches.

Sew neck coolers with water-activated beads in them. These items will help folks stay cool in the summer. Instructables offers simple instructions.

Photo by John Doyle on Unsplash

Make Christmas tree ornaments for family and friends who decorate a holiday tree. You can get more than 60 ideas for do-it-yourself ornaments from Good Housekeeping.

Make draft stoppers (also known as draft dodgers, door pillows, draft blockers, etc.) to stop cold air from coming in at the bottom of doors. You can get 20 draft stopper ideas on the Good Stuff website.

Make cards or bookmarks decorated with pressed flowers. (Better Homes & Gardens will tell you how.) Use flowers you grew yourself or those picked on private land. You can also ask a florist for discarded flowers or check the dumpster behind the shop.

Make melt and pour soap for everyone on your shopping list. If you have more time and energy, make soap the old fashioned way. The Spruce Crafts will tell you how.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Use yarn purchased at thrift stores and/or garage sales to knit or crochet hats, scarves, mittens, socks, or blankets.

If you have one of those small looms, make potholders for everyone you know.

Recycle old candles bought at thrift stores and garage sales or collected from FreeCycle into gift-worthy items. Get the candle holders for free or cheap too. Add flowers, seashells, stones or other small decorative items to the candles.

Use hemp to macrame necklaces, key rings, and bracelets. The Spruce Crafts will teach you the seven basic knots you’ll need to know. Buy supplies from a local small business or from an independently owned company like Hemp Beadery.

Compile recipes (especially favorite family recipes) in cute notebooks or on recipe cards.

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Homemade treats are usually a hit and less expensive than buying mass-produced yummies, especially if you shop sales. In addition to baking cookies, try puppy chow (aka muddy buddies) snack mix, Christmas crack, buckeyes, Chex mix, popcorn balls, Rice Krispies® treats, fudge, chocolate covered pretzels, haystacks, no-bake cookies, and rosemary thyme spiced nuts. You can also give homemade pickles, preserves, jams, jellies, and canned fruits and veggies. If you don’t like to cook, buy yummy gifts directly from the makers or give friends and family honey bought directly from a local beekeeper.

If you’re a gardener, grow loofahs or gourds that can be turned into birdhouses. If you grow houseplants, propagate new plants from cuttings. Repot the new plants in pots and jars you get from thrift shops or FreeCycle and give them as gifts.

For the kids in your life, make sculpting dough, sidewalk chalk, bubble solution, rainbow crayons, moon sand, wooden blocks, and/or bean bags.

Most grandparents love photos of their grandkids. Assemble photo albums with pictures of the kiddos and some of their artwork as well. Use goofy candid shots as well as serious, posed scenes. This gift could also work for great-grandparents, godparents, doting aunts and uncles, and a parent who is often away from home for work.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

If you’re a visual artist, give your art as gifts. Turn artwork into notecards, postcards, or bookmarks or give original pieces.

If you have nice handwriting, write inspirational words on cardstock or pretty paper.

Give a membership or passes for a special excursion to a museum, science center, animal park, or botanical garden. A season pass for a family of four may be less expensive than four individual gifts, the family can enjoy good times all year, and there’s no stuff to clutter the house.

Give an annual America the Beautiful Pass to an individual or family that likes to visit federal recreation areas (national parks, forest, monuments, etc.). A lifetime Senior Pass is also available.

Write letters to everyone on your gift list. Tell the recipients everything you admire about them or recount a fun or special experience you shared.

Create handmade books from scavenged or leftover materials.

Writers and students can always use notebooks. Buy spiral notebooks or composition books at thrift stores or during back-to-school sales. Update the covers using contact paper, stickers, chalkboard paint or chalkboard contact paper, or heavy craft paper and spray adhesive. Sometimes you can find brand new blank journals at thrift stores too.

Make coupon books redeemable for your services (such as a night of babysitting, doing the dishes, washing the car, giving a foot or back rub, scrubbing the bathroom, mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, taking down the Christmas tree, vacuuming the living room, raking leaves, doing the laundry, etc.). The Spruce Crafts collected 15 sets of free printable love coupons to help with the project.

Give certificates promising to teach a skill (such as how to bake a cake or bread, how to change the oil in a car, how to sew on a button, how to build a fence, etc.).

Of course, even do-it-yourself projects require materials. It you’re trying to avoid capitalism this holiday season, don’t rush out to buy new supplies. Do an inventory of what you have on hand. Perhaps old supplies can be used for new projects. If you must buy materials, shop at thrift stores first. You might be able to get what you need via FreeCycle or you could trade supplies with a crafty friend. If you must purchase new materials, try to buy local, from small businesses.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Hopefully you’ll be able to use the ideas in this post to remove at least some of the capitalism from your holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Las Posadas, Solstice, Hanukkah, Festivus, or Kwanzaa, you’ll be able to give meaningful gifts that won’t line the pockets of the already rich.

I realize the first part of this post focuses mostly on Christmas. I understand that other holidays are also celebrated during the winter season. However, Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Solstice, Festivus, and Kwanzaa are not known for their contributions to rampant consumerism. Also, the gifts mentioned in this post (with the exception of Christmas tree ornaments) are suitable for all gift-giving occasions.

I have not tried any of the projects to which I have linked in this post, so I cannot vouch for instructions given. The links are simply starting points for your own research. I hope they help. Also, I have not and will not receive any compensation for linking to other websites in this post.

Elf

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It was the end of a long hot day of trying to sell hemp jewelry and shiny rocks on the side of the highway. (Total sales for the day: $36.) I was eating dinner and reading a copy of the David Sedaris collection Holidays on Ice I’d picked out of a free pile behind a thrift store.

Holidays on Ice
The first story in the collection is “SantaLand Diaries,” a memoir of the pre-Christmas season Sedaris worked as an elf in NYC’s Macy’s store. Early in the essay, Sedaris recalls how he imagined his life in the Big Apple. Of course, his life didn’t go the way of his imagination, and he writes,

But instead I am applying for a job as an elf. Even worse than applying is the very real possibility that I will not be hired, that I couldn’t even find work as an elf. That’s when you know you’re a failure.

Ouch. That hurt.

I had applied for a job as an elf some years ago. Like David Sedaris, I applied to be a Macy’s elf. Unlike Sedaris, I did not apply for elfhood in NYC.  I was in the Pacific Northwest, where I’d recently moved to live with my boyfriend in an apartment his parents had paid a deposit and a month of rent on. The boyfriend didn’t seem to be concerned about finding work (I suppose he’d had a long history of mooching off his parents), but I was scrambling to find a job, any job.

First I called Manpower, the temp service I’d worked through for three years in the medium sized Midwestern town from whence I’d come. The Manpower employment specialist (or whatever they call themselves) who took my call seemed absolutely bored. I asked him if I should go into the office to meet with someone. No need for that, he assured me. There weren’t really any jobs anyway. (No jobs? I wondered. In a major U.S. city? No temp work at all?) He said I could email my resume if I wanted to. They’d keep it on file, but there were currently no jobs.

I dutifully emailed my resume to Manpower. I never heard another word from the Manpower office.

I dutifully spent hours looking at the online employment ads. I dutifully sent off my resume any time I found a position I was even marginally qualified for.

I discovered the bowling alley near my apartment was hiring but didn’t want anyone with visible tattoos. Since when was a bowling alley so concerned about the image of its employees? I could cover my tattoos (so I dutifully sent off my resume), but it seemed like every second person in the city had visible tattoos. Maybe I’d get hired by virtue of my undecorated skin. But no. No one from the bowling alley ever contacted me for an interview.

I discovered the regional chain of convenience stores was hiring, but planned to do a credit check on all applicants. I’d never heard of a potential employer doing a credit check on a job applicant. How could a person with poor credit pay the bills if s/he couldn’t get a job because of poor credit? The no visible tattoos bowling alley tipped me off that the job market was tight, but the credit check for folks applying to work not for a bank or an accounting firm or the freaking CIA  but for a convenience store really convinced me the job market was in the employer’s favor.

I continued to read the want ads, complete online applications, send out my resume, but my phone didn’t ring and my inbox was empty. I started to grow panicky.

Then I saw it: Macy’s was hiring elves. I’d read “SantaLand Diaries,” and thought, If David Sedaris can do it, I can do it to! In fact, I was qualified for the job.

Qualification #1 I am short. I’m under 5’5”. Sedaris recognized the importance of (lack of) height to a career as an elf. Despite being pretty sure he failed his drug test,

still they hired me because I am short, five feet five inches. Almost everyone they hired is short.

If Macy’s was looking for short, they were looking for me!

Qualification #2 I’ve worked with kids. I spent my first two summers out of high school working at a camp for kids with disabilities. Sure, that had been 20 years ago, but I’d done some babysitting since then. I didn’t think kids could have changed too much, even in 20 years.

Qualification #3 I knew a thing or two about taking photos. I’d worked as the assistant to the photographer my first summer at the camp for kids with disabilities. The second summer I’d been promoted to head photographer. I was sure I could handle whatever camera system Macy’s used to take souvenir photos of kids with Santa.

Qualification #4 I’d worked in high volume, high stress retail situations before. I’d been the cashier on multiple occasions during Mardi Gras and Jazz fest at a t-shirt shop on Bourbon Street. I doubted screaming, shrieking, bawling, pissing children and their bossy, rich parents could be any worse than drunk tourists.

I dutifully answered the questions on Macy’s online elf application. I took the application very seriously. I attached my resume. I did my best. It was only a seasonal job, but it could get me through until the next employment opportunity came along.

Macy’s never contacted me, not a phone call, not an email. Nothing. Of course, not hiring me was a good move on Macy’s part because during the first week of December, my boyfriend convinced me we should ditch the apartment and travel the world on foot and via Greyhound.

Still, I was devastated. I didn’t even make the first cut for a temp job as an elf, a job I was actually qualified for.

I’d felt like a failure then, and here was David Sedaris, eight years later confirming that indeed, I’d been right.