It’s November. Are you already stressed out by the endless list of Christmas gifts you have to buy for all your family, friends, and relatives? Do the people on your list already have everything, and you hit a wall every time you try to think of gift ideas? Or is your budget tight? Maybe it’s not BUYING Christmas gifts that stresses you out. Maybe it’s the clutter left over AFTER all the presents have been unwrapped. Does that exhaust you? (It does me.) If you are tired of being TIRED OUT from everyone’s expectations instead of enjoying the Christmas season, maybe you are ready for a change in your approach to gift-giving. A fun, frugal, and clutter-free Christmas IS possible!
Our Fun, Frugal, Clutter-Free Christmas Experiment
Our fun, frugal, clutter-free Christmas began three years ago with a simple family Christmas food exchange. My family of six siblings was rapidly growing to include spouses and grandchildren, making even a simple gift exchange more complicated and costly than before. The first experience was so much fun that we have unanimously opted to continue our family food exchange each Christmas.
In fact, our family Christmas food exchange is a highlight that I now look forward to with eager anticipation each year. It offers a reprieve from the rat race while increasing the joy of giving gifts that are creative and meaningful. Instead of worrying about cost or fairness, what people want, we can now focus our attention and creativity in creating ONE food gift for ONE person (or couple). Family time together is sweet as we share in the joy of beautiful surprises and celebrate the creativity demonstrated by each family member. And afterward, since food is consumable, our gift exchange adds neither clutter nor stress to the holiday.
(Previously, I described the lessons in gratitude I learned from NOT celebrating Christmas when I was a child. While our stance now is not the same as then, simplicity and gratitude are still highly valued in our family’s practices.)
What Family Members Say
“We get snacks…Christmas isn’t all about presents…it’s about seeing all the family.” (Our 6-year-old)
“I appreciate how the Food Exchange and drawing names simplifies who should get what for whom while still allowing each person to choose whatever type of food to give. I have enjoyed how each family member has been so creative in personalizing their gifts. Having a certain theme, in our case food, really helps give direction for everyone while still letting each person have fun making it their own.” (Bonnie)
“One reason I’m thankful our family does a Food Exchange is because we don’t end up accumulating a lot of excess stuff each year. It also makes it light hearted….everyone likes food so it takes any pressure off of trying to figure out what each person might want as a long-term gift.” (Macallen)
“I love trying the foods that we receive, and it’s special to put love and creative intention into creating something for a particular family member. I’m grateful for a way to give fun and meaningful gifts without the wasteful excess of unnecessary items or the pressure to shop for everyone in our large family.” (Laurel)
“Of course I love the food and it’s fun to see how differently everyone does it, but I mostly appreciate that we don’t end up with things that we don’t want or need cluttering our house.” (Carmen)
“Everyone loves food!” (Truett)
How Our Family Christmas Food Exchange Works
In a nutshell, we draw names, create or compile a food gift for the person whose name we drew, package the gift as safely and attractively as possible, then mail the package or deliver it in person when the family gathers.
As children grow, move away, and start their own families, holiday traditions change. The family Christmas food exchange can continue whether the family gathers in one place for the holidays or not. We have done it both ways.
Here is the process in more detail:
When The Family is Together for Christmas
- My mother oversees the drawing of names and distributing assignments.
Since we live in several states, this is usually done by text. My mother randomly assigns a number to each person in the family, then asks us to choose a number. After making sure there are no conflicts, she then lets us know whose name we have chosen.
- Each person cooks, bakes, creates, or purchases and compiles a food-related gift for the person whose name was drawn.
- We exchange gifts during the family Christmas gathering. Whatever order is designated (oldest to youngest, by family units, etc.), one by one, we present our gifts and enjoy with rapt attention the edible surprises gifted to each.
When the Family is Scattered for Christmas
- As above, my mother oversees the drawing of names. (Since shipping costs are high for heavy packages, we exchanged gifts as family units rather than as individuals.)
- Each family prepares a fun (but non-perishable) food gift that could safely be boxed up and sent in the mail.
- Those who are able to gather over the holidays exchange their gifts in person, while those who cannot travel mailed their gifts. (Who doesn’t love packages in the mail?)
Considerations for Practical, Creative, and Thoughtful Food Gifts
When creating a thoughtful food gift, it is helpful to consider these questions. No food gift will meet all of these criteria, so choose what is most important in each situation.
- Are there any allergies or dietary restrictions to keep in mind?
- What are the recipient’s likes/dislikes?
- What would be special—something the recipient does not ordinarily get to eat?
- What would be helpful, saving the recipient time and effort?
- Will it save money for the recipient (or for me)?
- How much time do I have?
- What do I have on hand that I have already made/preserved?
- What talents/skills/interests do I have that are unique in my family (canning, dehydrating, hunting, pasta-making, etc.)?
- Can it safely be given without heating or refrigeration? (Or are these available before and after the gift exchange?)
- Is the food item highly perishable, or can it be saved for future enjoyment?
- Is there something meaningful about the gift relating to the personality/circumstances of the recipient, or to spiritual truths?
- What would make the presentation beautiful?
- What other personalized touches can be added or included with the food gift to make it even more special?
Creative Food Ideas for a Fun, Frugal Gift Exchange
In a Christmas food exchange, the emphasis is often on home-made or home-grown. However, there is also room for purchased, pre-packaged food items. Then, the creativity is in the assembly.
Additionally, to avoid a holiday sugar overload, Christmas food exchange ideas don’t have to revolve around sweet treats.
Consider these ideas for sparking your own creativity:
A box containing a selection of home-canned fruits and vegetables
A hand-carved wooden box filled with homemade venison jerky
A bouquet of homemade, hand-dipped cake pops
A box of several cookie mixes in a jar
All the pre-packaged ingredients (and a recipe) for an entire Indian meal, taco meal, etc.
A popcorn snowman
A basket of beautifully-arranged vegetables (accompanied by humorous notes about healthy choices, as well as fun, tasty treats)
A gluten-free treat for the one on a restricted diet
A box of assorted breakfast mixes in a jar
A package of home-raised beef steak, along with home-canned green beans and a store-bought mashed potatoes for an easy meal
A package of specialty, homemade pasta along with directions for meal preparation, as well as a homemade dessert
A basket of healthy and fun snacks for a college student
An assortment of various dried fruits and fruit leathers
I wish I could invite you along to experience the joy in my family’s fun, frugal, clutter-free Christmas!
Simplifying gift-giving in our large family with a Christmas food exchange has become a wonderful tradition. At least in our family circle, it has reduced some of the stresses associated with Christmas, while providing warm, wonderful family times and memorable gifts from the hearts (and hands) of loved ones.
Financially, emotionally, relationally, even spiritually, a family Christmas food exchange may be just the thing to bring joy back into your holiday season!