10 Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Christmas This Year

After a long, difficult year, these are our favorite budget-friendly ways to make this holiday season extra special.

After a year full of changes and uncertainty, I am more excited about the upcoming holiday season than ever before. Of course, the pandemic is far from over—and it's been a trying year for many—so our classic holiday celebrations might look a little different this year, and that's OK. Rather than carrying on as normal, this Christmas is a great time to mix things up and try new holiday traditions.

If your Christmas dinner has fewer guests this year, skip the whole ham and try a delicious new menu. And if your holiday budget is tight, don't stress about the gifts! Turn gifts and stockings into a fun game by drawing names so that each person only has to buy one gift. This year, try to focus less on buying the latest and greatest decor and gifts and turn your focus to spending more quality time with your family. You might just find that these new celebrations become yearly traditions you can't live without!

christmas tree in basket
Aniko Levai
01 of 10

Start a New Family Tradition

After a crazy and unexpected year, we could all use some extra quality time with the family. This season, start a new Christmas tradition and get the whole family involved. Order matching pajamas, start an Advent calendar, or fill a gratitude jar. The traditions don't have to be expensive or elaborate; all you have to do is carve out a few hours and spend the time doing something fun together.

02 of 10

Serve a Non-Traditional Dinner

It's OK to skip the traditional Christmas ham this year, especially if you're expecting fewer guests than normal. Instead, opt for something totally different, like a fancy dinner from a local restaurant. No matter what you serve at Christmas dinner, what matters most is who is around the table.

03 of 10

Wrap Gifts in Fabric

Wrapping gifts is one of my favorite pre-Christmas traditions, but wrapping paper is horrible for the environment because we use so much of it, and it can't be recycled. A few years ago, my family started wrapping our gifts in fabric instead of paper and we've never looked back. Invest in a few fabric bags or patterned furoshiki wraps that can be used year after year. Plus, you'll save a fortune not buying new rolls of gift wrap each season!

04 of 10

Host a Virtual Gathering

The best part of the holidays is being with family, but as the pandemic continues on, it's likely that not all of your family members will be able to meet up in one place. If you're missing the hustle and bustle of a houseful of guests, consider planning a virtual celebration this season. Gather the family on Zoom and have everyone decorate cookies "together" in their own homes, or use the Netflix Party app to watch a classic holiday movie together.

05 of 10

Decorate like Grandma

Your grandma's favorite vintage decor trends are back in style—and you should totally be decorating with them this year. Ceramic Christmas trees have made a huge comeback, and there are some affordable options you can order online. And if your grandma displays an elaborate Christmas village every year (mine does!), you'll love the sentimental aspect of these trees decorated with Christmas village pieces.

06 of 10

Give Back

Giving back to the community is one of my favorite ways to celebrate the season. There are so many ways to help out around the holidays, whether it's volunteering at a food bank or participating in an adopt-a-family program and helping to buy or wrap gifts for others. If your family already does one of these traditions, consider adding a second or third! You'll never regret helping more people. If you're not comfortable going out and serving in person, there are also easy ways to volunteer from home!

07 of 10

Adopt a New Cultural Celebration

Everyone celebrates the holiday season differently, and there are so many meaningful traditions celebrated by different cultures and in different parts of the world. This season, learn about your family's heritage and adopt a few of their traditions into your own celebration. Of course, you never want to appropriate another culture, but adding a respectful celebration to your holiday plans can be both fun and meaningful. Perhaps take the time to learn the story of Hanukkah and make latkes together as a family, or celebrate your Italian heritage by hosting your first-ever Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

08 of 10

Play a New Christmas Game

When the weather outside is frightful and we're still practicing social distancing, it can be difficult to find enough indoor activities to keep the family entertained. You've heard of White Elephant gift exchanges (also known as Yankee Swap), but there are other fun holiday-themed games you can introduce to the fam this year. One of my favorites is Pass the Present, or the Left-Right game. Here's how it works: Everyone brings a small, funny gift (we typically set a $5 limit) and wraps it however they like. Everyone sits around a table with their own gift in front of them as a poem is read out loud (here's the one we use). Every time the word 'right' is read, you pass the gift in front of you to the right. When the word 'left' is said, you pass to the left. At the end of the game, you unwrap the gift in front of you and guess who brought the gift.

09 of 10

Draw Names for Gifts

This year has been hard for many, and the added financial stress of the holidays is something you can totally skip this year. To cut down on costs while keeping things fun, draw names for stockings and gifts, and set a price limit for each person. If you want, you can keep the names a secret until the gifts are opened and have each person guess who their gift-giver was in a secret Santa style.

10 of 10

Give Practical Gifts

It's never fun to open a gift you know you won't use, especially when you can't or don't want to return it. In past years, I've tried to buy people fun or "splurge" gifts that I know they won't buy for themselves. And while it's fun to pick these out, after a financially stressful year, you don't want to spend money on something you know won't be used—and your recipient would much rather receive a gift that's helpful to them.

So this year, consider switching things up. Rather than guess what people want or will use, ask your family members to make a Christmas list of practical gifts instead—think a meal kit subscription service to cut down on grocery bills, household tools or kitchen appliances that need to be replaced, or gift cards to save money at most-frequented stores.

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