Reily H. Urban, San Rafael, CA:
This year, our 3 ½ year old daughters are getting training bicycles, a pack of flashcards to share, several holiday books, and a Dan Zanes CD in each of their stockings. Last year, they got a single, well-designed and well-made, pink Costco play-kitchen, along with two trays full of marvelous wooden food. They each got a special puzzle from Daddy, and a stocking filled with Mandarin oranges from our own tree, plus some fun little trinkets we had even more fun finding. That was it; and that was plenty.
After a long breakfast together in front of the tree on Christmas day, the four of us drive to the beach, fly kites together, and watch the surfers. Many other families walk in the sand and sea foam too, picking up a stray shell, or a water-burnished piece of glass – Christmas treasures we tuck in our pockets. We leave when the sun goes down, wind-burned and chilly, and immensely at peace, then head home for a hot cup of homemade ham and bean soup.
Lisa Miotto, Moline, IL:
Don’t suggest to kids that they should ask Santa for stuff. In fact, don’t even talk about Santa at all, unless prompted by the kids. If my daughter says she wants something, (if it’s something I don’t mind her having) I usually say that if we see it at a garage sale, I’ll buy it for her. I don’t say, “maybe Santa can bring it.” I don’t encourage her to make a list of gifts she wants. I don’t ask her what she wants for Christmas, or tell her what I want. We just don’t talk about the whole gift thing much. She certainly hears about it at her preschool and I can’t stop that, but I don’t initiate any conversations on that topic. She’s only four so I still have lots of influence, but I think it helps a lot.
I started a "science experiment book" and add simple pages to do short experiments with my nearly 4 year old daughter. The first pages are simple hand written charts that say "will it float?" or "will it roll?" or "does it bounce?" on the top, then I write "yes" or "no" and make two columns, then my daughter and I find things around the house: a spoon, a small plastic pig, a hair comb, a wooden toy, etc. We make one row per item - usually 5 or so items on one page. One by one we drop them into a bucket of water. She then uses her marker to mark and "X" in each box if it floated or didn't.
The experiment takes 1 minute; the searching for items takes longer. Usually the first round is so exciting we spend ages looking for enough stuff for rounds two and three. It is fun to make predictions and then have charts afterward - put in a little binder it makes a great little first science book.
Laura, Petaluma, CA:
We love making tree ornaments that are personalized for friends & family that they can enjoy every year. Clay, painted wood, decorating old CD's or recyclables are materials you can use. Making soaps and lotions is fun and easier than you may think, children love doing such a grown up craft ( with supervision), and the recipients really enjoy the handmade potions they would normally buy. Pressed
flower petals and leaves for homemade cards (good for soap too)-- little children LOVE collecting these! At 11 years my son never begs me for the "normal" boy toys and he doesn't feel deprived!
Amy Suardi, "Frugal Mama," New York, NY:
These pine cone ornaments are classy, beautiful and almost free. Our family collected pine cones under evergreen trees in a park. We had so much gathering them and finding different sizes and shapes. At home, we tied a string around the stem of each pine cone and attached a Christmas ornament hook. Then we dabbed glue on the "leaves" of the cone: where there was already white bits of dried sap, or on the edges where snow might collect. We sprinkled the glue with white glitter and hung them up to dry. We realized how beautiful they were as is, but it was fun to embellish them.
Nancy Shohet West, Carlisle, MA:
Ultimately, experience has taught me the way to de-commercialize Christmas has less to do with your specific approach to gifts and more to do with your overall approach to the holiday season. What I do is make plenty of time for any activities that aren't toy-, gift- or Santa-related and make a big deal out of those activities. Caroling, pageants, plays, concerts, parties, baking, baking, baking. With kids ages 7 & 11, I've come to realize it is much easier to make Christmas about other things in addition to toys & gifts than it is to convince a kid that toys & gifts don't matter at all. So I let my kids make their wish lists and I buy them little toys. But mostly, we try to make the holiday season be about other things and we don't get all up in arms if one of the kids really wants an ugly plastic gizmo.
Freed, Ph.D., Walnut Creek, CA:
I am a parent of two children, Madeline (age 5) and
Elena (16 months). Out of concern that certain
gifts can undermine our efforts to limit their exposure
to commercialism, my wife and I talk with our close
friends and relatives about preferred holiday gifts for
our children. (Truthfully, many of our family and close
friends already know that this issue is important to us,
and most are on board themselves.) Gifts from extended
family or friends we know less well pose more of a
challenge. My wife and I solve this issue by sneaking a
peak at gifts prior to our daughters’ opening them, and
donating those we won’t use.
We make our own Christmas cards. Initially that meant
merely putting paint on paper but this year my oldest is
responsible for creating the card concept on her own.
Making our own cards helps us really think about what
message we want to send to our family and friends
instead of choosing from predetermined, generic holiday
Another tradition is a gift that I give to my kids: an
ornament signifying something that has happened to them
during the year. The ornaments have become a favorite
part of the Christmas ritual. The kids look forward to
getting out the decorations and reviewing them; we spend
half the day retelling the family stories that inspired
And to remind us all why we're celebrating Christmas in
the first place, the girls have Advent calendars. Each
day in December they add one member to the Nativity
Andrea Mills, Stonybrook,
As a parent and an early childhood teacher, I experience
how stressful the holidays can be even for the most
conscientious families. It is so challenging to live in
this world and somehow balance the values we want for
our children with the realities of a commercialized
childhood culture. Just making this list feels
therapeutic! My surviving-the-holiday season “tips” are
for both families and people who work with young
Establish holiday rituals that don’t involve buying lots
of stuff. Baking cookies, doing a craft, reading a
special book (my own family read A Christmas Memory by
Truman Capote every Christmas Eve in my childhood; it is
one of my fondest memories)
If possible, avoid trips to department stores with your
kids; out of sight-out of mind…. My sons do a lot better
without a visual of all the stuff they should have. The
same for toy catalogs. It’s not that I don’t want my
children to have nice gifts at the holidays, I just
don’t want it to be the sole focus/ don’t want it to
Olson, Arroyo Grande, CA:
We make our Christmas gifts rather than buying them.
We usually have to get some items from craft stores, but
we get a lot of supplies from yard sales and thrift
shops. Old picture frames, jars, even fabric can be
found and transformed into gifts that both kids and
adults can make. We also give gifts of homemade food,
using locally grown items as much as possible. The
planning and working on our gifts gets us much more into
the holiday spirit than shopping at crowded box stores
ever could and the gifts are so much more meaningful.
St.Clair, Cambridge, MA:
As a professional nanny, I remain "honorary extended
family" to all the children I've ever cared for. At the
beginning of every winter, I have each child trace a
hand as a sizing aid and pick a color from my supply of
yarn, and I knit them a pair of mittens.
My current charges enjoy watching me make their mittens,
and mittens for other people I love. And many of them
have asked me to teach them to knit, and have made
scarves for parents.
So if you have a creative hobby that you enjoy, think of
how you might share it in gift-giving!
We have been fortunate to participate in other families’
cultural traditions and to share our own. Friends of all
religious persuasions attend our annual Chanukah
party—not for presents, but for food, songs, rituals,
Brown, Salem, MA:
A few years ago my sister decided we should take the
money we would spend on gifts for each other, pool it
and donate it to a charitable organization. It works out
great. In my own family my husband and I have stopped
buying gifts as well. My husband finds things at yards
sales in the summer for “Santa” to give. We bake goodies
together and give these out as our family presents.
People now look forward to our treats and have stopped
extravagant spending on us. You can’t beat a
Thomas, Bloomington, IN:
Get your kids outside in nature as much as possible.
Going to the woods/forest/some beaches/nature in general
is one of the only activities you can do these days that
won't assault you with consumerist propaganda and
advertising. Plus, nature is amazing for kids and adults
in a variety of ways (increases attention/concentration,
soothes, regain a sense of awe and wonder, decrease
depression/existential angst, increase spiritual
connection (in any religion), etc.) Nature is great for
everybody so get out there (just dress for the weather)!
The most important decision my husband and I made
regarding our children's limited access to all things
material and commercialized was to get rid of our
television. Just do it! You won't regret it. Your kids
will read more, play more board games, be more creative.
They'll do things which are age appropriate and best of
all when you ask what they want for the holidays, they
won't have been bombarded by thousands of images of
useless, plastic junk! Like the old bumper sticker says:
Kill Your Television...
Michele Simon, Oakland, CA:
We are aware of the impact of alcohol advertising on
our teenage daughter. While I do drink sometimes when
dining out, my husband I have decided not to keep
alcohol in the house, so that our daughter sees that
it's also normal not to drink. While alcohol seems to be
an essential ingredient to most holiday gatherings, we
should also consider the impact of the normalizing of
drinking has on young people. What a great message to
send this holiday season: that despite all the
advertising to the contrary, celebrations are just as
fun, and even more so, without alcohol.
We do our charitable giving around the holidays—and my
daughter always participates in the process. From the
time she was about ten, she took over writing down which
organizations we’ve selected for donations, and began
picking organizations that she wants to give her own
Smith Family, Elverson, PA:
Every year, our family reads Charles Dickens' "A
Christmas Carol" aloud in front of the fire. We begin
after Thanksgiving, and finish on Christmas Eve. This is
an important family tradition because it reminds us of
the true meaning of the Christmas season.
Simplicity. Four gifts - one from Santa, each
set of grandparents, and one from Mom and Dad. Made in
USA and wood products only. We often source Waldorf
One year I made my daughter an advent box. Each day of
advent she gets a non-material gift written on a piece
of paper. "Today is pajama day", "Let's play a game",
"Today we will go downtown to look at the lights", "I
will give you a pedicure today", etc. She loves these
gifts and it helps me to remember to spend time with her
during a time when it is easy to be "too busy".
San Francisco, CA:
In an attempt to limit commercialism and consumption
in general we sent a letter to all grandparents, aunts
and uncles before the holidays with our young children's
wish lists. We requested clothing, art supplies, books
(encouraging the purchase of second-hand items) and
museum memberships. We also encouraged "experiential"
gifts such gymnastics lessons and outings with family.
We found a great book called “The Spotted Pony” that
contains a story for each night of Chanukah. After we
light the menorah we read aloud one of the stories. As
our children got older they took over the reading.
When asked what they would like for Christmas, our
relatives always respond with "I don't need anything."
My husband and I always feel obligated to buy them
something they will never use just because "It's
Christmas." So this year we pooled all the money we
would have spent on useless Christmas gifts and instead
donated 20 shoeboxes full of toys and hygiene items to
needy children around the world. It was a truly
uplifting experience, and we plan on making it a
tradition in our family. The CCFC has really inspired
Sign up with the Direct Marketing Association to opt out
of receiving catalogs. The remainder can be cut up into
garlands... simple loops or folded chains of gingerbread
people traced from a cookie cutter.
We ask friends and relatives to give gifts that
are not things. An experience like play tickets, the
gift of time like teaching our child a handicraft, a jar
or bag of homemade food gift, or it it must be an
object, an object lovingly made by the giver is
something that can be treasured.
As for how to make holidays magical without the emphasis
on getting stuff, we try to focus on treasured events
like caroling, making a gingerbread house, seeing the
Nutcracker, and giving to those less fortunate.
I love recycling. So I buy from thrift shops and find better quality than from famous catalogue stores. And this year I am limiting my gifts to warm socks and food items--and warm smiles!
Daniela Caruso, Toronto, Ontario, Canada:
My cousin in Italy only arranges for a single gift for their daughter who is under 10-years-old (and not an overly expensive gift, either).
Send us your strategies and suggestions
for creating commercial-free holidays
CCFC Guide to Commercial to Commercial-Free Holidays
Send Us Your Commercial-Free
TRUCE Toys, Play & Young Children Action Guide
TRUCE Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media Action Guide
The Center for a New American Dream "Simplify the Holidays" Guide