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When Thanksgiving comes around it seems like I’m inundated with holiday gift guides. Perfect gifts for the guys, babies, your in-laws, a budding chef, the travel enthusiast, etc. And while I think these are helpful for the gift giving part of your holiday festivities, it feels like there’s a lot left out.

To be totally honest, gifts aren’t my love language. I’m not anti-gift. (I am, however, anti gifts that are in lieu of thought, that stress you out, or that leave you with January credit card debt.) I just don’t get overly excited about the shopping part of the holidays.

I used to run around the mall frantically on Christmas Eve, buying whatever still remained on the shelves for my loved ones. I’d spend more money than I had planned on gifts that I hoped they would like. And I’d spend less time with them because I was so focused on shopping.

December 26th would hit and I’d wake up thinking, “That was it? It feels like Christmas never happened.”

I’d promise myself I’d do better the next year and would spend January working off a bit of a spending hangover.

A couple of years ago, Jordan and I decided that we’d just kind of skip the holidays. No gifts. No vacation days used. Maybe a few activities when we could squeeze them in. A couple of holiday movies here or there and that would be it.

While that definitely saved money, December felt depressing.

It wasn’t until last year that we decided to take a more balanced approach. We still didn’t really want to spend a lot on gifts and big events, but we really did want to enjoy the festive season. I don’t want Henry to grow up feeling like we’ve skipped out on Christmas every year, but I also don’t want to overload him with gifts and go back to that frantic place I was a few years ago.

Our celebrations are still a work in progress, but we’ve set some ground rules that will hopefully help us strike that balance we’re looking for:

  1. It’s not about spending less, it’s about enjoying more of what’s good. This has kind of become our life money mantra. Yes, we will spend less, but we don’t focus on that. We fill up our calendar and our lives will all the good things and there’s no room to feel like we’re missing out.
  2. Schedule it in. Life gets busy, right? I’m setting calendar invites for the festivities that are a must-do.
  3. Set expectations. Because how awkward would it be to show up empty-handed when someone gives you a gift? Our guidelines with family this year are no presents for us, but one present for Henry is a really nice gesture.

Activities and Events

Since we are committed to not make our lack of gifts mean we’re skipping out on the holiday season entirely, we’re leaning into the festivities hard. Here’s my not-so-short list of things we want to do in the next month:

  • Decorate cake or cookies. I’m starting off with an obvious one here, but we never actually do it. I’m setting aside one evening for us to make our favorites: the best chocolate chip, gingerbread people, and some fun sugar cookies to decorate.
  • Explore the neighborhood and enjoy the lights. During the winter it gets dark in the UK by 4 p.m. It’s pretty terrible, save for one great benefit: we can go look at Christmas lights earlier in the day. We’ll be doing a walking tour of the lights with hot chocolate in hand.
  • Get our skate on. London has the best ice skating setups during Christmas. This one at the Natural History Museum, this one at Somerset House, and this one at Tower of London have been part of our festivities every year here.
  • Build a gingerbread house. A night of edible crafting? Sounds great. I’m going to skip the kit though and go with this.
  • Plan a holiday movie marathon. Earlier this year, Jordan and I stopped watching TV or movies. We packed away our TV and unsubscribed to every streaming service. While we surprisingly don’t miss it at all, we’re going to haul the TV back out for a movie night. Popcorn, a fire, some holiday fizz, and Home Alone. I’m so excited.
  • Take time to give back. I’ve always wanted to do something meaningful at Christmas, but to be totally honest, December flies by and I never seem to have done much. With Henry here, I really want to start a tradition of giving back to show him that the holidays are about more than gifts. I love the adopt-a-family concept that we have in the States and will be doing that when we move back. This year, we’re still trying to come up with the right option. We may end up donating supplies to the local shelter where we adopted our sweet little dog Hattie from.
  • Visit Santa’s Grotto. To be honest, this might be terrible, but we’re going to give it a try. Henry’s going to meet Santa and we’ll get a cute photo that he might like looking at in the future.
  • Try my hand at wreath making or flower arranging. We probably won’t get a tree this year since we’re flying to California on Christmas Eve, but we’ll get that seasonal smell with some wreaths and berry/flower decorations around the house. There are tons of classes offered, but Jordan and I are going to YouTube instructions and make this.
  • Stage a family photo shoot. In an effort to try and get more good pictures of our little family, we’ve been bringing a camera with us and setting the self-timer. These aren’t perfectly staged professional photos. Most of them would be considered terrible, but we love them. Slightly blurry, double chins, wrinkled clothes and all.
  • Create a photo album. Every year I swear I’m going to do something with our photos. And every year I don’t. Most likely because I treat it like a chore. Well, this year Jordan and I are going to turn on the Christmas tunes, eat some cookies, and create an album. Make an event out of it where we take a look back on everything that has happened in 2018. I’m thinking of using Artifact Uprising (look at how pretty these books look!).
  • Hit up a holiday market. I’m looking forward to heading to this winter market with my mom and will likely head to it again with friends a little later in the season. What time is it appropriate to start drinking mulled wine?
  • Lace up for a winter hiking. This sounds terrible, but it’s actually great. We bundle up, bring a hot drink and enjoy the deserted trails.
  • Tackle the annual purge. Call me crazy, but this is my absolute favorite thing to do pre-New Years. Last year, Jordan and I did the KonMari method on our entire flat. This year we’ll be doing it again. Bonus: you can sell your old items and help fund the activities listed here.
  • Take a treat tour. I don’t like to overindulge, but if there’s any time to make an exception, it’s December. This is like a pub crawl, but replace drinks with candy, pastries, and hot chocolate. This could end badly.
  • Host a game night. One of my favorite nights in is game night. We’ll be making it more festive with holiday cookies, eggnog (or maybe spiked hot chocolate), and candy canes.

While we have a lot of activities planned, we’re still expecting to give some experiential gifts and host some very easy meals at home. In Part Two of Not a Holiday Gift Guide, I share some ideas we’ve come up with to help round out the celebrations.

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