“It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year,” sings Andy Williams in my head, usually when I’m looking for a parking space at the grocery store, way in the back. But the singing is not always sarcastic in my head and I know that for my young children, each day of December holds the promise of something holiday related. Unfortunately, while Christmas can bring out the best in our giving spirits, it can also be a nightmare of consumerism at its worst and the packaging, wrappings, and trappings of holiday celebrations both small and large make it even worse. Fighting the “gimmes” with children at this time of year can be hard, especially when Santa is supposedly able to bring anything your child’s heart desires. Read on to learn how you can you make the holidays a little greener for the planet, a little kinder for everyone, and little lighter on your wallet.

Gingerbread House


This is one of my greatest failings, but I am finally starting to see the light and learn this little trick. Instead of rushing to every event, making every craft, baking every cookie, and attending every party, we try and make small celebrations last. If you must, plan out your holiday events and try and spread them out. We aim for a fun event (like going to see the lights at the zoo or walking through a local organization’s Christmas tree festival) once a weekend and try and do a craft or special tradition, like making gingerbread houses, twice a week.

2. Enjoy the Little Things

When we are at the grocery store or a “big box” store, I make an effort to take my little ones through the Christmas decorations or to buy a little bag of holiday candies for the ride home. While I think the kids likely want to own all of the decorations, in reality, I’ve realized that they just like seeing them—and don’t mind at all that they don’t see them all at our house. Instead, just taking the time to press a few of the buttons on the musical stuffed animals (you know the ones) or to shake the snow globes can mean so much to a child. You don’t have to own them to have a little fun!

Noel Light Display

3. Go See the Lights

Drive around. Go see the lights. You don’t need to spend a dime (except a little gas) to drive through your town or someone else’s and check out the decorated windows and other displays. Walk if you have the type of town that’s good for that and participate in fun, family events your town puts on—like a Santa visit at the fire station or story time at the library.

Related: 8 energy-efficient LED strands for the holidays

4. Be an Angel

Most banks, stores or other places have “Angel” trees, and one of the best ways to illustrate the spirit of the holidays to your children is to have them select another child to whom they can be an angel. A lot of times, children who have much don’t understand that there are some children for whom one present is all they will get under the tree—if that. Operation Christmas Child is a great organization that provides gifts to those in need, and your child can have a lot of fun filling a shoebox to share with someone less fortunate.

Boy with Gift

5. One Thing

Every year, I ask my children: “What’s the one thing you’d like that if you don’t see it under the tree, you will be disappointed?” I tell them it can be almost anything, and we usually have a fun few days talking about it around the dinner table. Being honest and knowing what that one item is can really help a child focus on their list, and maybe think a little less about all of the other things they might think they want.

6.Make Something

Encourage your child to make gifts for everyone. It doesn’t have to be big or a major project, and you shouldn’t have to help (a lot). Show your child some ideas and read them stories about Christmases before there were video game systems. The Little House Christmas story is wonderful for this. Not only are you making the prep time before Christmas fun by making gifts, your child will feel a lot of pride in giving a present that he made. One year, my fourth son baked everyone in the family a mini-banana bread for Christmas morning and we were all able to snack on them while opening other presents. Your child can learn about recycling and shabby chic by painting an old picture frame or turning other “trash” into treasures to give away.

Related: 120+ DIY holiday gift Ideas

Father and Child Christmas

7. No Lecturing

It’s important to pass on the values of being green and reducing our waste (including not buying a lot of stuff just to have more stuff), but no child wants or needs a lecture at Christmas. Instead, make sure that you’re illustrating the point and including your child. Make cookies from scratch because it’s fun and explain (quickly) that you won’t buy the pre-made slice-and-bake cookies because they have chemicals in them and the packaging is wasteful. Make sure that during the holidays, fun comes first.

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