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Christmas on a Budget – Building Traditions

Earlier this month I wrote a post about an activity that Dave and I call memory builders.   For this month’s Christmas on a Budget post, I will be discussing turning memory building activities into traditions.

As a military family, we rarely lived close enough to family to have the traditional Christmas of visiting Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house on Christmas Day or doing any of the other extended family activities that usually occur during the holiday season.

Since we couldn’t give that to our children, we strove to build traditions at Christmas time (and other times) that would be anchors that they could count on to be part of our celebrations every year.

When our first child came along, Dave was a corporal.  Needless to say, a corporal’s pay didn’t leave a lot of money for extras, so any memory building activities we chose had to be affordable on our budget at that time.

One every day activity that we began almost as soon as our children were old enough to sit in our laps and listen, was to read to them every evening before bed.   But we had a special selection of books that were only read in December.

These books weren’t even on the bookshelf with our other books but were stored with our Christmas decorations.    When those books were brought down from the attic or up from the basement depending on which kind of PMQ (Permanent Married Quarters) we were living in, that was the signal that Christmas was truly on its way.

Children's Christmas Books
These are all the Christmas books that have survived their many years of use.

The same principle applied to Christmas music, books-on-tape and videos.  Those were stored safely in a closet until the first of December.  Only then were the children allowed to listen to or watch them.

Another activity that we adopted early on was the annual outing to purchase our Christmas tree on the weekend before Christmas.   We’d bundle the kids into the car (depending where we lived determined just how bundled up they were) and we would drive from Christmas tree lot to Christmas tree lot until we found the “perfect” tree.  Even in years when we didn’t have the money for more expensive Christmas activities, I made this fit into our Christmas budget.   This tradition that began all those years ago continues to this day with whichever children are home visiting on that weekend.

Last year's Christmas Tree
Last year’s Christmas Tree

And Christmas Eve would not be Christmas Eve without our drive around the neighbourhood after supper to look at all the beautiful light displays.    Without fail, after everyone is in the car ready to leave, I discover that I have “forgotten” my purse in the house and have to run back in quickly.

And also without fail, when we returned home, under the tree would be three small brightly wrapped packages; one for each child marked… From the Elves.

Inside the packages were new nighties or pajamas.

“Oh,” we’d say, “Santa came by but there were no children in bed asleep, so his elves left pjs.  So hurry and get bathed and into your new pjs and after story time it’s off to bed so that Santa can come back.”

Our children are all adults now, but do you know that a couple of years ago when I broached the idea that it was time to end this particular tradition of new pjs, there were such looks of disappointment and in one case outright indignation that I would even suggest such a thing, that this too is another memory building activity that continues on.

These simple activities, repeated year after year, became our Christmas traditions.  As you can see, most cost very little in monetary terms but they are rich in terms of the memories they created and the traditions they built.

This Christmas village is another of our traditions that I will write about in a future Christmas on a Budget Series post.

Note:  Last month, I promised some tutorials for things to make with Christmas themed fabric.  I only managed to get one tutorial written so far and it will be posted on Saturday; at which time, I will also announce the giveaway that I promised.

I’m hoping to get another tutorial written to be posted during the week but as I will be super busy getting our youngest settled and ready for his second year of college, that may have to wait until my next Christmas on a Budget Series post on September 25th.

Past Christmas on a Budget Series posts can be found by clicking on these links:

Two No-Sew Christmas Ideas

Buy Christmas Fabric Only When On Sale

Christmas Fabric – Part 2

Gifts for Less than $2 Each

Homemade Gift Tags

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  • Jennifer
    September 13, 2011 2:49 pm

    We make cookies with all the kids either in the neighborhood or family. We could not afford to get gifts for everyone so we had a cookie nite with the kids which allowed the adults to shop. I never thought it was such a big deal until one year we did not do it. The kids (teenagers at this point) wanted to know why they were not getting cookie nite. Needless to say we brought back cookie nite and have done it every year. Now some of the to me kids have carried on cookie nite with their families and send pictures. We use to roll the entire table with dough and cut our hearts out.

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  • Sandra :)
    August 26, 2011 11:59 am

    We had some lovely Christmas traditions when I was growing up – opening a present on Christmas Eve (and it was always NEW JAMMIES! YAY!) – all 4 of us kids putting on a “pageant” for our parents (oh my, I’m sure my 8 years older + 6 years older bro & sis appreciated doing THAT with the two youngest ones, HAHA) — always finding a tangerine, new crayons and a new colouring book in my stocking, and the most frustrating of all – having to wait until 7:00 a.m. to go downstairs to see if Santa had been by — and dad always leading the way! Those memories take me back 45 years (even though I’m still 29, ahem) and are my warmest and happiest memories of childhood 🙂

  • Sandi
    August 25, 2011 11:08 pm

    Your traditions are wonderful – I especially like the pj story! I have one tradition that is purely for me. We have a music box of the Three Wise Men that plays Dominique (I only found out the name of the song this past Christmas, thanks to bloggers!) and it isn’t Christmas until I’ve pulled that poor, ugly, cheap old thing out and wound the mechanism so it can play it’s song.

  • Robin (RsIslandCrafts)
    August 25, 2011 3:52 pm

    When our kids were young we started some traditions of our own too. I found that the simplest of things were the things they remembered. We have breakfast burritos on Christmas morning. I recently suggested changing the menu and the kids said it wouldn’t be Christmas without breakfast burritos in the morning. Plus, they expect a new pillow just like they receive every year. I skipped buying pillows last year and they still give me grief about it.

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