Taking the Holidays Back to a Simpler Time

Photo credit: slgckgc, CC BY 2.0.

Back when I was too young to legally have a job, I did my best to make gifts for the holidays. They weren’t the most extravagant gifts or the most put-together, but they were gifts and I did my best. My relatives seemed to like them, or at least they pretended to.

Now the 2017 holiday season is upon us. Like last year, this year has been marked with financial difficulties. I’m currently freelancing full-time, I had to pay off a hefty hospital bill, I’ve had to fix some tech issues so that I could actually work from home, and have had to deal with catching several painful colds that made it harder to pitch and complete work regularly. Thanks to all of that and more, I don’t have much of a budget for gifts. 

Which means this year is going to force me to get creative. Really creative. I’m taking things back to my public school roots and making and sourcing a lot of my gifts. Everyone, or at least almost everyone, likes some sort of baked good. I’m going to find a decent cookie and brownie recipe, make a few batches, and give them away to several relatives. In order to give my baked goods a little more of a holiday aesthetic, I’m going to pack them in the boxes I received from a subscription service I had two years ago. I saved the boxes for something and now I can use them! If one of the boxes doesn’t fit the holiday theme, I can cover it with scrap paper or I can just paint over the lid. I’ll also add a little card that reads “Merry Christmas” or “Feliz Navidad” depending on who’s receiving the box of goodies.

As a struggling freelancer who hoards things for times when I might need them, I have plenty of random gift bags, tissue paper, wax paper, and string that I can use to make my gifts a little more festive. If someone I know isn’t really into baked goods, I can use those supplies to spruce up a jar of candies that they like. I know that during the holiday season there are wholesale stores or large pharmacies that sell bags of candy or fancy chocolates. The candies can be put into empty jars that I have also hoarded around my home for “just in case;” all I have to do is scrape the labels off and cover the company names on the lids. All of the goodie packages can be paired with wholesale cards that I found in my basement. Luckily, minimalistic holiday cards don’t go stale—and I can easily personalize them to each friend and family member.

My last resort with gifts? Making “tickets.” I’ll take some of the origami paper or construction paper that I also saved for a “just in case” moment and create “good for one visit” tickets for the friends that I haven’t been able to see as often. The tickets can also be for family members where I promise to hang out with them, complete a chore for them, or help them run errands. Other ticket ideas include cooking a meal, baking a favorite treat, or setting up a mini spa day with pharmacy stuff and recipes that I found on YouTube. I also know a few places in NYC where I can take free or cheap workout classes and I’m considering making “workout day” tickets for my relatives and friends who are into fitness. There are also hiking trails within the five boroughs that can spark an outdoor ticket idea for an outdoorsy friend or curious relative who wants to break out of their usual weekend routine.

Every year that I’ve had to really dig deep and become creative with my gifts, it’s made me more appreciative of having enough free time to bake cookies and craft gift boxes. It’s also made me consider the friends and family members that are closest to me. Despite the financial issues I’ve had this year, I like that I’ve gotten to think about gift giving in a different way—or, perhaps, the way I used to think about gifts when I was a child.

A native New Yorker, a sometimes writer. Follow and connect on Twitter @angelymercado.

This piece is part of The Billfold’s Holidays and Money series.

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