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updated: 12/9/2011 8:21 AM

Don't love Christmas? Consider an alternative

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  • Gift-giving can get out of hand and add to the stress of Christmas. Ken Potts offers suggestions for reining in the retail aspects of the holiday to help put the focus on family and faith.

    Gift-giving can get out of hand and add to the stress of Christmas. Ken Potts offers suggestions for reining in the retail aspects of the holiday to help put the focus on family and faith.
    Courtesy of Jupiter Images


One seasonal milestone has passed -- the family Thanksgiving dinner.

Now we're entrenched in another: the shop-until-you-drop weeks after Thanksgiving. I'd actually forgotten this until I tried to take the mail out of our mailbox the other day.

I couldn't.

The Christmas catalogs were wedged in so tightly that they, the other mail, and, for a moment, my hand, all were impossible to extract.

I'll be perfectly honest; I don't really like the whole gift-giving part of our Christmas celebration. I love getting together with family and friends, and I am sometimes deeply moved by the religious significance that my particular faith tradition places on this holiday.

I've become pretty cynical, though, about the role Christmas plays in the retail economy.

That leads me to the point of this column. I want to suggest some ways to celebrate the season without getting seduced by the selling. These are just a few ideas, but I hope they will at least get us thinking about what we can do to control the mounting holiday hysteria.

• Forget the gifts and invest time and energy in special people: We seldom remember the gifts we give or receive for more than a few weeks anyway. Time with people we care about creates memories that last a lifetime.

• Set limits: If you do exchange gifts, agree on a spending limit. The number of families still paying off Christmas bills in June is frightening, and it isn't worth it.

• Choose names: A lot of larger families do this. Buy a gift for one or two other family members rather than one or two dozen.

• Donate to charity: Take a percentage of your gift budget and make a charitable donation. Give the people you usually buy gifts for a note saying a gift has been made in their name to that charity.

• Give the gift of time: One year, one of our cash-strapped kids gave us a coupon book redeemable for time together doing things she knew we liked to do. Some also were "service" coupons redeemable for work around the house. We enjoyed this gift the entire year.

• Give to others: A number of families I know have the tradition of coming together at Christmas to work in a food pantry, staff a PADS shelter or deliver gifts to needy families.

• Don't do Christmas: We live in a multicultural society that includes a variety of religious traditions. As secular as it has become, Christmas still is a holiday rooted in the Christian tradition.

If this is not our faith orientation -- if we claim a different faith, or if we simply don't find any particular faith tradition meaningful -- then we can always just let go of the whole Christmas thing. There are certainly other worthwhile ways to spend time and energy.

The closer Dec. 25 gets, the more pressure we'll feel to try to do Christmas the "right" way. Maybe we could give up doing it the "right" way and just do it "our" way.

• The Rev. Ken Potts' book "Mix, Don't Blend: A Guide to Dating, Engagement, and Remarriage with Children" is available through retailers.

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