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Extension: Keep the holidays merry and light
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After a year that piled multiple types of stresses on us, the winter holidays are here. Although it’s a season filled with joyous celebrations, it, too, can bring stress to our waistlines, wallets and emotions. I’ve been thinking about strategies to share joy and gifts without putting additional stress on myself or others. Here are some ideas to keep holiday celebrations merry and light.

Light on Your Feasting

Holiday meals can be festive even if the table doesn’t groan under the food offerings and the guests don’t groan as they rise from it. 

Limiting feasting to the holiday helps prevent overspending and overeating. Plan special day meals around a few favorite, seasonal foods that work together prep-wise and allow the cook time to enjoy the celebration, too. Check out UGA’s Food eTalk Facebook page for economical, healthy recipes and menu ideas. 

Cost-free Gifting: Like many people, my household income dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our gifts this year will be thrifty but thoughtful and meaningful. Some ideas include:

White elephant exchange games: One family get together has always included a gift exchange game of “white elephant” or re-gifted items. This approach is budget friendly as well as fun. Each person brings one gift, and leaves with one gift.

It’s the game that’s the event. We draw numbers to see who goes first, and higher-numbered players can select a wrapped gift or steal from another player. Other gift exchange games include auctions, musical pass, and rock-scissors-steal.

Gifts of service: These are great for family members and friends who aren’t up to some types of physical work. My husband is a great painter, so we’ll gift my dad with a freshly painted living room. We recently had to purchase an extendable dryer vent cleaning tool; that service may be a hot white elephant exchange item. Other appreciated service gifts might be blowing leaves or doing the grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor. 

Gifts of skill: Spending time teaching a skill is great for older children. Share your hobbies, like sewing or woodworking, or assist adult children with basic home repair projects, like fixing a leaking faucet or toilet, replacing a ceiling fan, updating outlets and light switches, or changing locks. Give them a tool or two for the project, along with the confidence and independence to handle the next repair.

Gifts that Give: Houseplants are welcome gifts that brighten home and office spaces, and they’re beneficial for mental and physical health. Some houseplants can be grown from cuttings or divisions of plants already in your home. 

Violets propagated from a plant I inherited from my grandmother over 20 years ago now grow in homes across several counties. Landscape plant divisions, cuttings, or seedlings can also be potted for gifts. 

A friendship bread starter is another gift that keeps giving. One starter can be divided into three or four to give as gifts. In its new home, the starter can be fed up and divided to provide the foundation for many variations of bread week after week — and create a new family hobby. Cornell University has a friendship bread starter recipe at

Gifts of Courtesy: Throughout the season – and beyond – we can all give the gift of courtesy. Whether we’re driving, shopping, dining, or working, small acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and common courtesy can lift the spirits of friends, strangers and ourselves.

Positive Outlooks: Finally, keeping a positive outlook is a powerful tool against stress. Although we’re seeing freezing nights, seed catalogs are showing up in mailboxes by day — a testament that spring renewal is on the horizon. Let’s continue to think and speak with confidence that we will get to the other end of the pandemic curve and return to more normal holiday celebrations of life.