Aging Well: Time and thought go a long way during the holidays

Editor’s note: This article originally was published Dec. 15, 2008.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that some of the most memorable Christmases in my family also had been the toughest financially.

Looking back, I see how traditions and activities — long visits with grandparents, sledding, music, crafts and cutting the holiday tree — easily overpowered the lack of money for expensive gifts or trips.

Rather than allowing a tight budget to put a damper on the holidays, many families are rethinking how they do the holidays, said Karen Massey, family and consumer science agent at the Routt County Extension office.

This can involve getting back to or creating new family traditions as well as spending more thought and time on gifts that reinforce family values and bonds.

“With just a little creativity, people could really shift the emphasis of the holidays,” Massey said.

More time, less money

Lessening the importance of gifts during the holidays can require some family discussion. Having everyone on the same page opens the door for families to start fun traditions that will minimize money spent on gifts and maximize time spent together, Massey said.

A holiday tradition can be as simple as putting together a puzzle, getting out an electric train or taking advantage of abundant outdoor opportunities in the Yampa Valley.

Packing a winter picnic and spending the day finding the perfect Christmas tree, sledding at Howelsen Hill or spending an afternoon at Old Town Hot Springs are just a few ideas for fun and relaxing outings families can look forward to every year.

Gift certificates for ski rentals, lift tickets, golf lessons, a guided fly fishing trip or a hot air balloon ride are gift ideas that will encourage more family time together.

This idea applies to other gifts as well.

A grandparent, for example, might give a grandchild a youth cookbook with notes about which recipes the grandparent and child will make together.

“The child will really enjoy the idea of the gift if they know they will get to spend time with grandma or grandpa,” Massey said.

Mindful giving

Tough times may have some holiday shoppers thinking more about where they spend their money. Spending closer to home supports local businesses and also pumps sales tax dollars into community programs and services.

Gift certificates for local services that friends or loved ones, especially older adults, enjoy or need but may no longer be able to afford will be well-received.

Spa treatments, car detailing or repair, computer repair, house cleaning, pet care, restaurants, clothing stores, movies or theatre, snow removal or lawn service, groceries, gas and newspaper subscriptions are among a long list of options.

“There are so many valuable services that a lot of locals don’t think about or tap into,” Massey said.

Older adults also might appreciate phone cards, stationary, stamps and knitting or hobby supplies.

A donation to a charity on behalf of a loved one can be a wonderful gift, especially if that person is no longer able to dedicate time or money to a cause close to their heart.

Some of the best gifts cost little to no money at all but instead share a person’s or child’s experience and skills with someone they love.

Massey’s mother, for example, has given a family heirloom to each grandchild with a story about why it’s important. In return, her grandchildren each year provide a new page for their grandmother’s “giving book” — a collection of stories and pictures showing how her grandchildren have given back to their communities.

Homemade gifts are an ideal way to engage children in arts and crafts while making them feel good about giving a grandparent, teacher or friend a gift they made.

Framed finger paintings from toddlers or dazzling ornaments made of Styrofoam balls covered in sequins (secured with push pins) are among many, many ideas.

An older child or teenager with a flair for puzzles, computers or music might make a mix CD of holiday music or a clever crossword puzzle.

These types of activities reinforce the value of time over money while providing memorable gifts to loved ones who really don’t need more material “stuff.”

Homemade holiday cards or cards with personal notes or letters to each recipient can go a long way in reaching out to friends and family afar.

“The holidays are going to be more meaningful in the long run. … It’s about giving a little more of yourself and not relying on money to cover up for the time not spent finding a thoughtful gift,” Massey said.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information or to view past articles, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7676.

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