While December is truly the heart of the holiday season, November is the month when people often feel the most overwhelmed with holiday fever and, more specifically, the need to stock up on “stuff.” From presents to decorations, “stuff” can easily take over the holiday spirit as early as the first of November (and we all know that in some cases holiday marketing begins during Halloween). We know that with the huge focus on holiday consumerism in America (and elsewhere), it can be hard to keep the focus where it belongs. Here are our twenty favorite tips for keeping the holidays about people instead of things.

Tip Number One: Cooking Celebrates the Spirit of Holiday Food

Whether it’s cooking together as a family, as a couple or cooking by yourself in the kingdom that is your kitchen in order to feed the masses of people whom you love the most (or some lucky people in need this holiday season), giving the gift of food prepared with love is one of the best things you can do on any day of the year. Maybe skip the presents on the tree and go all out on food that you share with others this season. That can mean more food to pack up and take home for your guests. It can mean a donation to a local food charity or even a trip to your local homeless encampment to provide food for the night. It can mean an elaborate dinner of rare and unique foods that others don’t often get to eat. Food may be about sustaining life, but beyond even that it’s about sharing the experience of a meal together. And was anybody surprised that our first tip was about food?

Tip Number Two: Find Meaning in Volunteering

If you’re searching for a reason for the season, it really can be as simple as helping to bring joy (and even compassion) to others. While of course we encourage everybody to volunteer as much as they can for as many days of the year as they can, the holidays can be one of the most important times to find an hour or several in your schedule to assist a worthy cause. Firstly, it will help to mentally encourage you to keep that habit for the next year. But more importantly, it will put you in touch with the actual reason for the season as mentioned above. Christmas and all December holidays are about compassion, caring, help, altruism and making the world a better place full of love and peace. The more you give of yourself without the expectation of anything in return at the holidays, the closer you come to finding the joy associated with that meaning.

Tip Number Three: It’s Business Time. And By Business Time We Mean Sexy Time.

This one is obviously for the people in a committed (or even casual) relationship. We’re sorry other people, but if it’s any consolation we truly believe that the holidays will be the start of the year in which you find your soul mate if you want one. The holidays can be a great time to restart (or escalate) the passion in your relationship. Instead of allowing yourself to get overwhelmed by the stress of the material aspect of the holidays, instead let yourself get relaxed, and we mean extremely relaxed, by making time for intimacy with your partner. And if you want to add a little holiday spice to the mix, change things up in the bedroom with some special stocking stuffers. Naughty is okay when you don’t care if there’s a big wrapped present waiting for you on Christmas morning!

Tip Number Four: Get Your New Year’s Fitness Goals Started … As a Group

If you’re like most people, then January is the month that you start (or restart) your fitness plan. If you’ve found yourself not succeeding at fitness year after year, one of the things that you may want to consider is to go into your fitness goals and plans as a group. Whether that group includes friends, other family members, co-workers or even like-minded individuals whom you find on the internet, having people to share your journey and to help hold each other accountable is a sure fire way to increase your chances of success as well as the likelihood that you’ll enjoy your journey more. And why wait until the New Year to get started? Not only does exercise help to make you healthier, it also reduces stress in your life. Why get stressed about “stuff” when you can get a group together and start working out a month early? It’s a feel-good win/win.

Tip Number Five: Travel to See Distant Friends or Family

We begin this tip by conceding that we know that holiday travel can be unbearable. But often in life the things that are most worth the effort involve some discomfort. While it’s great to travel to see distant friends and family at any time of year, something about the warmth of family associated with the holidays makes it even more delightful to take the trip. There’s just something about being curled up under a blanket by a tree in a warm room with people whom you love but don’t get to see all that often that’s unquestionably special. If you have to choose between spending your holiday budget on “stuff” or on a trip to reconnect with loved ones, is there really any question? Memories last longer than a new radio will!

Tip Number Six: Write Letters, Emails or Cards … To Everybody

If the holidays are all about people and reconnecting, then there’s obviously a limit to how many people you can physically visit and see on the Holiday Tour Trip. But words are words and communication is communication whether it’s written or verbal. Instead of getting in the car to go do battle in the mall parking lot, coming home stressed, laden down with “stuff” and all the financially poorer for it, take some nights in to write to, well, everybody you know. Pour a glass of wine (or the beverage of your choice), turn on some soothing music and start to tell people about your year. And we don’t mean with the holiday “form letter” that you update everybody with. You can include that, but take the time to really, truly write to people in a format that exceeds 140 characters. You’ll find it not only relaxing but a great way to call up memories and feel warm and loved during the holidays – even if the people whom you love are thousands of miles away.

Tip Seven: Organize Your Photos from the Year … Together

In this era of smartphones and cameras that travel everywhere, it’s likely that you end the year with twelve months of photos that capture just about every moment of your life. But it’s also likely that those photos are entirely disorganized. At best they may be mass uploaded to your laptop. At worst they are still sitting on your phone. And if you’re still using a camera for photos, the end of year organization can be just as bad! Take a day to sit down and schedule a photo organization party. Whether it’s a family dinner get-together where you organize the family photos together or a gathering of friends where each of you organizes your own photos while chatting and catching up, the end result will be the same. You’ll all get to relive memories and high points of your year while spending time together. Is there anything more in the holiday spirit than that?

Tip Eight: Adopt a Family in Need

Sometimes the people whom the holiday turns out to be about may not even be people you know. In fact, in some ways it’s the ultimate spirit of the holidays to make them about somebody who is in a moment of need. There are plenty of organizations who will help match an individual or a family with another family who is in need this holiday: Whether that means making sure that there is a present under the tree for a child or making sure that the family has heat and food for the holiday. If you’re reading this article, chances are that you are fortunate enough to not need a helping hand. So make this season the season that you give a helping hand to a family who does. Because holiday adopt-a-family programs are so localized and regionalized, the best way to get started is to Google the term “holiday adopt a family” to find the organization that services your region.

Tip Nine: Snuggle Up and Watch Holiday Shows and Movies

The holidays were made for media, and it’s one of the few times per year when we say that it’s great to not have limits on screen time. After all, sometimes the spirit of the holidays is better captured, shared and felt through story telling than it is through the actions of people around us. Sure, you could give yourself some “me time” with your own personal holiday viewing night. But the truth is that we think that this is an experience that is better when shared. Whether it’s gathering the family around or inviting friends over for an evening of snacks, beverages and holiday movies and TV episodes, you can find camaraderie and holiday spirit without any of the “stuff” in front of your TV screen. And yes, even we are surprised that we said that!

Tip Ten: Take a Child to See The Nutcracker

While we’re in support of some screen time during the holidays, we’re obviously even more in support of the idea of helping the live arts. There’s nothing that we feel is a better way to not only embrace the season but also to get children excited about live arts and events than attending a performance of The Nutcracker. The magical tale of The Nutcracker is a story that children love and it will help them form positive associations with the arts and attending them at a young age. Plus you’ll get the bonding experience of the entire day. Don’t have a child of your own? Borrow one! We are fairly sure that most parents will be more than happy to let their child’s relatives, friends, babysitters or godparents take them to the ballet for the day. And if you don’t have a ballet company nearby, there are plenty of other live holiday events that you can choose from. Check local community centers, newspapers or college campuses for live arts events in the spirit of the season that you can introduce a child to.

Tip Eleven: Go Out to Dinner Instead of Exchanging Presents

One of the best ways to make the holidays about people instead of “stuff” is to find alternatives to “stuff” gift giving. That can be an entire range of “experience gifts,” but we obviously tend to like the ones that involve food. So rather than using that hundred dollars to buy a sweater, use it to treat the recipient of the theoretical sweater to a great shared meal at a restaurant that he or she will love. While you can do this for a group of people or even an entire family, we have to be honest that we like the idea of these presents being one-on-one gifts. You’ll have deeper conversations and possibly even develop a tradition that remains meaningful to you in years moving forward.

Tip Twelve: The Gift of Creation

The friends or family who create together, stay together! At least that’s what we think! Rather than go out and buy “stuff” for the people you want to give gifts to, get crafty or upcycle some items into gifts. Earlier this year, we actually gave you our list of fifty things that are great to upcycle – and that included plenty of items that can be upcycled into gifts. However, a quick search of Pinterest or even the search engine of your choice (yes, there are options other than Google) can also lead to inspiration for creation. You can still give the gift of, well, stuff while making that gift something that isn’t as completely tied to the consumer-takeover of the season. The other benefit of homemade or crafted gifts? It really is true that they’re made with more thought and love. You’ll be thinking of the recipient of the gift the entire time that you’re making it.

Tip Thirteen: Find Your Reason for the Season

This list would frankly be remiss if we didn’t suggest participating in a type of religious or spiritual worship during the holiday season. However, that can mean any number of things on a wide ranging scale. Of course for many individuals, church or temple are not only important parts of the holiday season but also the entire reason for it. Your church, however, may be a trail on the mountains, a quiet space where you can reflect or meditate or even the echoing halls of a library or art museum. We don’t care where you find your spiritual center, but the holiday season is an ideal time to focus some effort towards your spiritual core. It won’t only help relieve or insulate you from consumerism or stress, but it will almost certainly also make you feel more connected with the rest of humanity. Or in other words, people.

Tip Fourteen: Give Where It’s Needed Instead of Where It’s Expected

Opt out of the office gift exchange and put the $20 you’d spend towards somewhere where it’s needed. Think food banks, nonprofits, animal rescues (the cold winter months can be brutal on animals) or even your local church or place of worship. Just because the rest of society is telling you that you have to participate in the “stuff exchange” to belong, it doesn’t mean that you don’t ultimately know better and understand that there are places and people who need your “stuff budget” more than the receptionist, co-worker or client.

Tip Fifteen: Change the World

And we do not mean play an Eric Clapton song! We’ve suggested volunteering and donating so far, but sometimes it takes more than those very noble things to change the world. This holiday season, consider doing something altruistic on the more extreme end. Leave for the holiday vacation season to help build homes for those in need, to offer your services where needed in the developing world or even to join a protest against environmental or social damage. Two weeks of vacation can be relaxing, but it can also be just the right amount of time to make a huge difference in the world.

Tip Sixteen: We’ll Say It – Hit the Bar

It’s not for everybody, but a bar can be one of the most social places on earth and a place to enjoy camaraderie rather than potentially wallow in loneliness as is the stereotype. We’re not suggesting that you spend all twelve days of Christmas or other December holidays getting embarrassingly drunk – and we certainly want you to make sure that you have transportation arranged before you go wassailing. But if your choices are to hit the mall or to hit the bar, we say opt for the later. And no, it does not count if you go shopping first and then only make your way to the bar to recover from that experience! The holidays are even a time when you can likely arrange a get-together of friends or family whom you don’t see often at your local pub – so take advantage of the social opportunity and consider the Irish coffee. It’s a great way to warm up during a cold holiday.

Tip Seventeen: Host a Christmas Eve Party

Be the hostess with the mostest (or the host). Holiday parties of any kind are a win in our book, but Christmas Eve is a time when people are particularly in the spirit of kindness and holiday bliss. Be the person who opens up your doors to families and holiday orphans alike on Christmas Eve for warmth, cheer and all things joy and satisfaction. In fact, you can host a Christmas Eve party while simultaneously embracing other tips for how to make the holidays about people instead of stuff from this list, such as cooking and watching holiday movies and television episodes. Of course, to truly make the holiday about people instead of stuff, you’ll need to avoid the gift exchange or dreaded white elephant exchange at your party. Trust us, people will talk more and play a silly gift-giving game less. Be the center of the party – literally.

Tip Eighteen: Take It Old School and Go Caroling

When was the last time that you had carolers at your home? It’s likely been a while though Christmas carolers are one of the most romantic and traditional associations of the holiday season. As groups of carolers dwindle, why not take matters into your own hands? Call up some friends and family and form your own caroling group. Be sure to pack a flask of something to keep you warm if you’re sharing the gift of holidays songs in a winter climate! Not only will you bond with your partner carolers, make a memory and have a good excuse for a fun get-together afterwards, but you’ll bring the spirit of the holidays to entire neighborhoods of houses and give them the real human contact of the season.

Tip Nineteen: Spend Your Gift Money on Kiva

You can spend your money on “stuff” each holiday, or you can spend it on something that will truly make a difference for somebody out there in the world. We’re certainly not judging either choice that you make, but if you’re leaning toward the latter then we can’t recommend Kiva.org enough. Kiva is a microlending organization where you can “donate” small amounts of $20 or $25. Those amounts are then pulled together with other small “donations” from other lenders and distributed to people looking for business loans to improve their life. Examples include helping farmers in developing nations increase their livestock or helping craftsmen in Africa market their wares globally. The best part is that you’re not actually donating since the organization is a lending organization. Eventually your money is repaid to you and you can turn it around to loan and help another individual.

Tip Twenty: Take a Holiday – Literally

We know that we may be a sucker for a bad eighties song, but the truth is that the spirit of Madonna’s classic hit Holiday is dead on. There’s so much value in gathering a group of people and taking the money that you would be spending on gifts for each other and instead taking a trip together. The experience, culture exposure, and elements of relaxation instead of stress can’t be matched by any material good. And if you want to make it extra special, make it an annual tradition. The bonus is that if you live in a winter environment, a holiday trip may be just the ticket to getting you somewhere more pleasant during the holiday season!

Did we miss an idea about making the holidays about people instead of “stuff” that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.

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