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Create new holiday traditions

Posted: November 25, 2010 10:04 p.m.
Updated: November 26, 2010 4:30 a.m.
Instead of expensive presents this holiday season, try priceless gifts such as making cookies. Instead of expensive presents this holiday season, try priceless gifts such as making cookies.
Instead of expensive presents this holiday season, try priceless gifts such as making cookies.

With many parents struggling to juggle bills, unemployment or underemployment, and even possible foreclosure, families everywhere have learned how to tighten their belts over the last few years.

As the holidays approach, this might now have to include curbing the urge to overspend on gifts and entertaining, an overrated American tradition.

Really though, is this such a bad thing? Perhaps the best way to look at our current economic picture is one of opportunity.

Opportunity to reconnect with family through quality time, rather than the latest gadget.

Opportunity to make things together, whether it’s cookies or crafts.

Opportunity to explore the world outside your doorstep instead of a video game.

Isn’t that what the season is supposed to be about, anyway?

There are many unique ways to make this holiday your most memorable yet on a very modest budget. Here are some ideas:

Gift games
Instead of purchasing a gift for every adult member of the family, set up a gift exchange.

Simply place all participant names in a hat, have each person pick a name, then set a limit ($10 to $20) for gifts. This is not only inexpensive but really fun, allowing for a lot of creativity to find something uniquely personal in that price range.

To make this concept even more budget-friendly, have a “white elephant” exchange with the same price limit, only the gift has to be something already in your possession.

Food that’s fun
Who doesn’t love a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies or brownies? This is one of the best gifts on the planet and costs very little to make. Plus, you can enlist the kids and have fun on the production line.

When making food gifts for everyone on your list, buy ingredients in bulk at places like Smart and Final or Costco. Then buy packaging supplies, such as cellophane, tins, paper bags, ribbons and bows at the 99 Cent Store.

Set aside a day to bake, preferably a day or two before you will give the items out (in order to stay fresh). For recipes, visit or or Google “holiday baking.”

(P.S. Should you want to produce healthier munchies, granola bars or flavored popcorn are a tasty option).
Get crafty

Why spend money on a “Made In China” knick-knack that will get lost in the holiday shuffle?

Instead, make custom gifts at a fraction of the cost, especially when produced in bulk quantities (think one gift for the women and girls on your list, and one for the men and boys).

It may seem hard to believe, but everything from soap to scented oils to ornaments and embellished candles can be made right in your home. For more information, visit or

Perhaps you’re not the craftiest person and could use a little hands-on assistance?

Placerita Canyon Nature Center will host it’s annual Craft Fair on Saturday, Dec. 4 and Sunday, Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with children’s crafts such as pine cones and candles for just $2 each, and wreath-making for adults at just $12, including all materials. For more info, visit

Custom coupons
Here’s an absolutely free way to make someone in your life very happy. Give them coupons good for your time, a chore or something special such as:

n walking the dog or cleaning out the cat box for a week

n yard work or laundry service

n a home-cooked meal of the recipient’s choice

n two or more hours of free babysitting, errand-running, or pet-sitting

n get-out-of-a-chore pass or an extended curfew for one day/night

n two or more hours of quality time of the recipient’s choice

You get the idea. …

There are also several ways to entertain and feed  the family and friends when they visit while still being mindful of your budget.

Here are a few fun suggestions:

If you can no longer afford the cost and time of providing a holiday meal for extended family, try switching to a potluck.
It’s easy.

First, create a list of necessary food items:

n main course (roast, turkey, ham, or vegetarian casserole)

n side dishes (mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, fresh steamed vegetables and cranberry)

n bread or rolls

n drinks (wine, soda, tea or water)

n dessert (pumpkin or fruit pie, brownies, cookies or cake) and assign a category;

Then ask guests to bring an item of their choice under those categories, keeping track of who’s bringing what so there are no duplications.

If someone doesn’t like to cook or can’t afford to bring a dish, assign them to be part of the clean-up crew, such as washing dishes, putting away leftovers or cleaning counters.

One of the main benefits to living in Southern California is the weather.

While other parts of the country are snowed in, we usually have sunny days that are perfect for getting out of the house and working off some of those extra holiday calories. Instead of heading to the movies or an amusement park, which can be exhausting and expensive, plan a hike.

The Santa Clarita Valley has plenty of trail options for every level of hiker — from beginning to intense — and most are free. (Some recreation areas may have a small parking fee of up to $5.)

Make a day out of it and bring water, snacks and/or sandwiches for an impromptu picnic along the way. Dress in layers (jeans, T-shirt, sweatshirt or light jackets) and wear sunscreen.

To find a trail or to look at group hikes provided by the Santa Clarita Valley-based nonprofit Community Hiking Club, visit

Being of service is one of the most gratifying ways to spend your time, at any age. Not only do you get to help others, volunteering is a reminder of how blessed many of us truly are, but sometimes fail to recognize.

If the children in your family are social or like to perform, there are many assisted living facilities in the area that would welcome your visit.

Many of the residents at such places are infirm or bedridden seniors who may not have relatives that come and see them, so a conversation with adults or time with an exuberant child is a real bright spot in their days.

The Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center also welcomes volunteers to help out with daily activities and special events. For more information, visit

For animal lovers, volunteer opportunities abound. The Gentle Barn in Canyon Country offers hands on interaction with farm animals and volunteers get to work in a rustic ranch environment.

The Brittany Foundation no-kill dog rescue welcomes mature volunteers 15 and up, or younger children accompanied by parents, to walk dogs and clean kennels at their Agua Dulce sanctuary.

For more information, visit or

The Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry, Help The Children and the Santa Clarita Valley Emergency Winter Shelter have opportunities to stock shelves, transport or pick up food, meal preparation, or help with distribution, and more. This is a great way to give back to neighbors who are seriously struggling.

For more information, visit,, or


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