Our Festive, Frugal, and Merry Holiday Traditions
On the heels of our mega Uber Frugal Month download on Monday (you can still sign-up to join the Challenge!), I thought we could use a bit of festive frivolity and cheer. Plus, you all know I’m a rampant holiday lover, so really I just wanted an excuse to wax about the season.
I firmly believe that celebrating frugally isn’t merely possible, it’s preferable. It removes stress over gift giving, highlights the actual reason for the season, and allows Mr. Frugalwoods and I to relax by the wood stove and enjoy some yuletide gin and tonics (they’re actually just plain old gin and tonics, but if I tie a ribbon around our glasses, voilà, yuletide. Don’t judge, you know I hate crafts). For us, Christmas is about relaxing. And it’s relatively easy to relax when you’re not spending money and when you’re not concerned about impressing anyone and when you’re content with simplicity (and a yuletide gin and tonic).
I’m particularly excited this year since Babywoods is old enough to (sort of) celebrate alongside us. Mr. FW and I both grew up with lovely Christmas traditions (thank you mom, dad, mom-in-law, dad-in-law), and over the 8 Christmases of our marriage, we’ve molded, blended, and adapted those traditions to fit our own little frugal family. We took Babywoods to see Santa Claus (aka our neighbor) at our local library and it was an ideal, low-key, candy-free event where every kid got a free book! Our kind of gathering for sure.
It’s also true that Mr. FW and I are a retailer’s Christmas nightmare. We don’t buy into the overconsumption panoply of presents and we didn’t even buy any tacky Christmas sweaters. But our season is no less jolly and no less decked with holly. It’s merely less focused on spending money and more focused on spending time together. A note on travel: since plane tickets are inordinately expensive in late December, we often go see family in January or February, when airline prices are usually the lowest of the entire year.
Oh Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding
The cornerstone of our holidays is always food. Probably because I love food. Probably also because it’s our chance to throw our usually healthy, careful diet out the window and instead relish things made with butter. Other ingredients too, but let’s be honest here, mostly butter.
From Mr. FW’s family comes the most amazing (and butter-laden) Christmas morning concoction: The Breakfast Casserole. This thing defies “good” and crosses over into the realm of heavenly. I kid you not. Frugal Hound 100% concurs as she receives a tidbit-o-sausage during Mr. FW’s prep work. To honor the original, handwritten recipe from my mother-in-law, here it is in unadulterated form:
Another culinary gift from my in-laws is the Pennsylvania Dutch Shoo Fly Pie, which is ideal when munched with afternoon coffee or following a piece of Breakfast Casserole (or really, any other time you happen to come into contact with one). These molasses-based pies aren’t overly sweet and they also aren’t for every palate, but I adore them. Pretty sure my mother-in-law decided I was approved to enter the family after I started baking Shoo Fly Pies for our holidays. My mother-in-law’s recipe is at right.
From my family comes a shortbread cookie and frosting recipe, which I crave on an annual basis (ok, actually, I crave it every week, but in deference to decorum and my waistline, I only make it once a year). I remember rolling these cookies out with my mom each Christmas and I cannot WAIT until Babywoods is old enough to bake them with me (which, based on her proclivity for shoving everything in her mouth, will be another few years… ).
I don’t usually make cookies on account of how labor intensive they are (FAR more work involved than sweet breads or pound cakes). But, ’tis Christmas and I want to preserve tradition (and also compulsively dip cookies in frosting while watching Love Actually, happy crying, and drinking wine). Here’s my mom’s cookie recipe (although I use butter instead of margarine):
Our main dish for Christmas changes every year depending on what we feel like having (and what Mr. FW feels like cooking). We go ultra traditional for Thanksgiving (probably because we host my in-laws every year), but for Christmas, which is usually just the two of us, we sort of wing it.
A few favorites are chicken spiedini (a recipe from one of my best friends) and pasta with red sauce (this was a traditional holiday meal for my half-Italian family). My friend’s spiedini recipe at right for your spiedini enjoyment.
Drinks are also a key component of any festive gathering we host (which you might’ve guessed based on our seltzer and coffee adorations). I am a gin and tonic enthusiast, though I never make them during the year (probably a good thing… ) but at Christmas, yes to G and T’s (seltzer water does work in lieu of tonic, but it’s not quite as good). Other favorites include hard apple cider, champagne, and mulled wine (regular wine is OK too).
The only time Mr. FW and I watch movies is at Christmas. The rest of the year, movies are too much of a time commitment (aka I fall asleep halfway through). But at Christmas, we break out our favorites: Love Actually, Home Alone, A Christmas Story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph... (can you tell we’re children of the ’80s?).
‘Twas The Night Before Christmas
Every single Christmas Eve, my parents read us “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” I am thrilled we can begin this tradition with our daughter, who is newly enchanted with books. Reading is a passion of our parents, of us, and it’s something we dearly hope Babywoods will inherit. I can’t think of a better way to tuck her into bed on December 24th.
I also grew up going to midnight mass–which was usually at more like 10:30pm. My parents would put me to bed in my Christmas dress and tights and then wake me up, bundle me into the car with my brother and sister, and off to church we’d go. It always felt magical since I was tiny and still half asleep. Fortunately, our church here has Christmas Eve service at the very reasonable time of 5pm, which is much more manageable in my opinion as a parent.
Deck The Halls
We use the same decorations year after year (it’s not like they’re going out of style anytime soon), which means our annual decorating budget is $0. Since we have an artificial tree, there was the initial start-up cost of the tree itself, but, we bought it six years ago and it’s still going strong. Plus, with a baby and a dog who both eat things off the floor, it’s nice not having dropped needles to contend with.
All the rest of our decor was either purchased on sale years ago or, better yet, was a hand-me-down from our families. I love having reminders of our childhoods sprinkled throughout the house.
The Best Part
The best part about our holiday is that it costs us very, very little. Greeting cards, gifts for our families, a donation to the angel tree at church, and groceries are the sum total of our expenditures. And while yes, it’s certainly more than if we skipped Christmas altogether, I’m a fan of all things in moderation.
By constructing our lives around the principles of extreme frugality, spending a tad more during the month of Christmas is no big deal. Celebrating Christmas within reason also makes our frugality tenable for the long term: we don’t deprive ourselves of the things we love, and we certainly don’t skip Christmas. Our frugality isn’t deferred spending–it’s not like next year we’ll have some sort of hugely expensive Christmas. Rather, our joyful, lifelong frugality ensures that we’ll always have precisely what we need without giving in to excess.
And now, I’d love to hear all about your traditions! What do you cook? Where do you go? How do you celebrate?
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