FEATURE — As the holiday season approached, Sarah found herself overwhelmed and overburdened. She had always been the one to go above and beyond to make Christmas special for her family. This year, however, the mounting financial strain was taking a toll. Between buying gifts for her extended family, hosting a big Christmas dinner and decorating her home extravagantly, she was exhausted and drowning in expenses.

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Sarah’s situation is not unique. The holiday season, while filled with joy and celebration, can also be stressful, taking a toll on both our physical and mental health and leading to a range of issues, such as sleep disturbances, a weakened immune system and the exacerbation of chronic conditions. 

Additionally, the holidays often bring with them a significant financial burden. The pressure to buy expensive gifts, decorate lavishly and host elaborate gatherings can lead to overspending, debt accumulation and a sense of  financial insecurity. In this consumer-driven culture, it’s crucial to remind ourselves of the true essence of the holiday season, which revolves around creating cherished memories with loved ones rather than the monetary value of gifts exchanged.

Emphasizing the importance of making memories instead of buying expensive gifts can alleviate stress and foster deeper connections among family and friends. Meaningful experiences, such as crafting homemade presents, cooking together or embarking on budget-friendly outings, can be just as, if not more, memorable than costly material gifts. But keep these experiences simple. Use materials on hand and keep tendencies to create elaborate plans at bay.

Simple, shared moments with those we care about not only strengthen bonds but also shift the focus away from materialism and reinforce the spirit of love, gratitude and togetherness that defines the holiday season. By prioritizing the creation of meaningful memories over extravagant spending, families and individuals can reduce stress and find great joy, fulfillment and financial security during this time of year.

Here is a list of fun and simple things you might do individually or with your family and friends to create a memorable Christmas season without breaking the bank:

Decorate the Christmas tree together. Play your favorite holiday music and take turns hanging ornaments while reminiscing about the stories behind them. Don’t rush to get this task off your to-do list, and don’t opt for the perfect tree. Instead, savor the experience.

Make homemade ornaments. Get creative with crafting supplies like glitter, paint and dough. Each family member can design their own, adding a personal touch to your Christmas tree.

Go caroling in your neighborhood. Bundle up in warm clothes, grab some jingle bells and spread holiday cheer by singing traditional carols door-to-door. It is a heartwarming way to connect with neighbors.

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Decorate gingerbread houses. Provide plenty of icing, candy and decorations, and let your imaginations run wild. Rather than baking your own gingerbread, try using graham crackers. It is inexpensive and far less time-consuming.

Watch classic Christmas movies at home. Cozy up on the couch with blankets and popcorn while watching beloved holiday films like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol” or “Home Alone.”

Have a family game night. Playing old-fashioned board games like Bingo, Sorry, Monopoly, Scrabble or Uno creates a night filled with laughter and friendly competition.

Bake and decorate Christmas cookies. Make sugar cookies, gingerbread men and other family favorites. Share your extras with friends and neighbors.

Visit a local holiday light display. Pack some hot cocoa and take a stroll through the Red Hills Desert Garden, located at 375 E. Red Hills Parkway in St. George. The display is free and open through Dec. 31. Lights are on nightly until 1o p.m.

You can also visit Christmas in the Canyon at Tuacahn Monday-Saturday through Dec. 23. There is no admission fee to visit the light display or Santa (visits with Santa run from 6-8:30 p.m.) Tickets for the live nativity are $5 per person, and tickets to ride the train are $3 per person.

Host a holiday-themed craft night. Make wreaths, stockings or DIY holiday cards. Deliver the finished crafts and cards to a local assisted living center.

Volunteer at a local charity. Kindness and generosity can be in short supply during the holidays, so give back to your community by volunteering at a food bank or shelter. Visit justserve.org for additional suggestions.

Organize a Secret Santa exchange. Create a sense of excitement and anticipation by drawing names and secretly exchanging small, thoughtful gifts and messages with family members or friends. Serve hot chocolate or cider at a simple “reveal” gathering.

Create a Christmas-themed scavenger hunt. Clues can lead to hidden Christmas surprises around the house, neighborhood or community. It is a thrilling way to engage everyone in the entire group.

Have a cozy holiday reading night with Christmas stories. Gather in the living room with a stack of holiday books and take turns reading classic Christmas stories aloud by the light of the tree.

Shop for simple gifts made locally at area stores, Christmas markets and craft fairs. Forego the rush and crush at big box retail stores. You will discover unique gifts and tasty treats while enjoying a quieter, more festive atmosphere. The Tuacahn Saturday Market is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Downtown Farmers Market is held most Saturdays at Vernon Worthen Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (downtownfarmerstg.com).

Another great local place to shop is the Modern Farm and Artisan Co-op (MoFACo). It is located at 55 N. Main St. in St. George and features the products of local artisans.

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Sing Christmas songs and have a mini talent show. Create a mini concert in your living room by singing your favorite Christmas carols. Let the kids showcase their talents, whether it’s singing, dancing or playing an instrument.

Host a potluck-style holiday dinner with extended family or friends. Everyone can bring their favorite holiday dish. It’s a way to bring people together and enjoy a festive feast without a huge outlay of time and money.

Create a holiday-themed playlist and have a dance party. Compile a playlist of your favorite Christmas songs and let loose, grooving to the holiday beats. For added fun, pass out glow sticks and dance in the dark.

Drive through local neighborhoods and look at Christmas lights. There are some amazing outdoor light displays that you can view from the cozy comfort of your car. 

Set up a holiday-themed photo booth and take family pictures. Take goofy and memorable photos using festive props and backdrops. Email your photos to family and friends with a short holiday message or upload on a digital picture frame.

Take a winter nature walk. Choose from one of the area’s many bike or hiking trails. It’s a great way to be together while getting in some extra exercise.

Written by DIANE DEL TORO. 

This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of St. George Health and Wellness magazine.

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