Save like Nana did. Free ways to make Christmas special.

I have heard people say they are not celebrating Christmas this year due to lack of money.   While it is wonderful to be able to put on a beautiful Christmas dinner and buy gifts and the whole nine yards Christmas is not about these things.  Even in war times (and maybe especially) people celebrated Christmas anyway they could.  Christmas has a feeling attached to it that even when I think if it tears well up in my eyes.  No, no,  no we cannot cancel Christmas.    

So here is my list of free ways to celebrate and make it special.  I hope you will add in your ideas as well.  The photos in this post are from Chloe and Vicky, thank you both!!  

Most years when I was growing up our Christmas tree was actually the branch from a larger tree.  As kids we never knew the difference.    Make a small tree seem bigger by sitting it up on a box or table.   Vicky found her tree when someone discarded it and she cleaned it up.   To a child pretty much any tree is spectacular!!    We have pine trees around us so I can freely cut branches and add them to my decor... this gives the house the scent you want without spending a cent.

Decorate with natural elements.   We have pinecones we can collect for free,  also gum nuts that look like bells.  I also come across deer antlers!    Just perfect!  

Save brown paper all year.  I get a lot in parcel packing... and boxes.  There is no wrapping as lovely as good old brown paper.   Boxes lined with brown paper make great trays for presenting baked gifts.  

Go through your lace, twine and ribbon supplies.   Lace around brown paper looks gorgeous!!  But so does good old twine!  Add a few leaves or gum nuts or whatever you have in your area.   

Use decorations you have.  Nana would never have even thought of buying new decorations every year.   Most were either very old or made by us.  There were two sparkly birds,  one blue and one silver... and an angel.  I was completely besotted with them all and Nana must have saved decorating the tree for when we were there as I remember helping.   So that is a free tip too.... make decorating an activity for the kids as they love it so much.  

When I was little the John Martins Christmas Pageant was the annual event we watched on TV.   This was so exciting and it meant it was officially Christmas time!   My girls always watched it too.   Later we attended various street Christmas parades,  these were all free as well.

In Adelaide there were countless free activities.  Along the river a famous brewery annually put on the most stunning lights and we could all walk along the river to admire them.   Light displays along our. own street were beautiful to look at after dark.   I am sure most towns and cities have displays and events to attend for nothing.

Attend Carols by Candlelight and go to Church.  The atmosphere is just lovey and so moving. 

One year our church hired a bus and we all piled on to go around the town singing Christmas carols.  It was so much fun!  

Most towns,  even the tiny little ones,  have a Father Christmas event.  Country towns are great at this with Father Christmas arriving in a fire truck or some other adventure!   Make the most of these.   My parents put on many Christmas parties on the farm.   They always cooked up amazing surprises for the kids.   One year was a picnic and a plane flew over and dropped lollies.  We all had to duck under trees while they fell then it was a massive treasure hunt.   A friend of Dad's had a light plane and he lined this all up.  The kids were told Father Christmas was flying over!   Another year at a picnic Father Christmas came over the hill on a horse!  So exciting!!   There was always something that resulted in the kids going crazy with excitement.   

Set the table.  Use what you have!  Bust out the good stuff!   Make a table centre,  be creative with nature or items on hand.   If you want snow sprinkle everything with Epsom salts or Icing sugar.  😊

Write something special as you write a card.  Take a moment more with a note of love,  thanks or praise. 

Write a thank you letter or note to someone who helped you or was kind during the year.  A letter like this is a better gift to a teacher than another mug!  Letting people know you NOTICED and appreciated their service and impact is going to really bless that person.

Send a bunch of ecards.  There are countless free sites that give you gorgeous Christmas e cards, all you have to do is add an email address and message.  This gives you a free way to do something special for basically anyone world wide!

Allow kids to eat their supper under the tree.  My girls would have a pillow and lay under the tree and lights and thought this was just magical.  

Do something that people who pass by your home can enjoy if possible.  Even tinsel on the letter box,   lights that can be seen from the road...  whatever you might have.   All the little scenes in windows and front yards add to the feeling of Christmas when we walk or drive around town.  They also say "hey we haven't given up, Merry Christmas!"

Maybe you have excess towels or blankets,  clothing etc and now would be a good time to donate it.   Many human and animal charities are overwhelmed at Christmas and donations are needed.

Be a ray of sunshine, wish people a Merry Christmas, especially the staff in shops as they deal with a lot of grumpy people every day. 

When the girls were little they could never go to sleep on Christmas Eve.  I made it a tradition to take them driving around the town to see all the beautiful lights and decorations.   By the time we got home they were both asleep.  I carried them inside, stuck them in bed and they woke up Christmas morning!   

Visit someone lonely or elderly.   When you brighten someone else up you brighten yourself up more!

Sneak along the street and decorate peoples letter boxes with tinsel or whatever you may have.  Someone did this to our letter box in the city.  I never found out who!  But it was lovely! 

If you have solar fairy lights... they are gorgeous and give a magical glow.  They just add atmosphere!

Watch old Christmas movies,   I remember how much we laughed at Home Alone and Chloe to this day re watches that and still laughs herself silly.   Now my Grandkids watch it.   Many of the old movies were very beautiful and or very funny.  

While not completely free... bake a on of biscuits, (cookies) slices, fudge, coconut ice or whatever is your speciality.  Let the kids decorate them and share them around. 

Take some family photos and send to Grandparents, Aunts and others who would love to see them.

You can watch midnight Mass in Bethlehem live on You tube.   Actually you can watch so many life Christmas events and services from all over the world! 

NORAD live tracker tracks Santas journey and is super gorgeous and free!   It started when NASA made a kids programme to track Father Christmas.   It's amazing! 

This afternoon I have been wrapping presents and cakes.   They are all different,  using ribbons I have collected (and packing I have saved) but they all look nice.  I am happy!   I hope they will bless people which is,  after all,  the whole point!    Each little thing we do and  plan we make,  builds our Christmas up!   

I hope you can add to my list.   What are your morale boosting,  frugal but lovely,  Christmas tips?  

We are coming to the end of the Nana series... I have big plans for


  1. Annabel this is a beautiful post and just speaks to my heart.
    One of the things that we look forward to every year is the Christmas pudding. A pudding does not cost a lot of money to make. The cooking time is the longest part to making a pudding. When the kids were little they made the pudding with me. We always made sure that we stirred as much love as possible into the pudding.
    Now Katie makes a pudding to take to her Husbands family feast. The family look forward to the pudding.
    I make the little ones a Christmas outfit each year. I make these out of gifted fabrics. Last year the little girls had dresses made from a table cloth. This means that the little ones have a special Christmas outfit at very little cost.
    Your packaging is beautiful. I make drawstring bags for the gifts that I give. The fabric has been gifted. You could easily use old linens for this. The gift tags are Christmas cards I received the year before. I have a tag punch which I use on the cards.
    There are so many tutorials on youtube on making Christmas ornaments. I saw one today where a cardboard box was cut into small Christmas tree shapes. The foliage part was wrapped in old green yarn and glued on. The trunk had brown wool wrapped around it. Super cheap and just lovely.
    I have a friend who made her Christmas tree. It is on a wall. She used cards blue tacked to the wall in a triangle format. She then had ribbon going from one card to the next. She cut out a star and placed it at the top. It looks wonderful, takes up no room and is a definite Christmas tree. She then places presents under it.
    Christmas is a special time of the year. Last year I had Covid and spent the day alone in the caravan in the backyard. I hated how lonely it felt. Keep an eye on those who spend Christmas alone.

    1. My dear mother would always make me a new flannel nightgown for Christmas, and she would often make my favorite doll a matching nightgown. Thanks for prompting that memory!

      Roberta in So. Cal.

  2. Beautiful ideas! I think if we all followed your suggestions, we would truly feel the peace and blessings of Christ's birth! I've done lots of these things growing up, and some things still do. I like the simple ideas of driving around, looking at lights, baking cookies for gifts, and caroling, which (caroling) used to be so central. And it is a big time for celebration and if you miss that specialness, of the true meaning of Christmas, then you miss out! andrea

  3. Thank you for the inspiration! This post is just what we all need!
    Gift ideas I have used and were well received:
    - Pick up a calendar (I was able to find free ones at local stores such as our feed store) and fill in a square or two each month with a “gift” for your child. I used ideas such as you get to choose dinner tonight, we will watch the movie of your choice today, hot chocolate and book reading together today, we will go for a hike today, etc. I also wrote Bible verses in boxes sprinkled throughout the calendar.
    - For an elderly grandmother who lives far away, I gave a monthly newsletter subscription in which I wrote a letter each month telling her what our family had been up to. This has lasted for 6 or 7 years now. Unbeknownst to me for years, the grandmother has saved every letter in a binder and plans to give it back to me one day - I will have a history of our little family - written by me!
    - Get out of school free coupon for each child in their stocking! I believe planning and dreaming the day brought more excitement than actually using the coupon.
    - After a particularly busy year, my kids and I gifted my husband with a coupon for a staycation long weekend. We had paper plates so no dishes had to be washed, planned local activities, picnics, and movies at home. He loved it!
    - For a friend who gets the winter blues, I made a January survival box. Each day contained a card with a note of encouragement and verse or quote. Some of the days contained small, inexpensive gifts such as a pack of gum, bookmark, photo of a loved one, lotion, lip balm, etc.
    - For each child I have copied their favorite recipes and put them into a recipe binder or box. My husband made a wooden recipe box for our son when I couldn’t find a manly looking one at the store!
    Merry Christmas!

  4. My husband remembers a fabulous Christmas when they got up and the entire living room floor was covered with gifts. As an adult he told his Mom how much he loved that Christmas and she laughed and said most everything they bought that year was $1 or less because they had very little money. She wrapped them all in white tissue paper because that was all they could afford and spread them out all over the floor to make it look like more. Well it worked!

    We got to sleep under the Christmas tree one Friday night in December when we were kids. We spread out our sleeping bags and cozied up under the tree. It was magical. Christmas Eve we always had a picnic on the floor around the tree. We always drank out of Santa mugs that night. Mom had a collection of them and we got to choose one. We had a street in our neighborhood that each house decorated a tree out at the street all the way down the street. We grew up in Florida so it wasn't awfully cold so one evening we always walked there and down that street. It was beautiful. Then we came home to hot cocoa.

    Get out the Christmas mugs for your coffee and get out the special dishes that you have used year after year. I have plastic plates here for the small grandchildren that have a snowman on them that makes them feel special. Those things make December feel special. Make cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Play Christmas music. We have a player piano so we get out the rolls of Christmas music and play them and keep them out for others to play when they are here. Last Friday we had some friends over for breakfast since we won't see them again in December. We got out the Christmas mugs and served a full breakfast which did not cost much. We had a lovely time with our friends.

  5. I would watch for sales of individual food items ie.juice boxes and each child got a box of treats. Some treats were for the Christmas but others they took to school to add to their packed lunch. All their choice.

  6. We have always had an advent Sunday tradition of having a special candlelit teatime with the children each advent Sunday. Traditions are what children remember and they become part of your family history. I’ve year we thought the teenagers were too old for setting up the train around the tree… oh no! The train must be there or it just wasn’t a Christmas tree! Little traditions don’t cost a lot, but mean so much 😊

    1. Your advent tea time is a wonderful idea! xx Jen in NS

  7. Thanks for this great list Annabelle. I'm reminded of when you took decorations to the ladies in the senior home when you lived in Adelaide--that was such a lovely way to bless others. When my son was still in Scouts, the troop would sometimes go to carol at a local assisted living facility. The residents just loved it.

    Listen to Christmas carols/songs on the radio, CDs, streaming service, etc. We break out the Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving and listen to it as we decorate the house (with decorations we reuse each year; some are decades old!) and then keep playing them until we take everything down on New Year's Day.

    Read Christmas stories/books. There are tons of children's books with just fabulous illustrations. We tried to purchase at least one book a year when my son was little and then read them all each year, but if a book purchase doesn't work for the budget on a particular year there are always books at the library! Now that my son is in college, I sometimes still get the seasonal books out just to use as decor. Hopefully one day I'll have grandchildren who can enjoy the books too.

    We also love to drive around to look at the light displays (some local neighborhoods really go all out), go to the Live Nativity program put on by our church, watch holiday movies (DVDs we purchased years ago or stream), drink hot cocoa/spiced cider by the fireplace, attend our city's Christmas parade, take family hikes if the weather is nice, bake cookies (or just eat treats that my husband receives from his students--ha!), and attend our church's Christmas services. There are really lots of ways to celebrate that are either free or very low cost.

    Roberta in So. Cal.

  8. We must never cancel Christmas! We can do so much if we focus on the spirit of Christmas. This year I've been having so much fun slowing down and focusing on the little things that don't cost a lot of money if any. Doing Blogmas this year has been one of those things.

    When I told my youngest granddaughter that I had met the Grinch and shared a picture with her, the conversation went like this ...

    Grandma (me): "look who grandma got to meet today."

    Granddaughter: "Oh no, he can steal all your presents and your tree!"

    Grandma: "He was trying to, but we sang to him and his heart grew really big and he put all the presents back!"

    Granddaughter: made a 'awwwww' face!

    You just can't put a price on something like that and it is a memory that this grandma will always treasure!

  9. A free Christmas tradition we do for our grandkids is to have lots of free Christmas coloring pages printed out from the computer. We have a large shoebox of crayons left over from their parents childhood. Sometimes we roll out a length of white paper we got given and they love making a mural sized picture together. Paper chains in red, white, and green have also been a big hit.- Kathryn from Washington state

  10. Many children enjoy being read to. An idea that stuck with me through the years was to borrow children’s Christmas storybooks from the library, wrap each in paper, and place in a basket. Each evening, the children can pick a book, unwrap it, and enjoy reading time!

    Our kids loved the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingles Wilder. There were many Christmas scenes shared throughout the book series. Undoubtedly, these scenes were favorites!!

  11. I agree with everything said so far! Christmas music playing, candles lit, carols sung, Christmas stories read...especially for the little kids..., church service (it is MAGICAL at Christmas!), hot chocolate or cider or even a spiced tea, Christmas movies at home, a Christmas craft from supplies at home (or art year the girls drew all kinds of Christmas pictures with colored markers on saved brown paper, and we then used that to wrap our gifts. I still have that paper!!!), Christmas puzzles saved from other years to work on together, visits with friends and neighbors to wish them Merry Christmas...just sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea together and having a chin wag is such a great way to celebrate, community or church carol sings (or get your family and/or friends together and go caroling!), lots of libraries have free events on, especially for kids (and ours has Christmas magazines from years past that can be checked out for free for fun reading, plus puzzles and games and movies that can also be borrowed, as well as books), dressing up for dinner at home to make Christmas dinner a little more special, going out for a nature walk together, or if you're somewhere snowy, going out tobogganing at the park (or in your yard)...or even making snowmen and snow angels! All sorts of fun. Coupons for time spent together or passing on a skill can be given as free gifts. Even a batch of popcorn with butter and cinnamon sugar can be fun! I just love this post! Looking forward to reading all the suggestions! Lots of love,

    Jen in NS

  12. This is such a lovely post. I agree that even if someone doesn't have money for stacks and stacks of gifts it can still be wonderful to celebrate if one chooses to. Playing in the snow (if there happens to be some where you live), making different types of ice sculptures using different containers, and treats can be made, but on a smaller scale. Ma Ingalls made two little heart shaped cakes for the girls one Christmas. Treats don't have to be a massive baking session. Even challenging the family to be creative to see what they can come up with. Kids love to be involved in this. One year my boys made me snow people out of socks that the mates were never found and made snowflake sugar cubes for their grandmothers and cards for everyone.
    A lovely table is free to do and makes any meal cheery and nice.
    A nature walk is free and fun especially if your looking for pinecones and things to dry or use as greenery.
    I look forward to reading everyones comments!
    If money is really tight celebrations can be held later. Christmas clearances can be good and gifts can be had alot cheaper. While not free it is an option.

    1. Your comment reminded me that kids (and adults for that matter) can make paper snowflakes—all it takes is paper and scissors. One year I found a book with instructions at the library; I imagine instructions can be found online as well.

  13. Wonderful post. I can't imagine cancelling Christmas. With 8 children and a small pocketbook, I have always had to get creative. Stockings are filled with small gifts from the Dollar Store. My children love Linder ball chocolates. So I purchase those at a discount store that carries overstock items. Many gifts are handmade: house slippers, night gowns, PJ pants, cardigan sweaters... We chose to just give homemade fudge and sweet breads to all our friends and relatives. Sure I paid a little in postage, but homemade goodies are much more special than a $10 bill.
    One year, we went carolling to a nearby nursing home. The kids loved it so much that they asked to go back! So we spent a few afternoons making cards and went back on Valentine's Day.
    So many special times!
    I believe we are meant to focus on the needs of others while we celebrate Christ's birth. This is what makes Christmas special.
    Love, Leslie in Ohio

    1. When my son was little I would purchase extra school supplies when they were on sale in the fall and use some of them (pencils, erasers, crayons/markers, post-it notes, etc.) as stocking stuffers. He enjoyed them, and we didn’t have to pay full price to restock his supplies the second half of school.

      Roberta in SoCal

  14. We eat off our Christmas dishes for the entire month of December. I know that not everyone has a set of Christmas dishes, but plenty of us do. If you like this idea but don't have the dishes, look around at what you do have to make your table festive--a red tablecloth, perhaps, a centerpiece made from pinecones, green napkins, white name it. My kids loved it when they were little and I broke out the Christmas dishes. They are 45 and 47 and they still love it!

  15. So heartwarming to read everyone's post. Our family and extended family still has a tradition of handmade gifts. We very very rarely do any Christmas shopping at the mall or other places. We also love getting together, putting all the supplies we have in the middle of the table and make our own Christmas cards. Everyone brings a snack to share and we have a great day of love and laughter and fellowship. One craft for the tree was to use egg shells where we blew out the eggs and then carefully cut out a circle in the front and glued in tiny items that were found at thrift stores to make little dioramas and those ornaments were hung on the tree. The kids also loved stringing popcorn to put on the tree. A local Ma and Pa restuarant on the weekends always had a Christmas brunch. Our group of friends and all of our kiddos cut down our own perfect trees and then went to brunch afterwards. Then home to put up the tree. It was such great fun and created so many memories. Back in the day every December we had an open house for all of our family and friends. I made three different types of soup for the event and homemade rolls and cookies to serve. It was a very economical and fun event that we all looked forward to.
    If you have young children and even older children at home since it is the birthday of Jesus, is to bake a birthday cake for Him as part of the celebration and dessert. Cookie

  16. Dear Annabel, what a beautiful post. I have been really enjoying the little things this year. Most of my ideas have been mentioned. I source Christmas books at the thrift store and library and have a box out in the lounge room to choose from. We read books and the kids eat chocolate. We make paper chains. My Dad and I like to order a key ingredient for our Christmas meal in a country town nearby. This way we may spend a little on petrol, but we have the whole day out with the kids, we have a picnic and it’s just a lovely day trip. I like to use cookie cutters and cut even toast up to Christmas shapes. We make play dough and have Christmas decoration competitions, using what we have buttons. Gum nuts etc We love getting a McDonalds ice cream and seeing the lights. Delivering small gifts to the neighbours is another way to bring cheer. We also go to the library, they have free events, craft and colouring in all on Christmas. Lots of love Lily

  17. These are all such lovely ideas! And beautiful photos as well.

    Instead of purchasing advent calendars, you can make one with things to do each day rather than chocolates. This could be as simple as folded paper notes or more elaborate if you have the supplies. Each note has an activity for the day. For example, watch a Christmas movie, go to the Christmas parade, make a decoration, bake something for your neighbour etc. There could be a few chocolates or sweets mixed in as well.

    Mimi’s blog A Tray of Bliss has so many beautiful posts on celebrations and gift giving, it’s worth exploring. Not all are free but many are, and there are some beautiful ideas for teenage girls. Mimi had a real flair for making simple things look like they belonged in a boutique gift shop!

    Thanks for so many great ideas!
    Jen (NZ)

  18. Thank you for the encouraging ideas! Making Christmas special has been a silent worry this year due to cost. I bought an old Currier and Ives print cookie tin and plan to make a variety of cookies with my boys instead of the more elaborate gingerbread houses. We are converting some home movies to digital and uploading them to YouTube for family this Christmas.
    Merry (US)

  19. One year when funds were especially tight, we asked each child to give us a list of three things each within the same price range and to put a star by the one they wanted most. I think our limit at the time was something like $20. They got the starred item off the list and then I filled a stocking, but not with pricey gifts. They had an old fashioned stocking with a tangerine in the toe and a stick of peppermint and their favorite chewing gum and a favorite candy bar. I think I also included packets of hot cocoa and those silly mini boxes of cereal (bought a multi pack and split it. So they had a special Christmas morning breakfast with a few treats for the day to enjoy. And that was our Christmas. We always got a free turkey from work and I made that with inexpensive sides. The children were allowed to eat all they wanted that day of meals and Christmas cookies. It sounds rather elaborate now in looking back but I assure you it was a very small, very frugal Christmas and we followed that same pattern for several years after because it was such a hit with the children.

    When I read in the vintage magazines great huge pricey gifts weren't ever given. It was all kept quite simple but as you pointed out activities MADE the season, going to a public tree lighting, to the church for a special music program, caroling, baking cookies and doing a cookie exchange, making the fruitcakes, decorating the tree, sitting about the tree at night reading a Christmas story, gathering as a family unit to share food and enjoy each other's company...those sorts of things that take TIME and THOUGHT but not loads of cash.

    I miss that sort of Christmas.

  20. Beautiful post, as always Anabel! I dont comment much these days but always read your blog as it is so encouraging and uplifting! You are so right about narcissism, it is every where. This is truly a spiritual battle we are dealing with and the way forward is to be kind and radiate our love and light! When my kids were young we used take them to the free Bunnings Christmas Party, most stores have them as well as Christmas crafts on the weekend. Baking was also a big hit and still is! Yesterday Mr 17 and his gf and I baked and decorated a mountain of gingerbread and decorated them. She took some home to her family which they all loved! I also used to take the kids into the city and we would go to Santaland in Myer. They had a little train which you could ride for free and take photos. Then we would walk around and look at the lights in the city. So fun! Yes, we must still celebrate Christmas!

    1. Dear Mel, Hi!! You have reminded me how departments stores used to be so beautiful, window displays, rides for the kids... it was gorgeous. Your son and his GF decorating gingerbread is beautiful. And there fact that her family were so pleased makes it even nicer. Baking is amazing for taking a few humble ingredients and making a gift of love.
      Have a very Happy Christmas Mel and thank you for commenting! With much love


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