Maggie Van Ostrand
you feeling the financial pinch of Christmas already and it's not
even Thanksgiving yet? Are you grousing about having to spend your
hard-earned cash on adults as well as on children? Are you thinking
that Ebenezer Scrooge was absolutely right when he grumbled, "Bah,
Humbug!" and are you considering telling your relatives and friends
that Christmas will be cancelled this year?
Before you do anything so radical, consider something different, less
expensive, and in which you can indulge all year long.
Check out every garage and yard sale in your neighborhood and pick
up anything good or salvageable for both kids and adults. If there's
a small piece of furniture that just needs a coat of varnish or a
bright paint job, either do that yourself or get your husband to do
it as his contribution to the holiday spirit. There are almost always
used toys at garage and yard sales that can be refurbished, sometimes
by merely throwing them into your dryer's fluff cycle.
A paint touch-up can do wonders on nearly everything that's made of
wood or metal, and a few stitches can renew the expression on the
face of a cloth doll.
Woven baskets are frequent items at these sales, and make excellent
packaging for inexpensive gifts, or as a gift themselves, brightly
painted, or decorated with ribbons and sprinkled with sparkles.
At each sale, pick up a bunch of old magazines and cut out photos
of full-length female models, paste them onto cardboard using a bent
straw or popsicle stick as a stand and give to kids who are fashion-conscious
though at a pre-Barbie age. If you're artistic, you can trace the
models' outlines and create paper clothes with tags that fit over
the models' shoulders.
In these same magazines, you can cut out photographs of big items,
like cars and houses, and enclose them in your Christmas card with
a note that, if you were Donald Trump, this is what you'd buy them.
You can make the Christmas cards yourself using magazine cutouts of
Santa, or pine trees, or poinsettias. Better yet, use the front of
the Christmas cards you received last year.
Unless you want Great Aunt Gassy to get a toy, be sure that you label
each gift with the name of the intended recipient for later wrapping.
Gifts can be wrapped in newspapers either plain or spray painted.
Or plain brown bags you've decorated with holiday glitter.
Take recycling to its limit with the most popular present for a child
up to 10 years of age, and it's absolutely free -- a huge cardboard
box, the kind refrigerators, washers, dryers, and giant televisions
come in. No store-bought gift in my experience has ever made a bigger
hit with kids than this. And it's fun to cut out doorways and windows
and make a house for them which they can decorate themselves in any
way they see fit. It will become their "private" lair, a place to
get away from it all. Just talk to a salesperson at the appliance
store and they'll be happy to direct you to where their unused big
You might also check out your local Goodwill store. Some of them carry
last year's, still-in-the-box, never-been-used computers right from
the factory, at amazingly inexpensive prices. Corporations which manufacture
electronics often donate overstock to charities for a tax write-off.
These and Salvation Army stores are filled with wonders that need
only tender, loving care to make them good as new again.
If you really want to feel good playing Santa, pay the toll for the
car in back of yours, or the tickets for the young couple on line
behind you at the movies, or the burger of a kid at McDonald's.
If you simply have no money at all, remember that the best gift is
yourself. Consider how wonderful it would be to give someone five
non-consecutive nights of babysitting, or housesitting for a family
on vacation feeding their pets and watering their plants, or a meal-of-the-month
certificate promising you'll deliver a home-cooked dinner to a friend.
Now you know the secret of Santa's smile -- there's no balance on
his January credit card statement.
Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
10 , 2006 column