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Spread Budget-Friendly Holiday Cheer

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Here are some ways to create lasting holiday memories without breaking the bank.

family at christmas

Dr. Wendy Walsh: The December holidays, no matter which religion you follow, are a way to create light in the darkest days of the year. This is a time to come together with family and friends and be thankful for your health and happiness. With money tight for many American families, how can you lift your mood and spirits on a budget? Answer: Give of yourself, and strengthen family connections.

Here are 10 ways to find meaning in the holidays without spending much dough:

1. Forgo gluttonous holiday parties with people you are not close to. The holidays have become a hectic time of forced festivities. A new dress and a bottle of Champagne as a hostess gift -- followed by an unwelcome hangover -- might not be the way to make your life meaningful. Let this year be the year of peace, quiet and intimate gatherings. A glass of wine by the fire with three people will provide more sustenance than a smoke-filled rave.

2. Find a new cause to give to. Whether it's flowers for an old folks' home or toys for underprivileged kids, this is the year to give to those who really need it -- and fill your heart with love.

3. Celebrate a lost family tradition or research and plan a new one. This is the year to go to your parents' church or temple, or to find a soul-enhancing experience that will become your tradition. Join a New Age church. Meditate by candlelight. The root of all December holidays is an urge to find safety and light in the cold, long nights of winter. Find a ritual that helps you feel peace.

4. Give homemade gifts. This is the year to resurrect your grandmother's lost art of preserving food. Make sauces, jams, eggnog or baked goods. These items will be far more appreciated than anything manufactured in China.

5. Get the family together. Yes, even the ones you may not be so fond of. This is an opportunity to heal old emotional wounds, bond with kinfolk and connect with your roots. When I asked my 11-year-old what her favorite thing about Christmas was, she didn't miss a beat: "Family," she said. Then she paused for a nanosecond and followed up with: "Presents!"

6. The quantity of gifts is more exciting to kids than their value. Any parent who has endured the Christmas competition known as the "Present Tally" can attest that kids love LOTS of gifts. We were never rich growing up, but my mom always wrapped up socks, underwear, comic books and chocolates. The presents were beautifully decorated and filled with anticipation and excitement. On Christmas Day, the joy was rarely in the gifts' expense; it was in the expansive array of colorful packages. Trust me: A $2 wind-up toy takes on new meaning when it comes in a box within a box wrapped in shiny paper and bows.

7. Make a holiday TV special an event. Instead of going to an expensive Christmas show or leaving the TV on as background, rent a favorite Christmas DVD (mine is always "White Christmas") and make an appointment with the family. Make hot chocolate and popcorn and create a pillow theater on the floor. Kids will remember these moments of family closeness more than the details of the movie.

8. With the kids out of school and amusement parks being pricey, this is your chance to explore the museums in your own city. You might be pleasantly surprised to see how much kids can get out of an art museum.

9. Graham cracker gingerbread houses. My tummy is full with one as I write this. Enough said.

10. Blast those Christmas carols! Music and song have a special influence on our psyche. Music can lift our spirits and heal our souls. Don't hold back. Hum a carol yourself!

Happy holidays to moms everywhere!

next: 20 Ultra-Cool Christmas Stockings
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