A doorway covered in wrapping paper is one no-spend tradition one family uses during the holiday season. Credit: Amy Lantz

A doorway covered in wrapping paper is one no-spend tradition one family uses during the holiday season. Credit: Amy Lantz

It’s no secret that this holiday season may have a different vibe to it. With COVID-19 surging, and many Americans still recovering financially from the pandemic’s effects, the holidays may be tighter than previous years. While the unemployment rate is improving slightly, for many families it will take months and possibly years to fully recover.  Additionally, the looming holiday season can be a stressful time to try to produce money where there is very little. Luckily, with a little creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, families can create new no-cost traditions that have all of the excitement and sparkle we’ve come to expect from previous holidays. Check out these ideas to celebrate with family and friends at little to no extra cost.

Take it outside

There are few places in the country where you can’t throw on a heavy coat and a hat and take your holiday outside. Some families already take a holiday walk together to work off some of that turkey and pie, while others make a serious event out of it. If your family is physically able, investigate the best trails in your town for hiking, walking, or biking, and make a new tradition out of moving together. Check out Travel and Leisure’s guide to the best hikes in each state, and make a day trip of it.

Go for a drive

Many adults fondly remember holiday traditions involving driving around and checking out light and decoration displays around town. But what if, just a town or two away, one of the largest light displays in the country is just waiting for visitors, and at no cost? Country Living reports that these 38 light displays across the country are breathtaking, and should land a spot on your holiday bucket list. Check your local neighborhoods and citywide publications for updates on the most famous light displays in your town as well, which rarely charge a fee.

Help Santa waste less

Everyone, including Santa, finds themselves with those extra rolls and pieces of wrapping paper after all the packages have been prepared. But what if there was an entire family activity, filled with suspense, hiding in that wasted paper, which mostly ends up in landfills? One family in Anderson, OH has the answer. Amy Lantz has been using the leftover paper to wrap all entrances to the family room where the tree is so nobody can peek on Christmas morning. “One parent uses the deck entrance to go in and count the kids down while recording video, and they bust through the paper together,” she says. The suspense continues as she doesn’t tell the kids which wrapping paper is theirs for their gifts, but rather Santa leaves a decoder sheet for the papers. “Whoever guessed the most right before that opens the first gift. We throw them off track by wrapping pillows, rocks, etc. so shaking and judging by weight is ineffective.” 

Light up the holidays

Hindus celebrate the five-day light festival in the fall called Diwali, which celebrates good over evil and light over darkness. From fireworks to oil lamps, and handmade and decorated crafts involving light, the tradition is easily adaptable in any culture, and for little to no cost. Try your hand (or your kids’) at making a paper lantern, a Diwali staple that is meant to welcome the Goddess of Prosperity to homes during this well-lit celebration.

Regift with intention

“It’s the thought that counts” with gift-giving, right? What if regifting was not only allowed and socially acceptable at the holidays but an intentional and valued tradition. Nicola Qureshi of Mason, OH has carried on her grandmother’s tradition of giving regifted items or used thrift store gifts, and the tradition is named “The Good Willy Gift.” She says family members choose the gifts with intention, picking items that remind you of the person or that they might like based on a conversation you’ve had with them. Though she never met the grandmother who started it all, her memory lives on through the thoughtful tradition each year.

“One year my mother gave me an extra snow globe she had after she heard my child had dropped the one I had. Simple things like that. I gave a book I had read that I thought my stepfather might enjoy,” she explained. “Rather than the newness of the items, it’s the thought behind the gift.”

Not only is regifting environmentally sustainable, but it can also save some money. Check out these etiquette tips if you are regifting on the sly instead.

Alexandra Frost


Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist and content marketing writer, focusing on health and wellness, parenting, education, and lifestyle. She has been published in Glamour, Today’s Parent, Reader’s Digest,