I’m not gonna lie. The holiday season stresses me out.

Starting with the first glimmers of red and green before the orange of Hallowe’en has passed; I begin to brace myself for the bustle of decking the halls and jingling bells. There is so much to do! So many people to see, so many cookies to bake, so many cards to write… it’s the weight of having a rich, meaningful and abundant life (some would call it a first-world problem, others would call it Grinch-y), but I bemoan the fact that it has to be compacted into a 24-day binge between the 9th of December and the 2nd of January.

It’s also compounded by the pressure of gift giving. See, I am not the world’s biggest fan of shopping. I go in, get what I need and leave. I’m not a browser and I even took up farming to avoid grocery stores as much as possible. I find it next to impossible to buy for myself let alone family and friends, and I find the STUFF of the holidays to be an overwhelming environmental impact.

My struggle is and has been how to make the holiday season sustainable not just for my pocket book, but for me, my community and the environment.  I’ve tried Buy Nothing Christmas but it just hasn’t worked for me.  There’s something in the cultivation of tradition around gatherings and the sharing of food and goods carefully prepared in a beautiful way that makes me feel warm inside.  I’m not in a place where I am ready to give that up.  However, over the years, I have developed some other creative coping strategies.

For example, giving experiential gifts like concert tickets, movie nights, home-made dinners and discovery walks around a park are gifts of irreplaceable time, and they’re often fun for me as well! They’re always appreciated and help to extend the season beyond the month of holiday madness (so do magazine subscriptions). They’re also equally appreciated by kids with more toys than they can play with, as well as older family members who already have everything who may be downsizing for various reasons.

My partner’s family “picks names” to reduce the financial and emotional pressure of giving gifts to everyone. Gifts are purchased for one family member from a list they’ve provided. That way, you’re guaranteed to get something you legitimately need and want, and giving to someone else is more fun (surprise, kinda!) than going out and buying something for yourself.

One year, I tried making things for everyone (right down to painting penguins and festive trees on the wrapping paper), but I wound up more stressed out and burnt out from the added time required. Now I just think of a few things to make to stick in stockings or as host-gifts for parties. My raspberry jam gets accolades and people look forward to my homemade holiday card year after year. It’s something they can’t get anywhere else.

Last year, I surreptitiously bought many gifts second-hand at thrift stores. It was a blast – especially the part where my wealthy uncle wanted to get more of the coasters I bought. I told him I picked them up at “a little boutique downtown” and they were the last ones!

This year, I am going to endeavour to purchase many things locally – supporting local artisans, shops and restaurants, which will keep my money in the community.

I find that the more fun I have with gift giving the less stressful it becomes; and the more tradition that’s built into the holiday season, the more I look forward to holiday hoopla. I try to focus on sustainable gift giving – not just in the “fair-trade” sense of the word, but sustainable for my pocketbook and energy level too.

Over time, I’ve managed to strike a balance. How about you? Share your holiday traditions that tread lightly on the earth in the comments below!

*Zen Santa photo courtesy of AdBusters