Think outside the gift box to avoid holiday blues

For the optimists – and for those with plenty of money to spend on gifts, and feeding and entertaining guests – the hustle and bustle of the coming holidays bring thoughts of family gatherings, savory treats we only make for specific festive meals and the anticipation of seeing the expressions of delight on the faces of those we hold most dear as they open the gifts we spent time choosing and wrapping with reams of colorful paper, yards of ribbon and lots of love. Others dread the whole two months of pondering, purchasing and preparing.

Some despise the commercialism. Some lament the loss of spiritual significance to what are supposed to be holy days.

And some get their hopes up so high nothing can meet their expectations, leaving them feeling empty and depressed when their Hallmark holiday turns out more like a reunion of the Hatfields and McCoys.

So, here’s a little advice from one who has spent many a holiday having to come up with creative solutions to the money problem: Don’t sweat it. There’s absolutely no point in allowing yourself to get stressed out over something you CAN control when you don’t let yourself get caught up in the hype.

Everyone loves homemade gifts, and if you use a little self-restraint and ingenuity, you can come up with heartwarming presents and save some cool cash at the same time.

First, make a list of those you really want to give gifts to and stick to it. For everyone else, buy some peppermint sticks, glue on a couple of googly doll eyes, attach pipe cleaners for antlers and a brown puff ball for a nose and voila! You have a cute little reindeer treat, something to let folks know you were thinking of them.

And, that’s all most of us want, anyway; just to be remembered.

Next, shop the local thrift stores and yard sales for retro clothing and jewelry for the teens, and for collectibles for the adults.

For the wannabe chefs on your list, make up batches of cookie dough without the wet ingredients. Layer it all in a canning jar for that pretty sand-candle look, add a colorful cloth to the lid and tie it with ribbon or twine, depending on the gender of the recipient. Include the recipe and get ready for happy hugs and kisses.

Vegetable pasta of reds, greens and golds in a decorative, clear jar, topped with a bright cloth or doily and tied with a ribbon or yarn also makes a pretty gift.

For coffee or tea drinkers, a holiday mug filled with flavored teas, coffee samplers and a cinnamon stick is inexpensive and tasty.

For kids, make some homemade play dough. Place it into the inexpensive, throwaway plastic containers available at any grocery or discount store. Add a few cookie cutters and you’re done.

As the holiday season approaches, try to remember that it’s not about how much money we spend on each other. It’s all about how much love we give and receive.

For those who are alone at the holidays, try volunteering for local charities.

Mental health professionals will tell you that one really good way to beat the blues and blahs, regardless of the season, it to stay physically and mentally active. And, it helps tremendously when we put our self-pity behind us and focus on making what can be a depressing two months happy for others.

So, get your smiles ready and dust off your old recipe books. It’s almost party time!