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Celebrating Christmas on a Budget

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Santa with Piggy Bank
When you choose at Christmas to only spend what money you have to spare, you can still enjoy what is important. This guide is about celebrating Christmas on a budget.
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Solutions

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By 16 found this helpful
December 8, 2008

During this time of year and the uncertainty of the financial instability, I want to share a story with you.

In 1987, my first husband and I were living in Arkansas and having a difficult time making ends meet. To heat our home, we had a wood burning stove which was often used to cook our meals. We could only afford $50.00 every other month to fill our propane tank and since the hotwater heater also ran on propane, if we ran out, I would use my electric coffee pot to heat water to give my children a bath in the kitchen sink.

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Just so happened a couple weeks before Christmas we couldn't afford propane and Christmas presents for the kids so we prioritized... naturally gifts for our daughter and two boys trumped. But what would $50.00 buy? The kids had been asking for bikes and since we couldn't afford new ones I went to a used bike store and gave the owner 50% of the cost to put the bikes on hold for me until I could make enough money to give him the rest. My daughter's bike was $15.00 and my oldest boys bike was $10.00.

I worried how I was going to take these bikes from a neglected state to looking somewhat worthy of my children's delight on Christmas morning? I went to Wal-Mart and purchased a can of blue spray paint and a can of pink, a basket for the "girl" bike and a new seat for the "boy" bike. Meanwhile as the bikes were safely tucked in the owners back room and while still wondering how we were going to pull off tricking the kids into thinking they were getting new bikes "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" came on TV. The kids were entranced.

When the movie was over, my daughter said that if she ever got a "misfit" toy, she would take care of it and love it forever. The boys agreed as they expressed anguish over the toys that nobody wanted on "Misfit Island".

After chopping firewood for what few customers we had, my husband and I finally scraped up enough money to get the bikes. We brought them home, got them washed, spray painted and put all the "Bells and Whistles" on, one day before Christmas Eve. We hid them in the shop, proud of ourselves that our kids were going to get what they wanted for Christmas! By this time, I'm sure you are wondering where is the youngest boys bike? Well we had bought him a tricycle on sale a couple months earlier that was safely tucked away under a tarp in the shop.

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Christmas morning, my daughter came into our bedroom crying and said,"Santa brought us used bikes". My husband and I looked at each other with tears and only a feeling that a parent gets when they know they have let their children down. What could we have been thinking? :(

Trying real hard to come up with an explanation, the "Ah Ha" moment came between getting out of bed and walking to the living room. These bikes would be from "Misfit Island"!

We sat the kids down and reminded them of the movie and the words they said that if Santa ever brought them a misfit toy that they would love it and take care of it forever! Sadness quickly turned to pure DELIGHT on their faces and GRATITUDE replaced hopelessness in their hearts. The kids quickly adopted, named and deftly took care of their misfit bikes like they were "their" children! There would be other trying times ahead for my kids but they always turned toward their new best friends for comfort and talked to their misfits like we, as adults and parents talk to God.

I think every parent should have one misfit toy under the tree for their children on Christmas morning :)

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December 18, 2008

In last minute budget/economy Christmas decorating - don't forget candy canes! They are colorful, come in several sizes and can be had at the dollar store! (You can even save the ones unopened in cellophane for next year!)

I put the little ones left over from an Christmas celebration on my tiny apartment tree. Just the right size! And I also added some to my pine bough arrangements! Easy to hang on.

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

By 2 found this helpful
December 8, 2006

This request was originally published in 2005 and received numerous helpful responses.

Question:

Two years of medical setbacks have caught up with us and while everyone is finally well, it is going to be a lean Christmas. I have great crafting skills, can knit, sew, and cook, so I know I can make Christmas gifts. The problem is, my attitude. I just can't seem to get motivated to make Christmas gifts when I miss being able to to go out and charge the "right" gift. I'm feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of making a nice Christmas on a low budget. Any advice?
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Katie from Connecticut

Answers:

Baked Goodies

This year, my 4 and 5 year old daughters are going to do lots of baking. Most everyone loves homemade goodies! And most of the ingredients aren't that expensive.

By Heather in Illinois

Share Your Love and Blessings

Re-frame your expectations. Compared to many others, if you have a roof over your head, your personal belongs and memories intact, you are indeed blessed. Set yourself the task of sharing your love and blessings by blessing others, and you will be more blessed than by buying expensive gifts. If you need to realize how much your homemade gifts are worth in dollars and cents, put a dollar amount on the value of your time, factor in your time and the cost of materials and I bet you find you are "spending" quite a lot on gifts!
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Snowman Soup Mix

Last year I found very large coffee mugs at the dollar store and made homemade cocoa mix, filled a small ziploc, placed a smaller ziploc filled with mini marshmallows, wrapped it all in cello wrap with a candy cane in the bow and called it snowman soup.

Recipes for Snowman Soup: http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf41317254.tip.html

The younger ones loved it. For the adults I did a chi tea mix and wrapped it the same way. Both gifts were a real hit and very inexpensive. People really do love homemade things made from the heart.

Chai Mix Recipes: http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf259173.tip.html

By Annie.

The Best Gifts are Handmade

I wish I had your talent! I too love to shop for that "perfect" gift, but isn't it strange, that the things I've received that I love the most are things that have been hand made for me? As you craft, knit, cook and sew, think of the person you are making the gift for and I"ll bet you will find your lost "Christmas spirit"

By Mary

Watch "The Homecoming"

Watch the old movie "the Homecoming". It was the movie that inspired the series, "The Walton Family". It was set in the depression and the kids received hand knit items (scarves, mittens). Everyone sooner or later has some lean times. Making your gifts with your talents can only remind us that it truly is better to give than receive and I'm sure you will make just the "right" gift for everyone and everyone will feel blessed at your personalized generosity.

By Memere

Invite Someone to Craft With You

Use other people to motivate you. See if anyone else in your family or friends would like to bring their box of goodies over and get crafting with you. Coffee, chatting and creating together is equal fun and forms stronger friendships and you will find you get heaps more done and you can share skills.

By cheekychops

Make a Tradition

I am making Christmas gifts also. My husband and I got married in April, I found out I was pregnant two weeks later and things haven't been the same since. We are moving into our first home in a couple of weeks. We have been living with his folks the last 6 months, we have to pay to have things fixed around the house so the landlord will take off on our rent. I can't work right now so money is MUCH tighter than it should be.

What makes me feel good about the situation is that I know what my family likes and that makes it easier to make a certain kind of cookies or a hair bow holder for my niece and adopted sister. I hope you feel better about it. You could make it a new tradition and have your kids help as well.

By jennifer

Cookie or Brownie Mix

I give out brownies or cookies in a jar, where I mix together or layer the dry ingredients for the dessert, then I add a gift tag that provides the rest of the directions and wet ingredients. I give these out quite a bit around the holidays and people appreciate being able to bake something from scratch quickly.

By Jenny

No Sew Fleece Blankets

You can make beautiful no sew fleece blankets (get fleece on sale). I made them last year for everyone on my list and they were loved by all.

Here are Instructions: http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf98170615.tip.html

By Jo-Ann

Bird Houses

Last year my sister and I were walking around a craft show and she mentioned how much she liked those bird houses on a poll with the Christmas lights wrapped around them. She did not have the money to buy on that day. My DH and I built her one for Christmas that year. We showed it off to family and we were asked to make them one also. So Christmas this year we'll make those bird houses to fit each person's decor. It does not hurt to ask what people like.

By Diane

Listen to Christmas Music to Get You into the Spirit

You might want to start playing Christmas albums while you go about "creating" your lists and gifts for everyone. I would think the music alone would put you in the mood!

By Luvyabye

Simplifying Can Be Satisfying

My husband and I got married very young, while we were still in college, and then he started his own business, and we had babies. So Christmases have always been lean around here. Our theory on gift giving has always been to make or buy a gift that will really bless a person. So we try to look at each person and get or make them something that will truly be a blessing to them.

I have made quilted mittens, neck rolls, scarfs, we have bought A LOT of books. Each person generally only gets one or 2 things. Try to remember what Christmas is all about (not gifts). If you celebrate Jesus at Christmas (not trying to preach), try reading the Christmas story to get you in the mood, it is in Luke 2. Also, if you are a praying person, I tend to pray for the person I am making a gift for while I make it. I feel like it fills the gift with love. Sounds like this is an excellent opportunity to shift priorities and get away from the over done very commercial Christmas. Simplifying can be very satisfying.

By Kelly

Gift Certificates for Handmade Gifts

Perhaps 'retro' would be a good idea this year. Surely your family and friends are all familiar with all your crafts and talents. Why not give each a certificate for the item of their choice to be made by you after Christmas? Motivation will be a lot easier as they pick what they want and you realize how much you're appreciated.

By Teri

Just Get Started

This may sound didactic, but I find that it's just like ironing. Once you get started, it's really not so bad. In fact, my enthusiasm grows! What the heck. Just start and see what happens!

By Coreen

Give Your Time

You are the best gift to your family and friends. For elders how about pumping gasoline for them or washing their car. Maybe make a casserole for a rainy evening and enjoying it with them. Time is so valuable to all of us and is the best gift we can give to someone we love. Happy Holidays!

By Tedebear

The Best Gifts Are From the Heart

The best gift is from the heart.

When my husband lost his job a few years ago, money was extremely tight. With Christmas around the corner, we had no idea what we were going to do. What we thought was a bad situation has turned into a great tradition for our family. Our two boys, my husband and I draw names between the four of us. You then make a gift for that person. The one rule we set is that you can't spend more than $10 in supplies or materials.

There has been a great variety of gifts, a picture printed off the internet and framed, a small scrapbook, a car cleaning by the giver, doing the other persons chores for a week. As you can see, some of the gifts cost nothing. My boys, now 11 and 16 have learned the true meaning of Christmas.

For other family members, I have made placemats out of men's shirts that I bought at Goodwill for a quarter each. I have cross-stitched, made coupon books to run errands, Saturday clean up or just spend the afternoon with the person. I have bought boxes of greeting cards, stamps and pen for someone in a care center. I think the total cost for this was $5.

For a single or elderly person, make up homemade TV dinners that they can heat up. I did this for my Grandmother using whatever we had for dinner. I purchased some plates at the dollar store and she would give them back to me when they were empty, little did she know, this was a gift that I planned on giving throughout the year. Every couple weeks I would take 5 - 7 dinners to her so all she had to do was microwave them. This didn't cost me any extra because it was what I was already making.

Have fun with your gifts and truly, if they are from the heart, the recipient will love them.

By CRMom

A Movie Basket

One year I made no-sew fleece blankets for each family member. Then I made matching pillows. I then packaged each family's blankets and pillows together and added a family movie, popcorn, cocoa mix or pop, depending on whether I had to mail the box or not. (Pop is much heavier, therefore, costing considerably more to mail). I wrote a silly little poem about giving them a 'night out together spent on the living room floor.' It was a hit!! I would be glad to share the 'poem,' but most everyone could come up with something better.

By grannyD

Buddy Up

I always come up with the "best" idea for a new craft project, and then I do nothing about it. Last year for Christmas, I buddied up with a friend, we went shopping (not BUYING) and got craft ideas. We spent days in the mountains and at the beach, wandering through gift shops. Then around October, we got started. From coasters to picture plates to customized magnets, the things we made were better than some of the inspiration pieces in the stores! In fact, I started selling the coaster sets after Christmas, getting orders from friends of the family who'd received them.

So, my suggestion is: buddy up. it makes it more fun... and you can use the motivation!

Decorate Early

Jump start your Christmas decorations! That always puts me in the mood. We've had a rough year, also and I too am crafting my own gifts. I started decorating a few weeks ago with just little things, an ornament hanging in my kitchen window, a little tree on the bathroom vanity. This weekend I took out the stockings and hung them in my craft room/office so when I come in the door from the thrift shop, or finish a small project I can drop my treasures into the appropriate one. You'll be surprised how quickly the stockings fill up and you'll soon feel less anxious!

By KathyNY

Daily Devotionals

You can also go to the Christian bookstores and find little daily devotionals cheap. I went there this weekend and found some for 2006 for 65 cents. I grabbed a bunch and plan to give them out. People understand when you can't spend a lot and do things like this, we've all been there. You can also get bath gels and some cheap scrubbies and wrap them together and give them to the girls. Hope this helps.

By pgvidal

Homemade Items

One Christmas, early in my marriage, funds were low at Christmas time. I crocheted hats andr scarves as gifts. I also baked fruitcake and different quick breads as gifts. I visited my elderly neighbors bringing them a warm banana bread. We then had tea and a wonderful visit.

By Betsy

Get Things That Are Needed

I come from a very large family and we are all very close so the drawing names doesn't work for us, everyone refuses. But what we have learned to do is ask what that family may need. For example: new kitchen towels, cookie sheets, good smelling candles, towels, all these types of things you can find in almost any store in the clearance section. Or make things like photo albums, calenders from old photos. These are just a few ideas.

By Michelle

Christmas Poems

Last year I made Christmas poems on poster board out of candy for my nieces and nephews. It basically talks about santa flying over "fifth avenue" and the "milky way" and how he brings "skittles" of toys and loves the "snickers" and smiles he gets from children everywhere. You get the idea. I wrote it in different colored markers and glued the candy on for those words. I ended up working in 14 different candies in minis and full size. Everyone loved it and thought it was cute. I also gave each of them homemade christmas ornaments of burnt out light bulbs painted to look like snowmen and sprinkled with glitter. Hope this helps someone.

By AMY MILAM

Homemade Means You Spent Time, Energy and Love

My husband has been unemployed since July and our oldest just got married so believe me things are tight at our house too! Try to remember that people love things you have made for them. It is easy to go out and buy something. But a homemade gift no matter what means you spent time, energy, effort and love putting something together for someone. I call those "gotcha" gifts! I can't think of anything I have purchased that has made anyone cry, but several things I have made as gifts have!

By Ginger

Pillow Cases

What about making each one a Christmas pillow case. You could do bath-salts or gifts in a jar, recipe cards. Wheat or rice bags that you heat up for sore muscles. All of these are things you can find on the net. Best of luck, Have fun and Merry Christmas.

By ygrandma1

Answer Was this helpful? 2
By guest (Guest Post)
December 9, 20060 found this helpful

If you believe that Christmas is about gifts and finding the "right" one, you're lost in the woods. You need to dig deep within to find the real meaning of Christmas and it's not material. It's in the heart. I know people say this, but it's a different story to believe it. And once you believe it, the stress of Christmas immediately leaves you and you begin to really enjoy the holiday season.

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By guest (Guest Post)
December 11, 20060 found this helpful

Would you rather go back to the medical problems? Make a list of what you're doing and start working, even if you don't feel like it. Besides, do you know how much people are asking for homemade stuff now?! I went to a church bizarre and they wanted $30 for a baby blanket, no joke, and they were getting it. You may be worth more than you think!

Merry Christmas

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By guest (Guest Post)
December 11, 20060 found this helpful

Hi...

It seems like every year we are a little short...when we were raising out 3 sons I started making many of the Christmas presents and it continued every year because it was always something...out of work,....medical bills....something broke down so always put a lot of love into whatever I made...Now I have 8 grandchildren and I am still making homemade items with love...I am making floor pillows for each of them this year..they are all different to go along with their age and interest.....Just put your love into what ever you do...that is what the season is about.....You have a Merry Christmas.........Dameemag

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August 1, 20070 found this helpful

My husband and I are having financial problems as well. This Christmas, I decided that we would take our own photos of our newly expanded family and I would decorate dollar store frames to put them in as gifts. Since we haven't had our photos taken in years, and my oldest is going to have a new brother, we think both sides of our families will love to have them.

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By guest (Guest Post)
August 10, 20070 found this helpful

I was recently laid off of my job and even though it's only August (as I write this) Christmas has a way of sneaking up on me. For years I've wanted to make homemade gifts for our friends and family, but always thought I had to buy the right gift. It was my mother who came up with the idea of making homemade jams and jellies. Now is the time to buy the fruits that are in season and start canning. And it doesn't have to be fruit, you can preserve anything from tomatos to Chicken soup, just use your imagination. It is a lot easier than I thought and with a little imagination you can really dress up the jars (which are really inexpensive). If you make too much, you can always use what's left for other gifts like birthdays, new baby, etc. My mom would make the best Blueberry Jam and pair it with items from the Dollar Store like plates, napkins or whatever to make a Breakfast or Brunch basket. Canning supplies can be expensive, but if you know someone who cans, you can either borrow or make a day out of it. A lot of thought and a little effort go a long way to reaching the hearts of those you love.

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August 10, 20070 found this helpful

I start collecting for Xmas in August - which gives me 4 months to defray the costs and to look for bargains for everybody. I take pride in the fact that no matter how broke, I have always rustled up nice gifts for my family. It all is taken care of by December, except for a few loose ends, so I can avoid all that holiday shopping madness.

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September 4, 20070 found this helpful

Money is tight this year...it seems the bills never stop. So, after having such a bad Christmas last year, I decided to build a Christmas budgeting website to help fund this years Christmas. Check it out, I think you'll like it. You setup a detailed Christmas budget first, make your shopping list, print it out and then go shopping!

http://www.myChristmasbudget.com

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September 5, 20070 found this helpful

Times are difficult for young people setting up home for the first time. I have decided to give my three adult children each a hamper of toiletries and cleaning supplies, with biscuits (your cookies!), rusks and chocolates for Christmas. I will also include items like diaries for 2008, in other words, useful items that quickly adds up when it has to be bought from scratch. I mentioned this idea to one of my daughters and she was quite impressed and happy!

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By guest (Guest Post)
November 3, 20070 found this helpful

I spent a few years on a deathly tight budget and became the queen of make-do. Everyone loved my stuff and I have a LOT of ideas.

Fireplace basket- I got 25 cent baskets from goodwill and filled them with pine cones (free to pick up) dipped in candle wax (from stubs) and rolled in sawdust. You can make scented ones by adding some spices to the sawdust, especially good for those spices that are not fresh any linger. I rolled some spills from newspaper and tucked those in too. Leftover ribbon or dried flowers from the garden decorated the base of the handles. Total cost 25 cents

Tea sugars - get a small scale plastic chocolate mold sheet (about $1.50, or you can sometimes find them at bazaars and garage sales) Using plain white sugar, divide into different bowls and use a tiny bit of food coloring mixed with a tiny bit of water. You want the sugar to be slightly damp, not wet. Stir in evenly add more water if needed. Push into chocolate molds and let dry overnight. This obviously takes a while to get a lot of them (each mold makes about 20) but they keep forever. You then have beautifully shaped pastel sugars for fancy tea parties. Give alone (I've seen them sell for $5 a dozen) or mix with a single teacup from a thrift store.

Coffee spoons- plastic coffee spoons dipped in melted chocolate and then sprinkled with crushed candy cane. Adds a great flavor to coffee for the holidays. I've even used old mismatched metal spoons from a thrift store at 10 cents a piece- still cheap.

Any mix, especially rice mixes or dutch pancake. Try a book called "The Perfect Mix" Its amazing.

Multitudes of bathe/cosmetic mixes to be found in books or online, usually with very cheap ingredients.

Cristmas ornaments- bundles of sticks with ribbon and flowers, painted old light bulbs, old knit material cut out and glued to look like mittens, hats, sweaters, etc., bread dough ornaments, decorated pine cones etc...endless possibilities

Home made paper from scrap paper

Decahedrons from old christmas cards

Homemade dog biscuits

Bean bags from scrap material (ask your local decorating store for discontinued samples) include a photocopied sheet of different bean bag games. I once did this for 20 kids for $1.95

Doll house accessories for a little (or big!) girl's doll house. Lots of instructions on the net but some of the least expensive are food made from bread dough, baskets of "knitting" made by winding bits of wool into balls and putting pins through as knitting needles (sand ends with nail file to sharpen)rugs cut from advertisements and sandwiched between 2 sheets of clear contact paper, kites made from tissue paper and toothpicks, umbrellas made from cocktail umbrellas covered with fabric.

Painted lightswitches or door hangers.

I'll post more another day- have to run!

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By guest (Guest Post)
November 9, 20070 found this helpful

I found this site by searching the web for ideas as well. I really like some of the ideas that others expressed. I am the youngest of six and my four children complete my mother's grandchild count at 23 so, needless to say that I MUST be thrifty at Christmas. I am good at crafting but better at baking. I have been making cheesecakes for each of my siblings and their families, my mother and maybe who ever is invited to join in our family celebration. I know that cheesecakes are expensive in stores but they really are not expensive to make. I make them ahead of time and freeze them until Christmas. You can buy donout boxes from grocery stores much cheeper than buying the plastic and aluminum cake packaging to put the in and decorate them with pretty ribbon and an ornament or greenery from the yard. Last Christmas I made each one a different flavor and had each sub-family draw a number for their cake. Everyone loves cheesecake and they love knowing that I'm giving them as gifts. I love that I can give my family something of me - something that they would not do for themselves. Have a wonderful Christmas and May God bless you with peace in your home and love through your hands.

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By guest (Guest Post)
November 27, 20070 found this helpful

I never feel like putting up my tree, or decorations because my husband and I moved to Florida 5 years ago, and we can never go back up North because it's to cold for my husband, as he is very sick. So, what I do a few days before I'm ready to decorate, I play Christmas music and then that gets me in the Christmas spirit. I mail my family money so they can get what they want, but, it's really not the same. I used to love either making the gifts or buying them. I love to crochet, and now I do Swedish Weaving, and I just love it. Remember, Christmas is all about Baby Jesus, and whatever people receive, especially home made gifts, should be very happy to receive it. I know I love to receive handmade gifts. It's not how much we spend, it is the thought and the work that you are putting into the gifts, which makes it very special for whoever your giving it to, and I'm sure that they will just love it. You could always make some nice pillows for there couches. Either Knit or sew them. Another idea, Get yourself a nice pattern for some hot pads and pot holders. They make very nice gifts. Maybe you could go to Walmart and look at some books, that would give you some other ideas also. Don't be to hard on yourself, alot of people just can't afford to buy gifts, everything is so high these days, and everyone knows it. Good Luck, and enjoy being one of Santa's elves. Sandy

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By guest (Guest Post)
December 10, 20070 found this helpful

Recently I made a stepping stone and a candle votive by hand for an auction to raise money for the community. I vaguely knew the person that bought it. His wife loved it too. I got a call and an e-mail from them that said "I love people who work with their hands and their heart, therefore, you are loved." (He said I made him look good as he presented this gift to his wife, then ordered more votives), So not only did the gifts I made make them happy, it also made me happy to hear how much they appreciated a hand-made item. Bought gifts are a dime a dozen, but hand-made gifts truly do come from the heart, match your gift to the recipient - do your homework to find out what they like, then make them something they'll cherish. It will truly bless you as much as you bless others. Merry CHRIST-mas!

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