10 ways to celebrate Christmas like our grandparents did

Embrace the attitude of an earlier generation for old-fashioned holiday fun.

1960s family of four at Christmas
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStockGetty Images

Embrace the attitude of an earlier generation for old-fashioned holiday fun.

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Use cash only

Our grandparents didn't go into debt over the holidays; they had a budget and stuck to it out of sheer necessity. 'Spending with cash makes it more real. When it's gone, it's gone,' says Elizabeth Revenko, a certified financial planning professional with Mosaic Financial Partners. 'It also gives you a moment to stop and think about what you're buying, which makes spending more focused.' If you shop online, use a prepaid card to stay within your limits (or make a promise to yourself not to go over your budget no matter what!).

More: 15 ways to avoid waste this Christmas

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Bake from scratch

Dust off the recipe books and try your hand at making your sweets from scratch. Your efforts don't have to be perfect, but this simple act pays homage to your loved ones, especially those who are now gone. 

More: Sticky toffee pudding recipe

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Post holiday cards

Even in the age of social media and instant updates, real honest-to-goodness cards are a way to reconnect with family and friends far and near. 'It's still a custom that's special,' says Lizzie Post, cohost of the Awesome Etiquette podcast. 'It's the one time a year we send and receive good wishes in the post. Nothing else compares.' Photo cards, postcards, or Year in Review letters are all fine; just keep them positive and factual without bragging.

More: Christmas countdown: sending Christmas cards for friends

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Decorate with what you have

Grandma used what she had to deck the halls. 'Look around your garden and house to find natural elements to dress up your home,' says Rakes. 'Many natural items are prettier anyhow, and they're fresh and free.' Collect pine cones and make a wreath, or arrange in glass apothecary jars. Cut greenery and tuck into simple white pitchers. String cranberries and popcorn for the tree.

More: 14 fabulous Christmas decorating tricks

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Spend time together

'That's what we'll remember years from now, not what you gave or received as gifts,' says Rakes. Bake cookies with your kids. Plan a family game night. Attend services at a house of worship. Go caroling. Drive around to look at Christmas lights. Make ornaments. Arrange a potluck New Year's party with friends. The point is to interact and be present in the moment with your family and friends, not with your smartphone or tablet.

More: 13 tips for the perfect Christmas dinner party seating plan

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Make gifts

Our grandparents used their talents to create gifts. 'But you don't have to be crafty,' says Rakes. 'Homemade goodies such as cookies and breads are always welcome, but you can make plenty of other easy gifts.'

More: 7 ways to save money this Christmas

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Dress up

'When you look at old photos of our parents and grandparents, you see that everyone is dressed nicely at big holiday gatherings,' says Post. Sure, you want to be comfy in your PJs on Christmas morning. But kids - and actually, most adults - don't have that many dress-up events to attend these days. 'Everything is casual. But sometimes it's okay to make your gathering a dress-up occasion so that it feels special and different,' says Post.

More: How to make Christmas run smoothly

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Write thank you notes

Your grandma would tell you that nice manners still matter. Sit down and write a real thank you note this Christmas, whether you're thanking someone for a lovely party or a thoughtful gift. 'They're always appropriate and relevant,' says Post. 'And handwritten reigns supreme.'

More: How to select the most charitable Christmas cards

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Share memories

Part of the joy of the season is reminiscing about what makes your family unique. Ask your parents and grandparents about their holiday customs growing up or what they received as gifts when they were kids. Celebrate what makes your family, especially the silly or quirky traditions. 'We have a mouse head ornament that has a long history in our family,' says Revenko. 'Sharing stories, traditions, and values defines your family and is a great gift to each other that doesn't cost a penny.'

More: Is this the most heartwarming Christmas advert yet?

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Give back to others

Our grandparents shared what they had with neighbours when times were tough. Think about what matters to you and your family and share what you can to reflect your beliefs, says Revenko. Your gifts don't necessarily have to be monetary. Collect coats for homeless shelters. Help an elderly neighbour put up her tree. Invite someone who's single and may not have family nearby to your own holiday dinner.

More: The Miescisko Christmas gift guide

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