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Having an Upcycled Christmas

So my extended family has this somewhat quirky (although not completely unique to us) tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas together. Yep–on the same day. We start with Thanksgiving Dinner, have a little down time to clean up dishes and let the food settle, and then jump right back in to Christmas by late afternoon, complete with a tree, presents for the children, and a gift exchange game for the adults…and of course, another meal…as if one wasn’t enough!

I have to admit that it’s kind of nice, celebrating two holidays at once. It can also be fairly exhausting, like this year, when I was tricked (yes, tricked) into acting as Team Leader in a post-Thanksgiving-full-afternoon Gingerbread Decorating Contest. (I do happen to think we ended up with the best gingerbread house, but that of course is beside the point.)

This dual-holiday tradition started with my grandmother, when my mother and her sisters were teenagers, and it has persisted since then…growing as our family has grown. This year there were nearly 40 people there, representing four generations and even three different countries!

But I haven’t even gotten to the pinnacle event of the day: the gift exchange among the adults. We call it simply, “The Game.” The rules are as follows: anyone age 18 and over is welcome to participate. The host site for the year chooses the theme–and both the host and the theme are generally selected right after The Game concludes the previous year. If necessary, there is a short decision-making period allowed of the host, but there begin to be more than a few sideways glances if the theme is not chosen within about a two-week period following the Thankgiving-Christmas celebration.

The gift chosen by a participant must relate (in some way) to the theme. My husband, for example, thinks it’s hilarious to bring venison every year and make a case for it somehow fitting that year’s theme. At the actual event, the adults place all gifts in the center of the room and play a variation of a “stealing” game (again, exact details are determined by the host), where gifts previously opened by one participant are snatched away by a later participant…only to be claimed again by a still later participant. Clearly it is to one’s advantage to be the last name called. The Game is played in fun, with plenty of raucousness; and for my family, it has also helped to remove the sometimes-awkwardness (and added expense!) of multiple gift purchases for extended family–especially for newer members just getting to know everyone.

We have had many, many themes over the years: a Hollywood Christmas, a Recycled Christmas, a Handmade Christmas (not to be confused with Homemade, mind you–that was a different year), a Patriotic Christmas, That 70s Christmas, a White Christmas, an International Christmas, and so on. This year, our theme was Old Fashioned, which lent itself well to finding a gift that has been previously “loved.” Happening to know a place where previously loved treasures gain a second life, I went directly to Common Goods in search of something that had been “upcycled.”

Upcycled Cradle

If you’re not familiar with the concept, the creative minds at Common Goods have become masters at repurposing some of the items that have been donated to the store–reimagining them as something different, and remaking them into something new, something UPcycled.

Table & Chairs Before


Table & Chairs Afterward

...and After

If you’ve never been inside the store, it’s totally worth a visit. But fair warning: you might have to come often, since the upcycled items often leave in the hands of a delighted customer almost as quickly as they appear! In my case, I didn’t find an upcycled treasure that day…but I DID find a fabulous hand-crank ice cream maker, made all the more popular during The Game because we had actually made and eaten homemade icecream earlier that afternoon (although I nearly missed it, since I was elbow-deep in gingerbread and icing). It went through several rounds of stealing, including from myself (oh yeah, another one of the rules is that it’s okay to steal your own gift back). I didn’t win it in the end, but I think my cousin went home very happy that day.

Hand-crank Ice Cream Maker

Next year, our theme is to be a Rustic Northland Christmas. Hmm…I wonder if those snowshoes I saw at Common Goods the other day are still there….


Learn more about supporting Bridges of Hope by shopping, donating and volunteering at Common Goods.

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