Some people use the Christmas holidays as an excuse to be the grouchy people they always are, and the rest of us let them get away with it for the sake of Scrooge, patron saint of all unhappy people.
But there are plenty of us who are genuinely overwhelmed by the demands of the season and are wishing for the simple gifts of connection, fun, rest and meaning.The Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md., which encourages Americans to consume responsibly in the name of the environment and social justice, is there for us again this year, with its list of gifts not sold in stores.
"A growing number of people are just worn out by the same old, same old - waiting in line at the mall to buy a tie," said Betsy Taylor, president of the nonprofit.
This year's alternative gift ideas can be found on the Web site, www.newdream.org/holiday/index.php. Here's a few of them:
*Have a re-gift swap. Steal a page from Nancy Reagan and trade those gifts you have never used.
*Frame a picture of the family home, and give it to distant relatives as a sentimental reminder.
*Ask your children what they would most like to do as a family and act on their suggestions.
*Pay for the car behind you at a toll booth; shovel snow for an elderly neighbor; leave potted flowers or herbs on a friend's doorstep; send a card to an injured soldier in a military hospital.
The goal of suggestions like these is to shift the holiday focus from stuff to relationships.
"Our conversations with people show that overwhelmingly Americans feel that we are too much focused on working and spending and that is only magnified at this time of year," Taylor says.