How to not be a Grinch and enjoy a non-religious Christmas (while saving money)

By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly

I love Christmas. Yes, I do.

I know I am stepping on some toes by saying this. Being the publisher of Northwest Asian Weekly, I’ve had people accuse me of not being politically correct when I wish others a Merry Christmas.

What I embrace is not so much the religious aspect, but rather, the spirit and intent behind the Christmas tradition.

In my heart, I carry the joy and thrills of having my kids home, remembering my friends, reflecting the blessings of the year, helping those who are less fortunate, sharing quality time and gifts with loved ones, and decorating my home with things old and new.

To all those Scrooge-like men and women who believe that Christmas is a waste of time and money, I say, “Bah humbug!” back at you.

I believe it’s my job to spread good news and cheer during this holiday season.

To prepare for Christmas, our office is decorated with an eight-foot tree, sparkling with ornaments and lights.

We were so excited that we put it up before Dec. 1. The presence of the Christmas tree instantly transformed the office lobby.

My home also has a tree. This year, I bought $6 worth of merchandise (including three stockings) from Daiso to add to my seven-foot tree. I use stockings on the tree sometimes, in addition to ones hanging on my fireplace. Big stockings only cost $1 each. I made little stockings to pair with big stockings to enhance my fireplace. The little stocking cost much less, as I use leftover materials from my sewing box, which holds lots of little treasures such as fake pearls, beads, ribbons, and sequins.

My next task for the holiday is to prepare Asian gift baskets for some customers and friends. It saves a fortune if you make them yourself.

I was surprised to learn that some companies charge $80 to $150 for a gift basket!

I can make a gift basket inexpensively, between $40 to $50, and it will contain many more fun and delicious items compared to the  same ol’ gift baskets you find in stores.

I shop for my basket items at Goodwill. At Goodwill, gently used items can cost 99 cents each (and they cost as much as $7 in regular retail stores).

My favorite baskets are food baskets. They are the safest and most practical way to go. If I buy a pair of gloves or a scarf, it might not be in the color my friends like.

Besides, it’s fun to shop for and pack food items.

I make two different kinds of food baskets.

One is for Asian friends, the other for non-Asian friends. What’s the difference? It’s actually not what you think. For my Asian friends, I don’t pack soy sauce, fish sauce, or teriyaki sauce. They already have those items in their kitchen cupboards. I do, however, pack sauces for my non-Asian friends.

Japanese crackers, mochi, dried seaweed, Asian noodles, candies, wines, and specialized sauces like mapo tofu sauce are good choices for both Asians and non-Asians.

Just go to an Asian grocery store and you will have many options. The choices before you will be tremendous.

A word to those who are making gift baskets. Anyone can make a gift basket. You don’t need to be a food expert or Asian to make an Asian food basket.

Also, you can’t go wrong when you fill the corners of your baskets with chocolates. Most folks enjoy them. If they don’t, they can always give them to kids. And if you still have room in your baskets, include colorful origami paper, perhaps a bit of money to spread a bit of luck to your friends. The idea is to create a lot of fun items that will surprise your friends when they open their baskets.

I like to include some thoughtful and endearing notes for my friends and loved ones in the baskets, such as, “You are a friend for a lifetime,” or, “You are the one who will save me in a crisis,” or, if your loved one has a sense of humor, “I love you even though I can’t stand you at times for some of your sloppy behaviors.”

Just fill a basket with items so that it’s a little more than half full (too much and it’ll be awkward-looking and too heavy). Have cellophane wrap and colorful ribbons ready. Typically, one piece of cellophane wrap is good for one basket, but you can always tape several together if your basket is particularly big.

Gather up the wrap at the top of the basket and tie a ribbon around the bundle.

Each of your friends will love the surprises when they open a basket. And every time they eat something from it, they will think of you and your kind gesture. (end)

Assunta Ng can be reached at

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