Every season I hear people complain about how insane Christmas is. About how early the carols start in stores. The distasteful rush for whatever the toy du jour happens to be. Then, they contribute to the glut, by buying the merchandise and jumping at the sales.

Here are my rules:

1. No Purchases

The first rule about Christmas is, you do not purchase any consumer goods for anyone. The only exceptions are little candies for the stocking, but we even keep that to a minimum.

2. Make Gifts

The second rule about Christmas is, make everything you give. Both Labyrinthine Garden and Cosmic Bloom were Christmas presents to my wife. There have been other paintings also, and a glut of hand made cards and poetry.

Last year we built a huge castle out of cardboard and masking tape for our younger son. It has a working draw bridge, secret passages, multiple catapults (made by his older brother as part of the gift). He loves it, and we had a lot of fun making it.

We also made an elaborate-looking, leather-bound book for my then 13-year-old son called the “The Supremely Ultimate Handbook of Superlative Awesomeness.” It was essentially a scrap book with pages about how to talk to chicks, how to build robots, how to build a wooden fort, instructions for making ninja weapons, the history of pirates and how to survive on a desert island, Chuck Norris jokes, and more. It was so awesome, it made my teeth hurt.

My grandfather is an avid golfer, and this year he’s getting a Golf Digest in which he’s the cover story. I’m glad my grandmother is into hi res digital photography!

Be creative, think about what moves the person you’re giving to, and make them something they’ll appreciate, even if it’s just a letter.

3. Blow your Budget on Charity

The third rule about Christmas is, spend your budget anyway. Everyone has a soft spot. Some people feel for animals, others for breast cancer survivors or the homeless. What you do is take the money you would’ve spent on an iPod for them, and give it to a charity they would like, in their name. Often you get a token gift for the donation, but you can also just write a letter in a card explaining what you did.

My grandmother loves wild animals, so I donated to save some wolves once, and she got a plush wolf with a thank you card. My older son has sponsored a Malawian kid named Million’s education since they were both 7. We started this when my younger son was only 3, so we had to come up with a charity that wasn’t abstract for him. He loves animals, so we bought him a PetSmart gift card. We took him to the store and helped him pick out dog and cat food, some toys, and things like water dishes. We took all that stuff straight from PetSmart to the local humane society, and he helped move it into the donations area before we stayed and pet some cats. That one has become something of a tradition.

Stop the Madness!

Christmas used to be stressful for us, but now it’s something we really look forward to. It’s a whole different, better, experience to spend your time to create a gift for someone, and to receive gifts you know have been created especially for you. You should try it, it’s easier to break out of the madness than you might think.