How to have a traditional Christmas that doesn't break the bank
Do you remember how wonderful Christmas felt when you were a child?
There was always a feeling of anticipation and excitement in the run-up to the big day.
We enjoyed simple pleasures such as pulling Christmas crackers, singing carols and discovering the little trinkets and treats inside our stockings.
But now, as adults, we often find ourselves drowning in to-do lists and, if we're not careful, we can easily be swept by the commercial, money-spending side of Christmas.
Retailers are going all out to grab our attention with new festive offerings and twists on old favourites.
So, after a challenging few years, it’s not surprising if this so-called wonderful time of the year has lost some of its sparkle.
And many of us are looking at spending less this year so we don't put ourselves under additional financial pressure at a time when budgets are already tight.
So, if you're looking to scale back on unnecessary extras to enjoy a traditional Christmas and New Year period, we have a few ideas for you....
Every supermarket and retailer is finding new ways to spice up our seasonal food.
From mince pies with apple and pecan crumble on top to three-bird pig in blankets made using duck, pork, pheasant and chicken chipolatas, they no longer resemble our old favourites that we've come to know and love.
Take the mince pie, for example, it's been a regular part of Christmas celebrations since as early as the 16th century.
And yes, it has undergone a few changes since then as mince pies were originally coffin or cradle shaped, rather than round as they are now.
And at that time, they also contained quite a bit of meat in addition to the usual melange of dried fruits.
But once beef was dropped from the recipe, we know to expect buttery pastry filled with fruity mincemeat with seasonal spices.
It can be cheaper to make a large batch of mince pies yourself rather than buying them in boxes of six from the supermarket, especially if you already have some of the ingredients at home.
And if you encourage the children or grandchildren to get involved it can be a fun activity for all the family.
If you end up making more than you think you will eat over the Christmas and New Year period, then just pop them in the freezer to enjoy later. There is no rule that says you can't have a mince pie in February!
Decorating gingerbread houses is also a much-loved tradition in some families but buying a kit from a shop can work out quite expensive so again, it's worth having a go at making your own from scratch. And as with the mince pies, any leftover gingerbread can easily be frozen for another time.
To save money on festive food, especially if you are planning a New Year celebration, then take a look at the supermarket budget ranges as many have included festive favourites this year.
Just make sure to freeze any leftovers or use them to create meals for the following days so nothing goes to waste.
If you're looking for entertainment, then there are many options that don't have to cost the earth.
If your family love to sing, then you could go carolling with friends or invite everybody over to your home to have a singalong.
Lots of people decorate your homes for Christmas, so it can be fun to plan a trip to look at all of the displays in your local area.
But you don't need to travel far as you could stick to your own street and decide which of your neighbours has the best lights.
At this time of year there are plenty of Christmas films being shown on TV or on streaming services such as Netflix.
Plan a festive movie night and make your own pizza and popcorn to enjoy as you watch.
Party games such as charades can bring everybody together and provide hours of fun.
Or why not make your own family quiz, select a quizmaster to read out the questions and split everybody else into teams.
For inspiration, take a look at our Friday quizzes in the Star.
On a cold, clear day there’s nothing better than heading out for a winter walk. And it many cases, it's a completely free activity. Just wrap up warm and take a flash of tea or coffee with you to enjoy as you wander.
It's also a good time to see wildlife as birds that have arrived for the winter months and woodland residents can be seen more easily among the bare trees.
Woodland Trust site manager James Jesson said: “If you’d rather not spend the entire festive season overindulging, head out for a woodland adventure.
"Our woods are real winter wonderlands – so whether it’s a crisp, frosty morning or a damp soggy afternoon, it’s great to pull on your boots and thermals or waterproofs and head out for an invigorating stroll.
“Winter woods take on a whole new character. Spectacular, frosty landscapes and bare branches expose elusive wildlife and hidden history. The fact they are all free to visit is just the icing on the Christmas cake!”.
It can also be a good time to make the most of any memberships that you have as visitor attractions are likely to be quieter than they are in the summer.
Dudley Zoo and the Ironbridge Gorge Museums are among those that are open for some of the festive period - just check their websites for opening times.
National Trust sites in our region such as Attingham Park near Shrewsbury, Wightwick Manor and Gardens in Wolverhampton, Kinver Edge and the Rock Houses and Shugborough Estate in Staffordshire are are also open to visitors over the festive period.
And if we get more snow between Christmas and New Year, then sledging can be a fun activity.
Whether you throw yourself down the hill on a sledge or a battered old tin tea-tray, it can be a great way to get some fresh air and activity.
And snow also means snow ball fights, just make sure to wrap up warm.
One thing we have now that many of us didn't have while growing up is improved technology that allows us to connect with those we're not able to see in person.
Arranging a time to video chat with loved ones can be a nice activity to look forward to and something the whole family can get involved in.