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Workshop helps reduce holiday stress.

Between keeping up with the lavish holiday spreads in women’s magazines and competing with perfect presents she saw on television, Donna Ortmans’ holiday season had become more stressful than celebratory.

“Christmas gets very busy for me. All the magazines and shows say go there, do this, buy that,” said Ortman, the administrative assistant at First Methodist Church in Hamilton.

In November, she went to a No-Cost Gift workshop. The hour-and-a-half program helps people who can’t afford expensive presents or want to escape holiday materialism come up with gifts that are low in dollars but high in heart.

Ortman said the workshop taught her how to better deal with the material side of her Christmas celebration.

“It really brought a focus for me,” she said. “Some of the stuff I can let go; it doesn’t matter. You want to focus on what you and your family are comfortable with, not what that family over there does.”

This year, instead of spending money to buy several Christmas cards and taking the time to address, stamp and mail them, Ortman will send out cards to only a few special people. She’ll donate the extra money to charity and spend her extra time at church advent services.

“Family and church are where the real meaning is,” she said.

She also learned how to give her family gifts that cost less but mean more.

“Instead of going out and buying him stuff, I’ll cook (my husband) a fancy dinner or go to that hockey game I don’t really like,” she said.

These gestures mean more to her husband than anything she could have bought, she said.

Hamilton resident Dick Haid developed the workshop 10 years ago while leading a job search support group in Cincinnati. During the holiday season, the group got a donation from a retired school teacher: bags and bags of the gifts she’d received from students over the years. Group members each took a small present for a friend or family member.

“I began to realize how powerful a thing (gift giving) was,” he said.

He originally developed the workshop for the newly-unemployed, who didn’t have much money to spend on gifts. Haid focused on teaching them how to “give of themselves” instead of buying presents.

A big part of the workshop is about brainstorming low-cost gift ideas, he said. Haid passes out worksheets with blanks to write down gift ideas in three categories. “Gifts of experience” include taking others to see Christmas lights or to a museum; “gifts you have created or recycled” include baked goods or personalized screen savers; “gifts of yourself or personal services” include back rubs and breakfast in bed.

People then share their gift ideas with the whole group.

“It’s just amazing the resources that people have. My life has been enriched by people in their creativity,” Haid said.

Over the years, Haid widened the workshop to include people who have money for gifts but are overwhelmed by material holiday cheer.

“A lot of people really struggle at Christmas; it’s a very difficult time for women especially,” he said. “You have to buy present, wrap presents, decorate the tree - a lot of women have just given up. This workshop works well for everyone.