To date I've written one Christmas novel, Home for the Holidays, in which five strangers become stranded by bad weather at a bed & breakfast in the country. The innkeepers, three sisters, have to sacrifice the quiet family Christmas they had planned in order to shelter, feed and entertain the group. Everyone is initially depressed over having their Christmas ruined, and then as people in a bad situation usually do, they make the best of it.
When I was putting the story together, I thought about things that often get overlooked during the normal commercial holiday blitzkrieg: homemade gifts, special meals, true surprises, and revisiting one's childhood. In the book the sisters and their guests end up recreating some of their favorite memories from childhood, which become the gifts they give each other: cookies, handmade candy, a gingerbread house, knitted stockings, etc. In the end I think I nailed some of the elusive meaning behind that old gift-giving standard "it's the thought that counts."
On my desk in the office, for example, is a little hand-painted plaster Victorian house. My best friend made it for me eight years ago as a Christmas gift, and it's been on my desk ever since. It's so perfectly painted and detailed that it looks real, down to wee shaded bricks and tiny beribboned evergreen wreath on the front door. Journey diamonds or a PS3 would be probably worth more in monetary terms, but those things are just stuff anyone can buy. I think of my friend every time I look at this little house, so to me it's priceless.
You don't have to be a gifted artist to make a neat homemade gift. Since my hands aren't being cooperative enough to quilt this year, I've been burning some CDs with mixes of my favorite songs, putting together home movies and rifling through the junk shops for interesting antique books and vintage garments. I found a wonderful old sewing bag filled with a snarl of floss, embroidery wools and satin ribbon and detangled the lot for a friend who restores antique embroidery. I'm planning to make up some fruit and nut baskets for the family for when we go visiting, and I thought I'd see if I could do something more interesting with them (a bit like flower arranging; I'll have to experiment and see what I come up with.)
How about you guys? Are any of you hand-making gifts this year? Do you have any favorite handmade gifts you've received over the years? Or should we give it up and just stick with stuff?