Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What Counts

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?


  1. My wife and I put together food baskets for our families. Wine, bikkies, chocolates - various things we know (or think) they'll like. It certainly gets around the post-christmas 'what do I do with a pie maker?' problem.

  2. I've had less time than usual to worry about Christmas this year, which has been a good thing. Fortunately, the DH is picking up the slack when it comes to presents, packing, and post office, and I've been left with doing what I like best: making things. This year it's mostly knitted washcloths. Doesn't sound too exciting but I'm combining them with handmade soap and I think that's a nice gift.

  3. Last year I handmade notebooks for all the women in my very extended family - they were bound with ribbon, and with sparkly jewels on elastic to hold them closed, or with Christmas decorations on the front.

    I haven't been nearly so good this year, but I'm already starting to think about what I can make for next year. Starting early seems to be the key!

  4. I try to cross stitch a Christmas ornament to hang from each package and I definitely do a lot of baking - but try to bake things that are a little unlike anything else the people may get, so finding recipes is a fun challenge.

    My DD is 7 y.o. and has been encouraged to make her gifts every year. I think it's a wonderful idea and far more thoughtful.

  5. My paternal grandmother, who has been gone about 15 years now, used to make these little floral arrangements and give them away at Christmas. One year I got a tiny red mailbox with faux leaves and berries coming out of it and a red cardinal nesting in the mailbox. I still have it. I loved it when I got it, but it's especially precious to me now.

    As for my own homemade gifts, I've given a few cookie packages and scarves over the years - the scarves have been mostly to my mother. She has come to look for them, and gives me color hints months in advance, LOL.

  6. Anonymous7:35 AM

    Not this year, but just about every other year. I sewed a pair of flannel pants for my best friend one year, since she couldn't find the colors she wanted in any store. I bought a material that was just so her and whipped them up, and she was ecstatic. She still has them.

    Gifts I've received -- at the moment I can't think of any for me, but for each of my kids, when they were babies, I got the most amazing handmade sweaters and booties and blankets and things. People put so much love and care into it that I was just touched.

  7. Anonymous7:42 AM

    I made some ornaments for a few people this year (a kit, actually, but I still had to assemble them), and I always make up goodies that I bring in to work and give to my roommate's family.

    My favorite homemade gift was one my best friend made me: he took a story I'd written for his birthday, formatted it, printed it, and then bound it himself, even sewing a beautiful velvet cover. *-* It was my first "book" and it still has pride-of-place on my bookshelf...even in the story itself is a touch embarrassing, now.

  8. My favorite gift is a Christmas ornament the munchkin made when she was very small. In the center is her handprint. What makes it special is that she hates having dirty hands. (She would never, ever fingerpaint.) She only allowed the teacher to put paint on her hand because she was making a gift for me.

  9. We do not give gifts anymore, but in the past I have crafte, sewnn knitted and cross stitched gifts for friends and family.

  10. Anonymous9:18 AM

    My mother-in-law, sister-in-law and myself take a Saturday and bake dozens and dozens of cookies and then make up pretty baskets and tins to give as gifts.

    One of my favorite gifts was from my best friend in high school who crocheted scarves. She used the softest chenille I've ever felt and the thing must be six foot long. It's so cozy and I always think of her. :)

  11. We're just doing very small gifts this year and enjoying being together. That's my mother, sister and myself.

  12. Anonymous9:28 AM

    We made goodie baskets of candy, cake, and cookies. We know they'll be enjoyed, and shared, and there's no unwanted gift left to get rid of later. They can even re-gift the tins it came in!

  13. I enjoying cross-stitching, especially the small little kit designs that I can finish in two or three days. I like to attach those as a sort of gift tag to other little unique gifts I've found, such ast he Victorian magnet calendars and the bisque flower tinket boxes I got from the Victorian Trading Company (I love them). This year, I'm going a step further and sewing fabric to the back of the cross-stitch so that they can be hung on the tree.

    I love your idea about shopping junk stores. I'm going to have to find some in our area!

  14. Anonymous9:59 AM

    This year my mom's side of the family is doing a gift exchange where all the gifts must be handmade. We're going to draw names on Christmas Eve and then exchange our handmade goods. I'm frantically crocheting a lap blanket. I'm looking forward to this exchange more than any other store bought gifts I know I'm going to receive. I can't wait to see everyone's hard work and the appreciation that results.

  15. I'm makung up a basket of different cookies and fudge for my favorite aunt and uncle who already have everything they could ever need or want. Along with that, I'll tuck in a framed photo of my 4 month old grandson.

    I'm also crocheting my grandson a sweater with hat and mitts to go with his other gifts. (If I finish on time!)

  16. My best friend made me an early birthday gift. She knitted me a purse using suede yarn. It was sort of a difficult pattern, and she struggled with it a long time. It means more to me than anything she could have bought because she cared so much for me that she couldn't give up until she got it right. It means so much to me I'm almost afraid to use it. ^_^

    Whether a gift is hand-made or store-bought isn't as important if the person's heart is behind it. My husband buys me gifts - but every gift is thought about carefully and chosen specifically for a reason. Like the iPod speaker dock he gave me last night (he couldn't wait for my birthday which is Saturday).

    KJ - thanks for the idea. I've been trying to figure out something extra to send to my nieces. Decorated journals would be just the thing.

  17. Anonymous11:53 AM

    I made earrings this year for my girlfriends. It was fun to pick out special beads for each person according to their individual style. The cool part was that they were completely surprised that I handmade something for them.

  18. On an aside - Just wanted to say that I have a copy of "Home for the Holidays" (Signed with a lovely inscripton by the kind author!) that came to me as an added bonus on a PBW giveaway. It's not my usual type of reading material, but since you were so gracious as to send it, I figured I'd give it a shot.

    I was blown away by how deeply the book touched me. I am a huge fan of Christmas (I'm doing a whole series on my blog right now about my family traditions for the holiday) and I think this may be the best work I've read -since "A Christmas Carol"- that conveys what I think of as "the true meaning" of Christmas. It was a wonderful surprise and I wanted to thank you for it and recommnd to anyone here who may not have read it to do so as soon as possible. It's a great read, and would make a wonderful Christmas gift for anyone you care about.


  19. I look more forward to what certain members make me than what others buy me. They become heirlooms. I have a pair of socks my Aunt knitted for my deceased Grandfather whom I adored. They are bright kelly green wool and he wore them to church. I have sweaters, cute hats, quilted potholders and my favorite, my mother crochets lace borders for my pillowcases, and sometimes she sews them all up herself. Other times she rolls up the lace and ties it with a ribbon so it looks like a flower.

    I've sewn velvet scarves, made countless cookies, just made peanut brittle, and made tapestry journal covers with frog closures. When I've had more time I've made quilted bags. Not big, but about 6x8, just big enough to put makeup in or other small things.

  20. In the past I've made scrapbooks for the family. Traveling with the military, they missed out on watching the kids grow up.


  21. eh, i like stuff. but i also like more sentimental things. The DH helped the kids make a stepping stone to put in one of my flower beds.

    I tend to give a lot of pictures. a LOT. usually just one, framed, although occassionally I'll throw them in some sort of album.

  22. Anonymous4:11 PM

    I have knitted stockings for each of the girls I work with and have put some candy and fruit in them. I've also knitted wash clothes for the new mothers which have baby's feet as the motive in the center. I love to knit and most people appreciate the time and skill that it takes to make the various gifts.


  23. I remember one year I thought it'd be cool to blow up a couple of photographs I'd taken (one of my parents in front of their new house and the other of my sister on a visit we'd taken to Alcatraz) and frame them. My sister refused to put hers on the wall and my parents' one was seen leaning against the wall for months.

    Now I buy stuff.

  24. Anonymous5:04 PM

    Blogeois said...

    We don't give gifts anymore mostly due to the handmade gifts we liked to make. It seemed we fell into a batch of family and friends who thought handmade gifts were "cheap and tacky" no matter how much care, work, and love went into creating them. Turned out store-bought gifts didn't appease them either. Not giving anything seems to work much better nowadays and is certainly less stressful. But sometimes, my fingers itch to create something...which is why now I write.

  25. Anonymous6:46 PM

    We let the kids make a bunch of paintings and such for everybody. But, we also still do presents for our brothers/sisters/parents/grandparents.

    Everybody else we just try to call/get together with.

  26. Anonymous8:33 PM

    Each year since I graduated from High School, I made Christmas cards to send to my friends since we weren't able to see each other as often as we used to (and in some cases, at all). I usually end up sending them in March-June though because the planning of the card starts in December. Last year was the first year I didn't make one though, so this year I'm determined to start it up again.

    A good site for DIY ideas is www.craftster.org. There are many neato crafts for Christmas as well as other random things.

  27. My 3 daughters and I get together every year and make soap candles and candy 1 day to give as gifts everyone loves them Because we use favorite scents colors add natural products for those that need it etc. It makes them very personal.
    I'm making special gifts for my daughters too. The middle one microsuede pillows, a tablecloth and curtains for her new apartment. The oldest topiaries using artificial flowers from her wedding this year, pillows, and a lighted swag 18 feet long to hang over bed and nightstands. And the youngest a pink orange and brown rug for her room. I also made homemade jelly and salsa for gifts
    So I think homemade gifts are great

  28. Also every year I get with my grandson whos now 3yo and make plaster ornaments with him. For him to give everyone and they are mementoes of him
    We even do his hands

  29. Anonymous10:19 PM

    I once sewed an embroidered handphone/camera pouch for a friend for her birthday present. I could wish someone would do the same for me! :D

  30. Our family is all about the homemade gifts; we always have been. I can't say what I made this year because my daughter reads this blog! But it (they) took a LOT of hours.

    Our tree has mostly handmade decorations on it. Some of them are really tacky, but they were made with love by little hands (and some not so little!) and bring back lots of memories.

    The Learning Channel has those live-and-learn ads on, and I can't stand the one that says that homemade gifts are okay...if you're seven. They're much more valuable than that. (Okay, I'll get off the soapbox now.)

  31. I always knit my nieces and nephew something. This year all my nieces are getting ponchos and my nephew is getting a vest or sweater.

    Sadly, with all the chaos this year, they will be a little late. *sniffles*

    But, I know that their parents appreciate the time and effort. Most of them still have the baby blankets that I made them.

    In a month or two, I will begin the stockings for my boys-with cables so that they look like a fisherman sweater. Also, the nieces are getting teddy bears with a whole wardrobe next year. I don't know what I will do for my nephew yet.

    Happy Holidays,


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