***This is a post I wrote last Christmas, for my old blog Subsist/Resist.
I don’t want to be a Bah-Humbug. At heart, I love Christmas. I grew up in a hippie family, where Christmas was about sparkly lights, magic, and doing special secret things for people you loved. We cut a real tree (spruce make very Charlie Brown-ish Christmas trees) and decorated it with handmade and old, cherished decorations. In our stockings we got mostly nuts and chocolate, one or two small presents, and a mandarin orange in the toe. Under the tree we had gifts, yeah, and when I was a kid- materialistic like all kids- I counted. Mostly we got stuff from the Salvation Army, or homemade. When my parents had the money, we’d get one nice, new thing.
That’s all it took. I know my mom especially always wished she had more money to buy us more stuff, but I sure don’t remember feeling disappointed or deprived come Christmas morning. When you grow up that way, it just seems normal. I had no idea it was a ‘modest Christmas’ till much later. In fact, I never understood my dad’s Bah-Humbug-ism until I grew up and moved out, and saw how most of America celebrates Christmas. Yup, it’s enough to make ya say, “Harrumph!” and stock off to some dark closet.
It’s easier the years we stay in Cordova. There’s a Christmas hubbub here, but it’s really not so bad. There’s only about two stores where you can even go ‘shopping.’ But when we spend it down south with G’s parents, I feel my shoulders hunch, and my eyes narrow. We go real shopping there. And of course, so does everyone else and their whole fam damily. It’s a madhouse. Of people trying to spend their money on a bunch of crap that some poor kids in Bangladesh worked 13 hours a day in unsafe conditions to make. Nobody even wants most of the gifts they get! It doesn’t make any sense! And that’s how we celebrate?!
Okay, rant over. I’d like to get to my point.
Don’t buy in.
I mean, I’m no purist. I understand family and social pressures, and I’m not promoting a Buy Nothing Christmas (though I kind of wish I were). What I mean is, don’t buy into the whole production of it, pare down. In this world, most people don’t need more stuff. Apart from the upkeep of some sort of social expectation, most people just want to make some connection with you, and spending money is how they do it. But you can re-write the rules. Save your money for a few quality gifts. Make things for whoever you think would appreciate it.
Which brings me to my real point. Here are some ideas for nice homemade gifts that people might actually want, and use:
Food. Everybody wants to eat. Homemade food is usually greatly appreciated. But I don’t mean the same cookies and cakes everybody already has stacks of from Aunt Minnie. I mean some good wholesome, quick food for the busy holidays. Home canned soup is a great gift for someone who won’t be too scared to eat it (be careful who you give home canned food to, I’ve found untouched years old gift jars of salmon and jam in relatives cupboards that made me want to cry, or take it back), every DIYer loves an opportunity to eat a wholesome meal that someone else made. Home canned salmon, jam, pickles, or anything else are also great gifts.
Homemade bread is another nice food gift. Not sweet bread, just bread bread. Most people love homemade bread, and almost never eat it. It’s a good ‘bang fer the buck’ way to score points. I’m thinking this year of sending bread “kits” to people I think would actually use them. So they can eat their bread hot from the oven. I’ll keep you posted on that.
Of course, if you have chickens, homegrown eggs are like gold to anyone who knows. And if you’re doing your own milking, how about a soft, herbed cheese to spread on that bread?
Rooting cuttings of good indoor herbs in September or October would give you some nice little potted herb gifts in December. Now’s not too late to do it, they’ll just be very little still. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, any woody, shrubby plant will work. You could also start from seed if you live somewhere with more winter light, where a plant might actually consider growing in December. Or give a pot filled with potting soil, a packet or two of seeds (quick growing salad greens are best, maybe a mesclun mix), and instructions for a beginning gardener to try their hand with come April, though this does threaten to be one of those gifts that sits in a corner of the garage never used.
Then there’s crafts. Knitting hats, etc is great if you know of a real need. I find buying yarn kind of expensive when you can get a fine hat at the Sally for 50 cents. Scrap, patchwork pillows can be quite nice if you sew. I also made something for my sister once, to hang in her bathroom window that was a patchwork of glowy kind of scraps (all Sally finds), like a fabric “stained glass window.” Really cool curtain alternative.
If you’re looking for a baby/mama gift, check out the Punk Baby Sweaters article from my old zine. Show me a place that’s chilly in winter and I’ll show you some hippie mamas with a yearning for baby woolies. You can hardly buy wool baby clothes if you want to. If you sew, this is a great gift.
Unfortunately, all these things are great gifts for Lovers of DIY, but they’re the easiest folks on your list. What about the squares? What do you give Aunt Minnie to say thanks for the stack of stale cookies?
Well, for one thing, let me say that far more people appreciate the homesteady type of lifestyle than you’d think. Start flaunting it and you will find the most unlikely folks crawling out of the woodwork/closet. These types may not eat your jar of salmon (though they may truly intend to, and just never get around to it), but will still enjoy living a little vicariously through you. I’ve found that one thing almost everybody appreciates is pictures. A peek into your life. (When your life is interesting, that is) I often make photo books at Christmas. Not, ‘click your photos and click Order Book,’ but actual handmade photo books. Show an intimate portrait of your “quaint” homesteady life. The city mice can put it on their coffee table and flaunt you to dinner guests. This is going to work better and better now that the whole Local Food fad is up and running. Hell, maybe you’ll spark some kind of tweak in somebody, somewhere. Maybe it will be just the nudge they needed, and they’ll start canning tomatoes from the farmer’s market.
Then there’s the real stalwarts. The people that just need a purchased gift. The people that have no interest whatsoever in homemade, that just need to know money was spent on them. Unless you’re prepared to make Christmas your political battleground, go ahead and buy them something. I’m not much of a hardcore. I want to be a part of my people, even if we are a fucked up bunch. I don’t want to give up everything I believe in to do it, but I am willing to compromise.
So now, you, gentle reader, what sort of loverly homemade gifts have you given, or received, over the years? Let’s get our juices flowing folks! The best way to keep at something is to have backup!