The holidays are all about traditions so I thought I’d share one our family holds dear – our homemade Christmas gift tradition.
I’m thrilled to be writing this as part of a blog hop, which means several of my fellow East Coast bloggers are also writing about their family Christmas traditions; be sure to check out their stories at the end of this post. Here’s a little teaser!
Our family Christmas traditions are pretty simple: dinner at my in-laws on Christmas Eve, presents at home Christmas morning, then a drive to Cape Breton and two different family celebrations on December 26th and 27th. There are a lot of things we tend to do each season, like making gingerbread houses, going to look at Christmas lights, and getting new Christmas jammies, but these activities aren’t steeped in tradition – they don’t happen on a certain day or in a certain way.
But I am proud of the one tradition we made a conscious decision to begin – and have stuck with, despite it being a challenge some years: the only gifts we exchange with each other are homemade. (Santa and his elves pick up the slack on the commercially available things in our home; sort of a role-reversal thing!)
It’s not always an easy process, to come up with gifts that we’re capable of making for each other. There have been a few years where we parents use up all our creative energies trying to create gifts for the kids and help them create for each other … so our gifts suffer a bit. One year, my husband received an ABC recipe book; 24 recipes, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I would make for him. I think I’ve made three of the recipes and don’t know where the ‘book’ (it was a stack of papers in a manila envelope) is anymore.
Then there was the year I tried to make him a silly Christmas tie. Except I didn’t find a proper pattern. And I can’t sew, so I tried to use my go-to Heat n Bond. The resulting creation was so stiff no one could try to tie it – and it was WAAAY too short! Thankfully, his gift to me that year was a lovely little memory box … that wasn’t squared up properly and doesn’t actually latch closed. We enjoyed a great laugh at each other and those will probably be two of the gifts that we remember the most over the years.
Some years, though, we nail it.
An old frame, some ribbon, and hot glue created this lovely hair accessory organizer during a single nap time!
The boys’ first Christmas, 2013, was one of those years. I picked out the plans for a costume rack and Alex created a fantastic piece of furniture that has been used every day since. I made a lovely hair accessory holder for Clara, and soft, comfy floor pillows for each of the boys. The kids worked together to fingerpaint a DAD sign that still hands in our living room. We were even surprised by Clara with a homemade ornament, thanks to the fabulous staff at her preschool.
It was the first year we were introducing the kids to the idea of our homemade Christmas gift tradition. On the final day at preschool before Christmas break, Clara came home with a little gift bag tied up with ribbon and a note saying it was a Christmas gift to us. I placed it under the tree, and on Christmas morning I cried as I opened up a snowman fingerprint ornament. To be surprised with a homemade gift (especially an ornament – my collection of ornaments is very important to me) was the best gift and fit our family perfectly.
The next year was pretty awesome, too. Alex again knocked it out of the park with handmade chairs for the kids. I came up with my own outlines and hand-sewed Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman dolls. We tried to make a fidget board with Clara to give to her brothers (great in theory, but we left it too late and ran into some issues; I don’t think they even saw it until last summer in the garage!). I used the boys feet to create Elsa and Anna paintings for Clara. She and her brothers worked together to make tie dye socks for Daddy. I built (with a little help from a handy friend who helped drill some pieces together for me) a display rack for Alex’s running bibs and medals.
This year, we’re feeling a little stretched thin and grasping a bit at what to create for each other. I took the kids to paint ceramic gifts for their dad; he pretty much hates pottery, but they loved picking out the things they thought he’d like and painting them. I did NOT help at all – and it shows. Which is kind of the point. So far, I’ve made my husband a salt dough ornament (that looks like the kids could have created!). I keep going back and forth between a few ideas for the kids, always pushing the one thing I want to do (write a Christmas story) to the back because I always leave it to the last minute and fear I’ll be angry with myself for rushing it, instead of doing it properly.
But this year will go down in family memory as the first year the kids truly understand the concept that we are all making gifts for each other – and that they are responsible for coming up with ideas and creating them. Our daughter has snuck away to work on things a few times, and she came up with a fantastic idea for gifts for her brothers and worked on them completely solo. The boys also came up with a suggestion on their own for gifts for her, and have made some drawings for me. No one talks of buying anything.
Making our gifts isn’t an attempt to save money; we often end up spending as much or more on supplies than we would a store-bought gift. And I know we could put just as much thought into a purchased gift – and that we sometimes create something homemade that is the equivalent to a last-minute desperation purchase! What I love about our homemade Christmas gift tradition is that it forces us as a family to think deeply about each other and ourselves. It helps us as parents instil the idea that the value of an object is not in its price or its perfection, but in its intent. And I’ve realized it’s teaching all of us the importance of embracing our creativity. Each year we give ourselves the opportunity to explore a skill we might not otherwise use all year – sewing, woodworking, writing, drawing, or whatever else we dream up.
All in all, our homemade Christmas gift tradition is one that brings me great joy. I’d love to know what traditions you share with your family that bring you happiness each year. Please share below – and please remember to cut yourself some slack this season, whether you’re making gifts or chasing down a list of special purchases, filling the freezer with sweets or planning a family feast, or just trying to fit in all the activities you think you should. What matters are those moments when you connect with each other and enjoy your time together; the details don’t need to be perfect.