Many years ago when I was a poor college student that couldn’t afford to purchase holiday gifts, I resorted to my innate creativity to bridge the gap between all the presents that I had to give and my nearly empty wallet. I always tried to play to my talents. I found lots of things I could make or learn how to make. I didn’t always succeed and sometimes I’d have to shift gears and go in another direction. The secret was not being afraid to try something new.
Some years I started early by gathering basic items like baskets at yard sales for a quarter or 50 cents a piece. Then I shopped craft and fabric store sales, snapping up discounted ribbon, lace and silk flowers. It was always a time-consuming process, but then money-for-time and time-for-money trade-offs seem to be the way of the modern world. I repurposed those baskets by weaving ribbon into a decorative element, adding some silk flowers and a little lace, and attempting to match the colors of the giftees bathroom. They turned out to be popular gifts, sometimes filled with homemade baked goods (I could *steal* the cooking ingredients from my parents’ kitchen when I still lived at home–so that was TOTALLY free!) or soaps. To this day I still use several of those baskets to help me organize bits and pieces of things in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.
It was during those lean college years that I used my burgeoning creative-writing talent to pen a short vignette for my father describing how I pretended to fall asleep in the car when I was little so he would have to carry me in the house. I adored it when he carried me. It was a simple, but powerful memory that showed him how much I loved him. I framed it and presented it to him for Christmas. This strong, burly man cried when he read it and for the rest of his life he carried a copy in his wallet and showed it to everyone he could get to read it. I had to reprint it for him several times because the paper wore out. He remarked that it was the best present he had ever received and it meant so much to him that he requested it be read at his funeral when he passed in October 2013.
There have been lots of practical gifts over the last 20 years–soaps, herbal sachets, and bath bombs (often utilizing herbs I grew and dried myself). I even went as far as making magically themed bath salts for my nephew. They changed the color of his bath water and were designed to protect him from thunder and lightning and the bad things that lurk in the dark. My nephew received lots of creative gifts from his auntie when he was young. During his skateboarding days, I designed witty sayings in interesting fonts and ironed them on over-sized black t-shirts. The one that said, I bleed sarcasm in a blood-dripping typeface was his favorite. It was immortalized in many death-defying photos at the skate park and forever made me the cool aunt.
As I got older, my talents broadened as did my the capacity of my wallet (well, sometimes–hello life?). I designed sterling silver jewelry with semi-precious stones, porcelain-mosaic hard-sided purses, and my tiny hat fascinators have been a hit for the past year or two.
In more recent years I learned how to can and have been showering my friends with homemade jams, applesauce, flavored liquors, and pickled veggies. I’ve been making handmade holiday gifts for so long that I get requests now. My sister-in-law loves my pickled green beans, shortbread, jewelry, and bath products. Some of my coworkers can’t get enough of my pickled sugar snap peas and another thinks my blueberry-lavender jam is to die for…
You just never know what a homemade creative gift will mean to someone. Sometimes it’s just a pretty, tasty, or useful thing and sometimes it means so much that they keep it close to them for the rest of their lives.