I have vivid memories of the closet in the extra bedroom of the house I grew up in. The best stuff was shoved way to the back corner on the floor, occupying the oldest stratigraphic layers of closet geologic time: my mom’s forgotten Christmas craft supplies. Two file boxes full of that weird crunchy florist ribbon, decaying foam wreath forms, stapled baggies filled with sequins… like manna from heaven.
Fast-forward to my own life as a mom: I’ve never given up on the dream of a handmade Christmas, though my standards have relaxed in the wake of having two children in 18 months. My life is nuts, the holidays sometimes give me an anxiety rash, and I’m not particularly good at juggling very many things at once. As such, I bring you:
Ideas for A (Quasi) Handmade Holiday
I’m usually a booze-as-a-gift sort of person – but grad school yielded more friendships than I could afford to buy Frangelico gift sets for. So I sleuthed out everyone’s general decor palettes and got to work hemming quilting cotton into 12” x 18” rectangles. The shape required less fabric than a traditional 18” square napkin (cheap), and using highly patterned quilting cotton meant you could stain it up pretty badly before it looked too gnarly (easy care). And they don’t require ironing – just fold them up however you like directly out of the dryer and they look great. You don’t even need to hem them if that’s too much of a pain, just zig-zag stitch around the edges and allow them to fray as they wear. I still see those cloth napkins on occasion when I visit my friends. At least the smart ones who put them out when I come over.
Whipped Shea Butter
I went through a phase making handcrafted all-natural lotions and ablutions… before husband. Before children. Back when my thoughts and bathroom time were my own. The biggest hit with everyone was also the easiest to make: whipped shea butter. Throw a bunch of shea butter (I buy mine on Amazon), and whatever smelly stuff you like (maybe essential oils from your Young Living friend who won’t shut up about the soles of her family’s feet) into a stand mixer and beat it into oblivion. Seriously, cue up something captivating on YouTube, because you’re going to be there a while. Whip until fluffy like frosting and pipe into clean jars (go with small mason jars if you want to destroy your girlfriends’ dreams for the title of DIY Goddess). Slap on a label from some super cute shop on Etsy if you’re an overachiever, or with a Sharpie and a prayer if you’re me. Lob them at your friends on Christmas Eve and say, “You’re welcome.”
As I mentioned earlier, I am a booze-gifter. Mostly because it’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser in the circles I frequent (read: my family). But gift-grade alcohol can be pricey and it’s completely weird to buy it in bulk and present it in unmarked containers. Unless it’s a Handmade Gift™. Enter flavored spirits. Fill well-scrubbed decorative bottles a quarter to halfway with fruits, herbs, whole spices, even tea leaves or coffee beans. (Shop thrift stores or off-price retailers for bottles and sanitize with a powdered oxygen brewer’s wash like PBW). Buy decent but inexpensive liquor in the giant bottles (you don’t care what those other shoppers think) and decant into your prepared bottles. Try flavor combos like Earl Grey and gin, vanilla bean and bourbon, or peppercorn/dill/celery seed and vodka for Bloody Marys. Sharpie the contents onto the bottle with a shaky hand, then eyeball the recipient until they cave and share with you. Happy Hanukkah!
I know. I don’t entirely understand why, but people LOVE this stuff. That’s a lie. I do understand. It tastes way better than store-bought. You can customize it however you want. It looks great in a cellophane bag tied with jute, or burlap, or gingham, or whatever rustic expression you feel really drives home that you slaved in a kitchen to express your love for the recipient (or slay your Pinterest posse and use swing top bale jars. Mic drop.). And it’s a breeze to make. Hit up Uncle Google for specific recipes, but granola is basically a bunch of shelf-stable fruits, nuts, seeds, and grains mixed to whatever proportions you like, bound together loosely with sweeteners and oils, flavored with herbs and spices for unexpected panache, and baked to a satisfying crunch that can withstand milk or stand alone.
And there you have it: ideas for a handmade holiday. I will be presenting store-bought pie for Christmas dinner, and there will be no cranberry-and-popcorn garland on my tree, nor evergreen bough wreath on my door – because who has time between hauling the 4-year-old from the top shelf of the linen closet for the hundredth time and yelling at the dog to stop eating her own poop? But one or two lazy little projects will scratch that DIY itch. Even better, amid the chaos that can sometimes overwhelm us at the holidays, I’ll be able to flex my creative muscles a bit and my kids will witness me making things with my hands that are beautiful or delicious (or inebriating), that make others happy. And that is pretty fabulous.
Maren is a dedicated coffee-drinker, sewist, survivor of the 2-Boys-Under-Two Club, and master Lego builder. She loves Netflix bingeing, beer, and talking about eating bacon all the time but not actually doing it. Because heart attacks. She writes in the key of sailor whenever the spirit strikes over at artslostandfound.com.