Since some of my beliefs have, shall we say, diverged somewhat from those of my upbringing, holidays with the family can be a little tense sometimes. My approach as a teenager was to try my hardest to undermine the tyranny of oppressive and irritating traditions like carols and December cable TV staples. As it turned out, though, mocking the capitalist subtext of Miracle on 34th Street didn’t actually make it any more fun for me to watch.
Since my charming adolescence, I’ve developed a more productive approach to thriving during the holidays. Instead of sabotaging everyone’s sacred rituals with sarcasm, I find inclusive ways to honor parts of the season I find meaningful. Lecture on the evils of slaughterhouses at the table? No. Bring a vegetarian dish everyone can enjoy? Much better. Bombard Grandma with child-free politics when she asks about great-grandchildren? Bad idea. Send greeting cards with my cat sitting on Santa’s lap instead? Perfect! (Okay, that was actually my sister, and its wisdom is debatable, but it’s still the better option.)
One of the most difficult cultural demands to resist this time of year is gift-giving. I appreciate the symbolism of showing my affection in the form of presents, but I don’t want to buy into the Black Friday frenzy of diamonds, electronics, toys and tools. Instead, I’ve come up with gifts I can make for people that they’ll enjoy. I get to be creative, and they get a gift they’ll use. Making gifts takes a little more planning than a mad dash to the mall, but the result is often more meaningful, because I spent time thinking about the recipient and crafting them something special. Here are some of the gifts I’ve made or plan to make, with some handy books and guides.
Almost everyone carries some kind of electronic device. Make someone a little winter coat protector for theirs! These can be knitted, sewn or crocheted in any size. For examples, see The Big-Ass Book of Crafts.
What’s cozier than a t-shirt? A whole blanket made of cozy t-shirts heartwarmingly stitched by someone who loves you! The Generation T series includes crafts for those handy with a sewing machine and those who can’t thread a needle. The t-shirt quilt project is in Generation T: Beyond Fashion: 120 New Ways to Transform a T-shirt.
- Personalized Recipe Book
Take advantage of the library’s enormous cookbook collection by selecting recipes for a personalized recipe box. Just pick out a handful of appetizing recipes, copy them onto notecards and put them in a decorated box.
A calendar is a gift that’s useful all year, and it’s easy to customize the artwork. You can make a collage for every month, or choose photos from all of the Kodak moments on your friends’ Facebook pages. Lots of websites and copy shops also offer inexpensive packages to turn photos into calendars.
Pasta necklaces probably won’t fly unless you’re under the age of 10, but there are lots of lovely jewelry-making techniques accessible to a range of skill levels. You can also craft a handmade jewelry holder out of some screen and a picture frame.
Does your cousin think 2012 is the year the world ends? Put her at ease with the gift of a cute little survival kit made from an Altoids tin. Who knows? It might even come in handy for holiday survival.
Not to cue an orchestral rendition of “Silver Bells” or anything, but taking time to honor the people we love is meaningful and powerful no matter what our spirituality or politics are. I hope you find ways to enjoy this hectic month with the people you care about in rewarding, fulfilling and fun ways!