Handmade gifts: throwing in the towel gracefully

Yes, I know. This post immediately follows an encouragement to delve into handmade holiday decor. But that was Sunday. Now it’s Tuesday, damn near Wednesday.

December is the month for tight deadlines and oxymorons, like Season of Joy. (Show me one person who’s truly joyous this time of year, and not Uncle Frank who’s been sloshing eggnog since Thanksgiving.)

Here’s a guide to hip gifting if you find yourself in a less-than-joyous mood this month or if you actually consider Google-ing “how to join witness protection program” as December 15 rolls around.

Figure out where you fit into the following holiday gift strategy tier. And, relax, you don’t have to go to the mall, or even Old Navy; there are other options out there. 

1. Make something. This is the section for people who own and operate a calendar. Now is really not the time to dust off the knitting needles, learn to embroider or attempt marmalade for the first time in your life. You have holiday parties to attend, stamps to buy, festive beverages to imbibe, carols to sing out in the snow, you get the point.

If you insist on using a gluestick during the most wonderful time of the year, though, handmade cards are the project to start. They’re as simple as you’d like to make them and you can be selective. Last year I sketched green saguaro cacti with red ornaments, wrote a message that included my recipients’ actual names and called it a day.

Although, this year, judging by the kitchen table convo this morning, even I, admittedly creative, have my limits. I don’t really belong in this section as of December 8th:

me: “[sniffles and little sobs] aaand, I…I..don’t want to learn Adobe Illustrator, I’m too exhausted to learn new things right now.

J: [silence]

me: and I have to make crabapple jelly before those damn things rot, and I have no clue what scents/pretty objects to get for the party next week wherein 15 people are coming to our house to make soap, and then there’s the topic of hors d’oeuvres for the two major holiday gatherings happening at our house…

J didn’t realize how asking me what’s stressing me out over our morning pancakes might fetch her more than she’d bargained for. Hence, this year, I’m only drawing/writing cards for people who might be offended if the USPS isn’t involved or those few people who write me actual letters during the regular year.

It’s really best to start projects like these in September:

1. Knitting anything bigger than a baby bootie.

2. Learning the ins and outs of Melt-and-Pour soapmaking or any other impressive craft work.

3. First attempts at homemade food you expect to give away as holiday presents (jam, bread, crackers, muffins, fruit cakes—does anyone really make these?)

A few simple, non-breakdown-inducing DIY/handmade projects include:

1. Coupons (that you make) for a special service. Not just for broke little kids any more. I like to make “foot job” (pedicure) coupons for my mom, since that’s all she really wants and it’s hard to wrap something like that.

Coupon idea: “I will come over and cook you dinner!”

2. Collages, framed for extra fanciness.

3. Bread, since you’ve been learning right alongside me these past few months, right? [wink, wink]

2. Buy something. Welcome to the next section. It’s easier than homemade, but still involves some brain power and selectivity. A discerning holiday shopper will soon see how the $3 fleece pales in comparison to these thoughtfully purchased items:

1. Used books, new books from local bookstores, and finally, Amazon in a pinch

2. Fair trade shops like this one if you’re in NYC, or 10,000 Villages in lots of other cities

3. Musician friends’ CDs. A low-cost way to support your pals and spread their talents out to parts of the country where they don’t live or tour.

4. Etsy or Arts & Craft fairs, which are not just for hippies any longer. These people started their handmade projects in time for you to buy them last minute. They opened their calendars in June and made gorgeous, creative and unique things for you to buy for friends, thus sparing you from such demands on December 8th.

Artfully prepared foods and other goods at the New Amsterdam Market in NYC.

5. If you must gift certificate your loved ones, do so via fancy or specialty grocery stores. Everyone wants an invitation to splurge and grab those luxury items at the grocery store: bacon, a fancy whisk, or maybe exotic cooking oils.

3. Donate to something cool. Here’s where you get to really kick up your feet and focus on important questions like,

“Is tequila in eggnog a terrible idea?”

“Might the corn-based cat litter start making funny popcorn since the litter box is precariously near the radiator?”

“Is there really such a thing as too stiff an eggnog beverage?”

“Who is your coworker making out with on the roof at the holiday party?”

Surely the cat needs to try on the dog’s festive winter sweater, too.

Gift certificates are so last season, here are some pro-active pre-purchases to consider:

1. An outright donation to a non-profit organization that gets you hyped.

2. A prize which, when purchased, benefits an org (chapbook, craft item, canvas bag.)

3. A membership: public radio, museums, the gym or YMCA (only if you REALLY know this person.)

4. Or offset someone’s carbon emissions for the year. Remove some of the guilt involved in living in a country that blithely consumes one fourth the world’s resources.