A Handmade, Recycled Christmas.
Making literal garbage into something special.
For years my family of four has had a special tradition of making homemade Christmas gifts. The kids always got a big store-bought gift from Santa and a stocking full of special goodies and things to use (we tried to stay away from useless trinkets), but we have always made each other’s gifts.
It started out when I was a young single mother and barely able to cover rent, food and daycare costs on my own. I didn’t have the money to buy Christmas gifts for my one-year-old son. I still wanted to do something special for him though, especially since it was his first real Christmas.
So that year, despite the fact that sewing was really not my jam and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I spent hours making my son a sock monkey that I sewed by hand. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was filled with love and I was proud of it. And most importantly, he loved it (though not quite as much as a pillow that he became attached to later on) and slept with for years. And I’m pretty sure that even though he is 23 now, he still has it tucked away in his own house.
The following year I wanted to do something different. I wanted something for him that he would get a lot of use out of for a long time, but he was so little I had a hard time coming up with something. I ended up creating a special bedtime mix CD that he loved and listened to literally for years. The first song on it was Dream a Little Dream by the Mama’s and the Papa’s. I chose that song because I sang it to him every night before bed. Incidentally, that was also the song that he and my daughter-in-law danced their first dance to at their wedding, I had so many tears during that dance.
A couple years later when I was newly married, hugely pregnant and on bed rest with my youngest, I sat cutting endless squares of Sponge Bob themed fabric to make my first (and last) quilt for him that he loved and used on his bed for years.
The following year when my youngest was still new to the world I made him a sock monkey too.
This tradition of making gifts for each other has continued and made some of the best gifts that I ever could have hoped for or imagined.
The kids have created for me an untold number of beautiful treasures including drawings, paintings, Christmas decorations, wire art, duct tape everything, a ceramic vase, wind-chimes, bath bubbles and scrubs and coupons galore. My favorites have always been the hug coupons (which I have kept and still use on my teenager to this day).
For the kids I have crocheted blankets, written a story book, made denim aprons with egg and bacon applique, made cookbooks, stuffed toys, a hammock made of an old blanket and rope and a secret hiding place book.
Being a musician, my partner has written and recorded songs for all three of us at various times. He also loves wood working and made me both a tea bag holder that hangs on the wall for my endless boxes of tea and a rack to hold the untold number of essential oils that I loved to run through the diffuser day and night.
For the kids, he made my youngest a Lego tray that slides under their bed (and despite being a teenager it is still used today), coffee scented candles, duct tape Kindle holders, a D&D dice holder and an Ukulele hanger made from an old record.
The kids made him a plethora of duct tape accessories including wallets, ties and even belts in addition to all sorts of other artistic creations. One of his favorites though was the year that my oldest painted the propane tank for the barbecue to look like a Lego head. He used that tank until they wouldn’t refill it anymore.
For my partner I’ve made things like bacon infused whiskey and a belt from a recycled bicycle tire. We’ve made a lot of other really unique and heartfelt things for each other as well, but the one that always stands out the most is the year that we couldn’t afford to buy anything at all to make gifts for each other, so we created lists of 101 Things I Love About You. We each still have those laminated lists and I think that is the most heartfelt and meaningful gift that I’ve ever received from him.
These gifts have been a little more involved some years and cost a little bit to make, but after we really got the hang of it, we would start planning out what we would make for each other earlier in the year and save things that we knew we would be able to use or buy things at yard sales and thrift shops. We got really good at recycling old things to make something new. Like the year that my oldest found an old piece of pipe in the garage that my partner was going to throw out, but instead he used it to make me a wind-chime. Or the year when we had just moved in to our new falling apart house and the money that we had planned to use for Christmas ended up having to be spent on repairing the laundry room floor because a leak caused the washer to fall through it and my partner made my oldest son, ever the maker and creator, a “Box of Bits & Stuff”. He decorated an old shoe box and filled it with bits of wire and shoelaces, Velcro, elastic, nuts, bolts, electrical components, all sorts of things and he not only loved it, but used the box for years to create and to collect even more useful stuff to keep on creating.
The kids got really creative with the gifts that they made for each other as well, but they also got really good at just recycling their things for each other. Probably one of the best ones was the year that our oldest gifted our youngest with his VW campervan Lego set. He got an untold number of grateful hugs for that one and it was assembled completely on Christmas morning.
I would be remiss not to mention one of the kids favorite Christmas gifts though. Coupons. I started making coupons for their stockings to skip veggies, have ice cream for breakfast or pick the movie on movie night. But the best one was always the coveted chore coupon in which the bearer could pass a chore on to someone else. Those were often gone before New Year’s Eve, but they got so much joy out of those tiny pieces of paper, it was pretty hilarious to watch.
My oldest is grown now and it’s a little harder to know what he and my daughter-in-law like or need, so they’ve graduated to mostly store-bought gifts (often things they need for their house) and a big tin of homemade goodies. But my partner and our youngest are still continuing the homemade, handmade tradition for now. Hopefully we’ll get a few more years of it before they grow up and start new traditions of their own.