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I don’t want to be a Bah-Humbug. At heart, I love Christmas. I grew up in hippie family, where Christmas was about sparkly lights, magic, and doing special secret things for people you loved. We cut a real tree (spruce make very Charlie Brown-ish Christmas trees) and decorated it with handmade and old, cherished decorations. In our stockings we got mostly nuts and chocolate, one or two small presents, and a mandarin orange in the toe. Under the tree we had gifts, yeah, and when I was a kid- materialistic like all kids- I counted.  Mostly we got stuff from the Salvation Army, or homemade. When my parents had the money, we’d get one nice, new thing.

That’s all it took. I know my mom especially always wished she had more money to buy us more stuff, but I sure don’t remember feeling disappointed or deprived come Christmas morning. When you grow up that way, it just seems normal. I had no idea it was a ‘modest Christmas’ till much later. In fact, I never understood my dad’s borderline Bah-Humbug-ism until I grew up and moved out, and saw how most of America celebrates Christmas. Yup, it’s enough to make ya say, “Harrumph!” and stock off to some dark closet.

It’s easier the years we stay in Cordova. There’s a Christmas hubbub here, but it’s really not so bad. There’s only about two stores where you can even go ‘shopping.’ But when we spend it down south with G’s parents, I feel my shoulders hunch, and my eyes narrow. We go real shopping there. And of course, so does everyone else and their whole fam damily. It’s a madhouse. Of people trying to spend their money on a bunch of crap that some poor kids in Bangladesh worked 13 hours a day in unsafe conditions to make. Nobody even wants most of the gifts they get! It doesn’t make any sense! And that’s how we celebrate?!

Okay, rant over. I’d like to get to my point.

Don’t buy in.

I mean, I’m no purist. I understand family and social pressures, and I’m not promoting a Buy Nothing Christmas (though I kind of wish I were). What I mean is, don’t buy into the whole production of it, pare down. In this world, most people don’t need more stuff. Apart from the upkeep of some sort of social expectation, most people just want to make some connection with you, and spending money is how they do it. But you can re-write the rules. Save your money for a few quality gifts. Make things for whoever you think would appreciate it.

Which brings me to my real point. Here are some ideas for nice homemade gifts that people might actually want, and use:

Food. Everybody wants to eat. Homemade food is usually greatly appreciated. But I Hunger Emergency Solutionsdon’t mean the same cookies and cakes everybody already has stacks of from Aunt Minnie. I mean some good wholesome, quick food for the busy holidays. Home canned soup is a great gift for someone who won’t be too scared to eat it (be careful who you give home canned food to, I’ve found untouched years old gift jars of salmon and jam in relatives cupboards that made me want to cry, or take it back), every DIYer loves an opportunity to eat a wholesome meal that someone else made. Home canned salmon, jam, pickles, or anything else are also great gifts.

Homemade bread is another nice food gift. Not sweet bread, just bread bread. Most people love homemade bread, and almost never eat it. It’s a good ‘bang fer the buck’ way to score points. I’m thinking this year of sending bread “kits” to people I think would actually use them. So they can eat their bread hot from the oven. I’ll keep you posted on that.

Of course, if you have chickens, homegrown eggs are like gold to anyone who knows. And if you’re doing your own milking, how about a soft, herbed cheese to spread on that bread?

Rooting cuttings of good indoor herbs in September or October would give you some nice little potted herb gifts in December. Now’s not too late to do it, they’ll just be very little still. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, any woody, shrubby plant will work. You could also start from seed if you live somewhere with more winter light, where a plant might actually consider growing in December. Or give a pot filled with potting soil, a packet or two of seeds (quick growing salad greens are best, maybe a mesclun mix), and instructions for a beginning gardener to try their hand with come April, though this does threaten to be one of those gifts that sits in a corner of the garage never used.

Then there’s crafts. Knitting hats, etc is great if you know of a real need. I find buying yarn kind of expensive when you can get a fine hat at the Sally for 50 cents. Scrap, patchwork pillows can be quite nice if you sew. I also made something for my sister once, to hang in her bathroom window that was a patchwork of glowy kind of scraps (all Sally finds), like a fabric “stained glass window.” Really cool curtain alternative.

sweater-clothesIf you’re looking for a baby/mama gift, check out the Punk Baby Sweaters article. Show me a place that’s chilly in winter and I’ll show you some hippie mamas with a yearning for baby woolies. You can hardly buy wool baby clothes if you want to. If you sew, this is a great gift.

Unfortunately, all these things are great gifts for Lovers of DIY, but they’re the easiest folks on your list. What about the squares? What do you give Aunt Minnie to say thanks for the stack of stale cookies?

Well, for one thing, let me say that far more people appreciate the homesteady type of lifestyle than you’d think. Start flaunting it and you will find the most unlikely folks crawling out of the woodwork/closet. These types may not eat your jar of salmon (though they may truly intend to, and just never get around to it), but will still enjoy living a little vicariously through you. I’ve found that one thing almost everybody appreciates is pictures. A peek into your life. (When your life is interesting, that is) I often make photo books at Christmas. Not, ‘click your photos and click Order Book,’ but actual homemade photo books. Show an intimate portrait of your “quaint” homesteady life. The city mice can put it on their coffee table and flaunt you to dinner guests. This is going to work better and better now that the whole Local Food fad is up and running. Hell, maybe you’ll spark some kind of tweak in somebody, somewhere. Maybe it will be just the nudge they needed, and they’ll start canning tomatoes from the farmer’s market.

Then there’s the real stalwarts. The people that just need a purchased gift. The people that have no interest whatsoever in homemade, that just need to know money was spent on them. Unless you’re prepared to make Christmas your political battleground, go ahead and buy them something. I’m not much of a hardcore. I want to be a part of my people, even if we are a fucked up bunch. I don’t want to give up everything I believe in to do it, but I am willing to compromise.

So now, you, gentle reader, what sort of loverly homemade gifts have you given, or received, over the years? Let’s get our juices flowing folks! The best way to keep at something is to have backup!

I know you’re thinking of the dorky paper snow flakes you made in second grade and thinking I’ve flown my coop. But have you tried these crafties again as an adult? Like reading and arithmetic, you might find you’ve come a long way, baby. Give it a fair try before you laugh in my face, I think they’re quite elegant, artsy, wintery, and even fun!

flake1

In case you’ve forgotten how, here’s the basic idea:

Take a sheet of blank white paper, fold one corner down, crease on the diagonal and cut to make a square. Now fold corner to corner in half again, and one more time. This means you’ve folded it into eight sections, but all you’ll see is one skinny triangle.

Now with good scissors (old crappy scissors like you had in second grade will only make you want to rip your hair out) start making cuts—your triangle has two sides with folds, which will be the inside of your snowflake, and one side with no folds, which will be the outside edge of your flake. This is one of those things that’s much harder to explain than to do. Just start cutting and see what happens. It’ll take a few practice flakes, but you’ll get the hang of it. My one tip is that the more paper you remove the better, those chunky ones from second grade are cute, but sleeker looks more…refined.

flake4Once you’ve got your game on, try folding one into sixths instead of eighths, it’s a little trickier, but if you’re scientifically minded it’s doubtlessly bugging you to make “snowflakes” with eight sides. Also just in half can be cool, and looks sort of pinecone-ish, appropriate for a Christmas tree.

We had a snowflake making party a few years ago– our first year in our own home, with our own tree, having of course no ornaments. It was awesome. I always make my flakes more or less the same and it was really fun to see what other folks with less protocol did. Like the two sided one, I would just never have thought outside that box…

Don’t forget the classic and humble popcorn strand! I can’t bear to put cranberries on ours when I could make cranberry orange shortbread cookies instead, but it looks nice with just the popcorn. flake3

flake2

homegrown xmas

From Zine #7From Zine #7, Cont.

So here’s some actual photos, in case you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about!

cutting the pants off

The sleeves will be the baby pant legs, cut right up against the armpit, and try to slant ever so slightly up (toward the neck) as you cut.

Lining 'em up

Now line one sleeve up with a pair of baby’s pants that are a tad big (no point making baby clothes too small!), and cut the sweater arm from armpit to wrist, right against the seam, down to level with the crotch of the pants.

Line cut sleeve up with the other sleeve, and cut it to match.

removing the seam

Now remove the seams altogether.

get it now?

See? It’s starting to look like pants, huh?

Sew ’em together, then sew in a piece of elastic at the top, and– voila!

on to the sweater

Now, line up that slightly too big onesie or shirt with what’s left of the sweater, and cut around it, leaving a half inch for the seam.

punk baby sweater!

Now just sew up both sides, set the edges with that zig-zag stitch, and yer done!sweater-clothes

“It’s a sad and stupid thing to have to proclaim yourself a revolutionary just to be a decent man.”

-David Harris

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