The holidays are a tight time for most people. There are way too many things to do, way too many crowds (and blizzards!) to brave, and way too much money slipping through your hands. I don't know about you, but that's not the way I prefer to spend my supposedly relaxing, supposedly celebratory, brief and precious holiday time. It's also not exactly the best way to start the New Year—to show up back at work or school on January 2 with holiday fatigue and a pile of credit card debt. It makes it hard to imagine that the new year is going to be all that much better, when it starts out so frustratingly.
In the past few years I've discovered the joys of avoiding the holiday crowds and stress and debt (well, somewhat) and general unhappiness by taking matters into my own hands. Yep, I'm here to champion the joys of making presents rather than buying them. This argument goes back to the days when you were little and didn't have any money anyway so you had to make presents for your family and friends. I bet there are still some remnants of these around (I know my parents have a crazy little red glazed "self portrait" in clay that I made when I was four on a side table somewhere), and when you come across them you think, "wow, that's really, really ugly." And then you remember how you were always told that things you made yourself mean more, and you think that's a big lie when it turns out to be something that ugly. But it's not a lie. After all, someone still has it, right? And, assuming you are a bit older than four-years-old now, I'm guessing your creative prowess has also matured.
So, that's the most important reason why it's better to make your own gifts; they mean more. Now here are four other good reasons:
Let me explain that last one. Something handmade is inherently more spiritual than something store-bought. I think that's pretty much a given. But also, many of the gifts you can make, and especially the ones I'll include here, are made of natural materials. And, as we know, natural materials have correspondences. So, say you decide to make a dream pillow for your mother. You can fill it with some herbs that aid in sleep and relaxation, like lavender and hops, include a stone or two for good sleep and dream recall, perhaps a charm for sweet dreams (make it silver, color of the moon and night), and sew it all up in an appropriately colored cloth. Can you see how it's witchy and not witchy at the same time? Your tools and intentions work in tandem with your spirituality, and the end product becomes something that anyone can appreciate and enjoy.
So, now that I've hopefully convinced you (or at least intrigued you) enough to try making some treasures for the holidays, here are a few ideas to get you started.
It doesn't get more holiday-ish than having a good old cookie-baking extravaganza. And cookies are by far one of the cheapest and easiest things you can make. When I was still in high school, I started my own gingerbread cookie tradition. I'd make a ton of gingerbread dough, and then I'd cut about half into little traditional gingerbread men, and the other half into little moons and stars. Half became "Christmas cookies" to be given to the not-so-pagan-inclined family members. The other half became "solstice cookies" for those special individuals that I thought might appreciate it. I'd put a dozen or so into a simple paper lunch bag, fold over the top, punch a hole in it, and run a string through the hole with a little handmade tag (sometimes just a folded-over piece of paper, sometimes a fancier star made by tracing around the cookie cutter). The tag would have a little holiday message. On the tag for the solstice cookies, I would put something akin to, "celebrate the beauty of the night and the returning of the light," and that was that.
Here's a gingerbread recipe to try from Dorothy Morrison's book Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth. Please note that vegans can replace the butter with soy butter, and egg with an egg substitute (half a banana or two tablespoons of ground flaxseed and water mixture work well to replace one egg for baked goods). I've made mine with whole wheat pastry flour and date sugar to avoid the more refined products. Play around with it until you find something that suits you.
½ (one half) teaspoon ground ginger
½ (one half) teaspoon ground cloves
¼ (one quarter) teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ (one half) cup brown sugar
¾ (three quarters) cup molasses
½ (one half) teaspoon salt
¾ (three quarters) cup butter
1 egg, beaten
3 1/3 (three and one third) cups all purpose flour
Place ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, molasses, and salt in the top of a large double boiler (with water on the bottom). On medium-high heat, stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Once butter melts completely, add the egg and mix well. Stir in the flour and baking soda. Chill dough in the refrigerator for three hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough to a ¼ (one quarter)-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface (I've found that adding flour to the dough and rolling between wax paper can help a bit with stickage). Cut out shapes with cookie cutters (don't limit yourself to gingerbread men and moons and stars—there's so much to choose from!). Bake for twelve to fifteen minutes. Edges should be slightly brown. Decorate with icing if desired.
This recipe makes thirty to forty cookies, depending on cutter size (when cutting out cookies, save the "scraps" left behind and roll out to make more cookies until most or all of the dough is used).
As you can tell from the recipe, this will take a bit of time, as any homemade project will. Some see this as a downside, but, when you consider how much time it takes to drive to and from the malls in wintry weather, navigate through the crowds, and all that, I'd say it equals out. Plus, it's way more relaxing to knead dough and create little objects d'art at home than to go through all the usual holiday rigmarole. Now, in the three hours that your dough is chilling, you have time to try another project.
Yummy Bath Scrubs
This is a fun, simple, and immensely useful little gift. It protects your skin from harsh wintry winds and dry air, and leaves it so incredibly soft and glowing that you won't need to apply any extra lotion for days. It's sold in stores for upwards of $20, and while the ingredients can be pricey (depending on your taste) it shouldn't run you more than $7 or so a batch. Here's what you need:
Fill your container with salt until it is nearly full, then pour your oil over it and keep adding oil and stirring the mixture until the oil has worked into all of the salt (a chopstick works great for stirring). When the oil is fully distributed, add your scent(s). Nearly anything can work. When using an essential oil, you generally won't need any more than ten drops, so a little vial of it will make many, many scrubs. You can use just one scent, or mix several together. Here are a few scent combination ideas:
Check out Scott Cunningham's Magical Aromatherapy for a lot of other scent ideas and correspondences. As you can see from the list above, the uses can be as magical or mundane as you please. You could try making a pre-ritual scrub with just sage oil. It, combined with the purifying sea salt, is like being cleansed and purified, all in the shower. You could also have a post-ritual scrub with a little patchouli oil to help ground you. Remember, too, that you can simply add these scents to your chosen oil in a nice bottle to make bath or massage oils, or stir them into coarsely-ground sea salt without the oil for a bath salt. If you stock up on some different scents, a bit of oil, different grades of salt, and some pretty glass containers, you'll always have a quick gift on hand.
Good cookies and soft and yummy smelling skin should make most people on your list happy, but for other yuletide craft ideas, check out the chapter on "Quick and Easy Yule Gifts" in Dorothy Morrison's Yule. Enjoy the spirit of the season, and have fun creating meaningful magical gifts for your friends and family!