A Very Homestead Holiday

I hate to be the bearer of exhausting news but the holiday season is right around the corner. Personally, I think it’s obscene to see Christmas wrapping paper and Halloween candy on display at the same time, but there it is. This is the world we live in.

Image from Premier Packaging, shared via Creative Commons Licensing

I have been on a family campaign for the last several years to do less, buy less, spend less and hype less around the holidays. It only kinda works. My family, to their credit, are all generous people, and this generosity comes out at Christmas time as an occasionally overwhelming stream of gifts.

Having kids has exacerbated this issue. Grandparents are a gifting force to be reckoned with, is what I’m saying.

The deep-breath-holding of anti-consumerism that has swept the country since the recession started in 2008 has made my lower-spend Christmas campaign trendy, at least. No one in my family really wants stuff – what we want is time, skills and help. I want babysitting and sewing lessons and garden help. When we do ask for things we get pretty specific in our requests – an extra set of trays for the dehydrator or a refractometer for measuring sugar content in beer and wine.

Plus, job situations and incomes are different than they were four or five years ago, and many family members just aren’t in a position to throw money at the holidays as they once did.

So I think everyone is on-board conceptually with taking the volume down on Christmas, but I swear on December 23rd some kind of mania overtakes us as we all throw one more gift into the basket for a loved one or five whom we had already crossed off the list. Somehow, despite agreed-to financial limits, the gifts multiply under the tree like rabbits left unattended, and then the givers are stuck with the January bills to pay. This is what we’re all trying to get away from.

This year, at a holiday planning session with my sister and mother, my sister mentioned that her husband had floated the idea of an entirely homemade/second-hand Christmas. I had, independently, the same idea. Ignoring what this probably means for the economic outlook for merchants this holiday season (financial bloodbath), it’s an appealing idea.

But embracing a Very Homestead Holiday means really, truly embracing the idea that it’s the thought that counts. It means letting go of this tit-for-tat feeling of financial obligation that can tarnish the brightworks of even the most well-meaning expressions of love and appreciation.

I like to think we are pretty well equipped to make gifts: it is a rare person who wouldn’t welcome a few gallons of Homebrew Husband’s beer, and a bundled up package of my jams and preserves along with a booklet of recipes and some homemade scone mix is pretty damn Martha-rific (you know, in the good way), if I do say so myself.

But everyone’s got something they can make or give: culinary gifts are obvious, and sewed and knitted items are wonderful, but my favorite “homemade” gifts are gifts of time and skills. Cooking lessons, garden planning sessions, childcare, cleaning help, interior decoration advice, photo-editing or scrap-booking, music lessons, horse-riding lessons, language lessons, carpentry class, home repair essentials, job hunting skills training, resume editing, personal training sessions, a few hours kayaking or kite-flying or surfing…there are so many things out there that people pay a lot of money to learn and to do, when their own friends and loved ones might be able to give the same experience as a gift.

What homemade gifts represent more than anything is the transfer of time. Which means, if you are going to give a labor of love instead of a store-bought gift, you gotta plan ahead.

So maybe it’s a good thing all those reminders of Christmas are already showing up in the stores. Maybe they’re a reminder that it’s time to get planning and making if we want to stay out of those same stores in two months.
How do you feel about homemade holiday gifts? Do you appreciate getting them, or do these gifts seem cheap to you? Do you give homemade – if not, why not? If so, let’s hear your best ideas for gift giving from the homestead.


  1. Sam says

    Good post! I've thought about this too for my family because I don't want our daughter spoiled with gifts. But my in-laws give so many presents (barbies and plasticey stuff) and say that's what grandparents do even when I hint that we prefer less and more quality gifts. Not sure how to make it clear without being rude…

  2. says

    I love handmade gifts. I think they mean so much more and every year I give my boys at least one handmade gift. I also give a few other folks handmade stuff but it is pretty much a one way street in my family. Who knows. I am hearing rumblings about money and finances this year.

    I just finished a post (to be published tomorrow at the Green Phone Booth) on this very topic. I'm going to edit to add a link to your post. Great ideas here.

  3. says

    I have eight siblings and the family is multiplying (also like rabbits) as we all get married and start our own families. A few years ago we decided to do a homemade Christmas and it was fantastic. One sister typed up several family favorite recipes (the ones we always call Mom for) and passed them out. I sewed various small gifts, different for each person) and my Mom sewed rice/corn sacks for everyone to keep warm with. Dad made beef jerkey, a brother made candles and the list goes on and on. It was the best Christmas I can ever remember.

  4. says

    I love a home made/second hand Christmas! The people in my family aren't really makers, though, and I feel guilt about the equity of our gift giving. This year, I am going to get over it and take pride in the work I do and can share with my family…dammit!

  5. says

    I love the idea and have sold it to my family. But my in-laws are ridiculous. You'd think they owned stock in plastic toy and candy factories. Like Sam above, I've tried hinting. I've also being blunt. I've also been rude. Now we just sigh, say thank you and then take everything back or donate it all. I guess I've given up with them.
    We give them homemade gifts and I don't care if they think we're cheap. It is in line with our values. I personally L.O.V.E. it when someone gives me something handmade. I mean LOVE it. It takes so much more thought and effort than just spending money on someone.

  6. says

    Great post! In my house, we love homemade gifts. We give homemade gifts but we have been unsuccessful in selling this to the rest of the family. Having children seems to have created a monster in gift giving grandparents. I'll keep plugging away at my non-consumer hope for the holidays. Maybe it's just getting family to make small changes every year. It's a start.

  7. says

    For the past six or seven years, we've been "trying" to pare down the Christmas giving bonanza, and with a little more luck each year. Homemade and handmade gifts are good for some, but others (like my city-sister and Dad), I tell them that thrift store, recycled or even some of THEIR old stuff is just find as long as it's something the giftee NEEDS (as to stop any cleaning-out of cabinets just to get rid of stuff at Xmas). We were doing great….until Rhiannon came along two plus years ago. Now I've got to nip the "Grandma, Grandps & Auntie" gift-giving in the bud. Although honestly, most of the family live out of state, so I can understand how it would be hard to give things like lessons or time or the such.

    Good post & reminder for those of us who are already downsizing the holiday gifts, or for those just now having to do it.

  8. says

    We're coming up on year three of our very un-consumerist Christmases.

    We went with this as our guide within our immediate family:

    1. Something we want
    2. Something we need
    3. Something to wear
    4. Something to read

    Each person receives just four gifts. We try to make at least one of the four handmade. I also try to buy the rest from small independent businesses. Some years have been more successful than others.

    For extended family or friends we've worked very hard over the years to eliminate purchased gifts. We gift a box of food from our urban homestead to our neighbors and I give handmade gifts to my sister.

    The only holdouts are still my niece and nephew who we buy gift cards for.

  9. says

    You know what still really brings tears to my eyes was the Christmas my Mum chose to pass on some family treasures to each person. We had the in laws there at that occasion and they looked really confused when one by one we burst into tears at each thoughtful, memento was handed over. To the outsider they looked worn and random but to us they were the very fabric of our memories.

  10. says

    We've really pared back Christmas gift giving. My extended family stopped exchanging gifts quite a few years ago. No hard feelings or falling out, someone just suggested we not buy gifts anymore and the idea spread like wildfire and jumped to my husband's side of the family as well.

    Therefore, our gift list is very short. We usually don't give a gift to each other, so we have a list of just 5 people we give to.

    That said, I've always loved handcrafted gifts and second-hand gifts, both to give and to receive.

  11. says

    I am so conflicted about this! I mean, homemade gifts are great and I feel honored when someone gives me a gift that they made, that I know they put their time and energy into. I don't make more gifts, though, because I know that though the things I can make would be appreciated (for the thought and effort) they are not the things that the receivers would really use or be into. On the other hand, I feel guilty when someone gives me something and it's not a thing I like/doesn't fit/not to my taste/etc. because I am so happy they thought I would like to have something made for me, but it's not a thing I am going to use or keep around. Man, I sound so spoiled! I like giving consumables, a fancy food gift (made or bought) that is appreciated but is not another thing to sit around and gather dust. Gift cards to places someone really likes to shop (I worked for Borders for 7 years and asked for gift cards to Borders for 7 years and never got one, and it would have been the BEST so I could buy all the books I coveted! So readers get book store GCs and music people get Amazon GCs and so on). Tickets to a show, or membership to a museum or a GC for dinner out. I like to get educational gifts, books, gifts oriented around a theme or from a regional area. I buy from local vendors if I find things the receivers will like, not just to buy something locally made. For myself, what I really would like are some practical things since I bought an old house not long ago, or even better, help doing projects around the house! So yes, homemade gifts are fabulous but I don't think they cover all the gift giving bases in my life.

    I am into limiting the amount of gifts/number of people. My family has been trying to get on board with this but it's hard. My SO and myself put a money limit on our gifts to each other, we stuff stockings with small things and chip in together for a nice dinner out or event to go to together. This year we are asking anyone who planned on buying a gift to give us money instead as we're saving for a real grown up vacation. So I think that even if you don't go homemade you can find other thoughtful ways of giving gifts.

  12. Anonymous says

    When Dad married my stepmom our family got HUGE. And Flo had such a generous heart – she bought something for everyone and several somethings for the grandkids, great grandkids, etc. So after paying off her credit card in June, she began shopping again in July. I just could not enjoy receiving a gift that put someone in that kind of debt. So, it took working on her for a few years, but one year she announced that adults would just bring a white elephant and kids would just bring a homemade ornament and we played this crazy game to see who ended up with what. It was more fun than anything we'd ever done.

    Now we just bring a homemade gift: black walnut toffee, pumpkin bread, copies of old photos, woodshop inventions, fudge. The focus is more on good company and good food. Low key, low stress, way more fun.

    brenda from arkansas

  13. says

    What a wonderful post.
    We have struggled with this since my children were born (15 years now.)
    My inlaws are a lost cause when it comes to Christmas. No matter how many times I've said things, asked, begged, etc. They do not listen. The only thing that finally did get through to them is when I asked that my children only recieve one toy at most. That year they each received 5. So I told my boys they could pick one to bring home and the rest get to stay at Grandmas'. Now she doesn't give more than one toy each. Though she now pushes it with electronics and such which aren't technically toys.
    My family has tried many different things, but nothing tends to stick. It's a big family all with very different views on gift giving.

    Honestly my biggest struggle is with everyone asking my kids for Christmas lists. We never did Santa in my house, so the yearly list wasn't supposed to happen. But every aunt, uncle, grandparent (my kids have 14 grandparents including step, great, great-greats,etc.) all asking for lists that are different from the other lists they've handed out. It makes my children who are normally quite pleasant, and grateful into "Gimme Monsters"

    I love handmade gifts, though I never get them. My two favorite gifts of all time my sewing machine I got when I turned 18 that I still use nearly every day, and the wild rice I get every year from my brother's harvest.

  14. says

    Fantastic! Our motto for Christmas is "made, found, or handed down." "Made" can be made by the gift-giver or by a local craftsperson/baker/artisan/artist/neighbour/whatever – the key is that the item is handmade, not manufactured. "Found" generally means some treasure picked up at a thrift store/yard sale/school fair/on the side of the road/in the woods – something the giver stumbled across unexpectedly and acquired at little or no expense. "Handed down" could mean the passing along of a significant family item, or it could simply be the re-gifting of a sweater that was bought but never worn or of a birthday gift a child was given but never cared enough to open. Does everybody go along with it? Of course not (Santa is exempt, for one, although I have noted of late that he has been outsourcing some of the elves' jobs to the same people who have tables at the local craft fair…). Do I want my 82-year-old grandmother to feel she has to stay up all night on December 22nd gluing sequins on things? No. But we have fantastic Christmases on a fairly reasonable budget, and my children have always had a broad view of what constitutes a gift, and think it's perfectly normal to show someone you love them by giving them chutney. As for the molded plastic that clatters into the house via well-meaning relatives, as much as I hate to admit it, the kids love that crap, and I have learned to let it go. It's really the kids' holiday, anyway, and who am I to argue with their terrible taste?

  15. ms says

    Huge Fan of the White Elephant because ‘the thing’ is not about how much it cost or how appropriate it is for the receiver. It’s often about the entertaining story of how on earth someone ended up with ‘whatever it is’ in their possession to start with. (Or, sometimes the giver prefers to remain annonymous… and, sometimes it’s understood that’s for the best.) And, it’s also fun to see who actually wants to take home an unusual ‘prize’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_elephant_gift_exchange

    I started this tradition at my office because it requires zero shopping (save the money for treats for your family), is a hysterical game, and – in case everyone’s forgotten – we don’t all celebrate the same holidays. Some people don’t celebrate any. And, that’s okay. The White Elephant is the perfect holiday tradition cross-dresser. Whatever ‘it’ is can be wrapped in ANY holiday’s gift wrap – or newsprint. And, then we’re done – no need to go out and buy anything else.

    One game, I was able to unload a white marble horse-head bookend that I’d picked up in an estate sale. A single bookend – how practical! My all-time favorite ‘prize’ was a resin tortoise boot scraper. Seriously, what department would someone shop in who was actually in the market for one of these beauties? But, it makes me laugh – and it’s actually useful. It has sat by my front door for a few years – and whenever I see it I remember fondly the laughter and cheers when I finally ended up with it…and then clean my boots. We always have so much fun – and it’s the perfect opportunity for everyone to potentially unload stuff that isn’t to their taste. Some such things will resurface in the next round of play, no doubt. But, the point is it’s not about the stuff – it’s about spending time together and creating a fun memory. THAT’s a good gift.

  16. says

    Homemade holiday gifts are great.
    We’ve been doing that with my extended family for years.
    The trick is that I find they tend to run more expensive than the bought stuff. :-\ (Particularly with regards to knitwear).
    I’m someone who loves to throw lots of presents under the tree and feed the multitudes at the many midwinter feasts celebrated by my various families. Lately, that’s meant half a dozen kinds of preserves plus home-made soap and/or candles plus candies/chocolate-bark/that-kinda-thing plus something unique that I’ve sewn or knitted for the recipient specifically.
    Maybe that’s a little much?
    Anyway. I’m learning how to do this in a way that economically viable. Wish me luck on that. :-)

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