I started crafting for Christmas in my college days, back when my gift-giving spirit was high but the balance in my bank account was not. It became part of my holiday tradition, staying up late the week before Christmas with a hot glue gun and craft paint scattered around me on the floor. Even now, I like to personalize my gift-giving with one homemade item. Here are some of the things I’ve made (and received!) over the years.
Buy bulk, then jar it
One of my most popular DIY gifts is the gift of an easy recipe. It starts with some empty glass jars, enough to hold at least 2 cups worth of stuff. The easiest option is a soup or stew, but I’ve also gifted cookie mix and hot chocolate mix. The idea is to buy some nonperishable food items in bulk then divvy them up to make easy-to-cook snacks or meals. For a simple soup, buy a bag of lentils (any color), some brown rice and some dry beans (any type). Now, the flavor: Buy dried onion, dried minced garlic, dried basil, salt and pepper. Add equal parts lentils, rice and beans to the jar, as much as will fit. Leave about an inch of space for your seasonings. For a pretty look, layer the lentils, beans and rice one at a time. Next, add at least 1 tablespoon each onion, garlic and basil, and at least 2 teaspoons each salt and pepper. (It’s hard to add too much seasoning, so don’t worry about that.) Now for the fun part. On a gift tag or nice piece of card stock, write or type out a simple recipe for your gift recipient, then punch a hole in the corner and attach it with some festive ribbon to the jar: Add all ingredients, plus four cups chicken or vegetable stock, to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer until the lentils, rice and beans are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in cooked meat or veggies as you like. Top with lots of Parmesan cheese.
A fun craft for any age, this one can also double as an activity to entertain kids who may be home on holiday break. One of my husband’s favorite Christmas ornaments to this day is one my sister-in-law made for us years ago. The key is to buy clear glass or plastic ornaments, which provide a classy canvas for your creations. You can buy these at craft stores; make sure to look for ones that have a top you can take off. The one my sister-in-law made is especially clever: a melted snowman. You’ll need fake snow, or finely shredded white paper, a little piece of fabric for a scarf and the following cut out of colored paper: a snowman nose (orange), two snowman arms (brown) and two snowman eyes (black, or you could use two small black pom-poms). A funnel helps, too. Remove the top of the ornament, then set your funnel in the opening and add the fake snow first, then the snowman parts. The result is a bit abstract but gives the effect of a melted snowman inside the ornament. Other creative ornaments I’ve received include one that was filled with my wedding invitation, carefully cut into long ribbons that coiled inside the large glass bulb once they were slid inside. Matching ribbon was tied where the ornament hook would go. It looks lovely, and is a nice way to preserve a piece of our wedding. Clear glass ornaments are also easy to paint; a set of six hand-painted ornaments would make a lovely gift if you’ve got the patience and the artistic eye for that sort of thing.
If you have someone in your life who enjoys an alcoholic beverage, DIY drink kits or infused booze are a fun gift. If you’re infusing, start that as soon as possible, so the flavors have enough time to properly flavor the alcohol. Infusing times will vary depending on the alcohol and what you’re putting in it, but give yourself at least 5 days. Taste your concoction after 2 days to see how it’s coming along. One of my favorite flavor combinations for this time of year is cranberry, orange and cinnamon. Bourbon or whiskey is best for this, but vodka and gin actually work great, too. To start, you’ll need a glass bottle with a lid. The best route is to just use the bottle your booze came in, or a nearly empty one you already have on hand. To the bottle, add 2 or 3 orange rind strips, 4 cinnamon sticks and 1 cup lightly crushed fresh or frozen cranberries. Pour in 1 (750-milliliter) bottle of liquor of your choice. Seal bottle and let sit at room temperature for 4 days. Shake bottle, then pour liquor over a fine mesh strainer into another vessel, even a bowl. Discard solids and pour liquid back into bottle. Tie the bottle with a festive ribbon and include a recipe for this Cranberry Whiskey Cocktail, if you’re feeling extra festive: To a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the following: 2 ounces cranberry juice, 2 ounces orange juice (freshly squeezed is preferable), ½ ounce lemon juice, 2 ounces flavored whiskey or bourbon, ½ ounce simple syrup, 2 sprigs thyme. Shake until cold, then strain into a glass and garnish with an orange peel.