Handmade is even better

THESE days, when things appear to become more expensive by the day and food, clothing and other essentials lead the list, there is always less money available for other expenses (like gifts) and luxuries like special foods.

Yet in spite of that, we all need a little fun and festivity in our lives at times, especially when we consider the dreary state of the world we live in.

There are creative ways to make Christmas (and even birthdays) more special and enjoyable without breaking the bank and now that recycling and handmade are among the favourite buzzwords, it only takes some imagination, effort and creativity to whistle up some delightful gifts at negligible cost.

Firstly for adults, why not operate the “secret Santa” system, except that it does not have to be a secret unless you want it to. Just put the names of all adults who will be spending Christmas together into a hat and allocate each person one name. Then that person only has to provide one gift for the person he drew and you can also set a financial limit on what may be spent.

Do the draw early – in September or October – and that way everybody gets a gift, the donor has time to give it some thought and look out for just the right thing (or ask for a wish-list if you prefer) and everyone is happy that they have not irretrievably broken the budget.

Of course your santas can be secret if that’s your choice and you could have the whole “guess who gave this” rigmarole when you open the gifts.

The handmade idea can be used in conjunction with this or you can give to everyone present if you like, since this is really cost-effective.

Again, you can set a low limit on what may be spent and with a little thought these gifts can really be personalised. Use what talents you have, recycle things, think of the recipient’s interests, likes and dislikes and if necessary rope your partner and/or children in to help you …it’s great to have an interesting family project you can all be involved in, especially when the children are on holiday.

Use what talents you have and don’t try to tackle something that’s going to be a “mission”.

If you’re a good baker what about a cake or, if you want to get done earlier, perhaps some cookies or something savoury, nicely packaged.

Perhaps you’re good at needlework. What about a set of place mats or a table cloth with matching serviettes, oven gloves, shoe bags for travel, an apron or one suitable for a braai or the workshop if it’s for a man, a folder to keep tissues clean in a handbag, a knitting bag, a bag to keep plastic packets tidy in the kitchen …the list is almost endless and limited only by your imagination.

Maybe you don’t sew and prefer knitting or crochet. Depending on who you are making it for, perhaps you could think of a little blanket or knee rug for cosy evenings in front of the TV, a scarf, gloves or bedsocks, a headband with a flower on it, crocheted coasters or serviette rings (they’re back in fashion) and crocheted table mats look fabulous on contrasting wood.

If you are more into crafts, you could make Christmas decorations out of pasta, pine cones, paper or whatever. “Steal” with your eyes when you go into shops – you often get ideas of things you can make with items you get for nothing. Cut a dry branch from a tree in your garden, give it a lick or a spray of paint and stand it in a container of sand, then adorn it with decorations you have made and give it to someone as a readymade Christmas tree, but do bear in mind where they live and keep the size appropriate.

With your partner or your children’s help you can make a little wooden “tree” (it’s just a triangular shape really) from wood off-cuts, a pallet, dry branches pruned from trees or driftwood you brought home from the beach or you could use the same materials to make a planter box that you pop a couple of pretty potted plants into (they could come from your garden).

While on that subject, some plants (like geraniums/pelargoniums that have made such a comeback) are incredibly easy to slip, so plan ahead, get some slips in and just give them in a pot with a ribbon round it, for months of enjoyment. Or you could put little plants into a seedling container and give them like that, for the recipient to put in where they wish. A reasonably shallow wooden box also looks good planted up with succulents and is no bother, especially if it is kept outdoors.

This is also where recycling can come in. Look around and you will find so many “throw away” items that can be used as quirky containers for pot plants – a teapot that has lost its lid (hang it an angle so that excess water drains from the spout), a leaking bucket or watering can, an old boot or shoe, a chipped bowl or cup (let the plants cover the chip).

Another idea that anyone can do and would suit males or females is to marinade some fruit for a few weeks or months as a treat. The marinade could be the recipient’s favourite booze or just a syrup in a wide-mouthed bottle into which you put grapes cherries, prunes, canned peaches or apricots and leave to infuse.

For people living in small places without much storage space, a basket or box of treats is always welcome. You can pack it with almost anything – a small homemade loaf of bread, some butter, an avo, some jam or honey, cheese, olives, perhaps a bottle of wine, sherry or a non-alcoholic drink, lemons, nuts, biltong, chocolates…you know what they will enjoy.

If this sounds like too much effort, think again. It can become a most enjoyable activity and each year one looks forward to the new challenge.

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