For many, many a snowy white Christmas now, our family of eleven have been completely constructing the holiday gifts of our own resources and craftsmanship. As this tradition of ours grew and took shape, it slowly became the most highly anticipated event of our little Christmas celebration, with most of the fun taking place inside the entire month leading up to Christmas!
It's a slow time on the farm anyway, so our family takes the opportunity to set aside any other projects and come together to unite; boys verses girls, and take on the handmade gift challenge year after year! It's a wonderfully fun bonding time where even the smallest hands are welcomed and encouraged to take part in the creations. Where the interests and hobbies of each individual are scrutinized and discussed in areas of needs and wants. Where the hum of the sewing machine and the buzz of the saw are backed by softly hummed Christmas carols and whispered secrets. Where the gently falling snowflakes drifting past the windows are the only ones to catch a hopeful glimpse of the creations being born within. :)
As we've all grown older, our once simple gifts have become more and more elaborate and beautiful until it seems we outdo ourselves year after year and then declare it the 'best Christmas ever' and wonder how next year's could ever compare, and yet, lo and behold, it always seems to exceed the previous year's creations with even more brilliance. How this happens is beyond me. Guess that's the magic of the handmade Christmas. :)
Another beauty of the homemade Christmas is how the focus of the 'gifts' at Christmas diminishes, being replaced with the simplicity of handmade, and how thoughts seem to turn to building snowmen, baking cookies, going caroling, making cards, and simply, spending quality time with each other, instead of everyone going off with a full wallet on their own stressful shopping sprees.
Now, if you're new to crafting, have limited skills or resources, no help, or just very young children, don't worry, this is a guide to help you bring about the 'best handmade Christmas ever' along WITH your children! Because Christmas is, after all, about them, isn't it? ;)
Kids ages 1 - 6:
When working with kids these ages, it's important to remember that they are going to need your supervision and become bored easily, so it's best to keep their creation's small and quick. Expect and prepare for a big mess so that you aren't standing in the way of young creativity. Also, don't expect them to be able to contain secrets from their recipients very easily! ;)
One through five year old's are going to enjoy playing with bright colors, but don't be limited by paper!
-Collect some brightly colored felt and glue. Cut out shapes and allow the child to arrange and glue them on a larger piece of felt or stiff paper to make a picture or mosaic. Put a hanger on it to use as a wall hanging/banner or sew it to an equal sized piece of felt and make a pillow for the recipient.
-Decorate some old picture frames or make new ones out of cardboard. Have the child glue sequins, shells, colored ribbon, stickers, beads, beans, and whatever else you can think of, to decorate the picture frames. Finish them off with some recent pictures and a pretty wrapping job.
If the child is creating a gift for another child:
-Gather up a bunch of cardboard and some heavy duty tape and try building a dollhouse (for a girl) or a castle (for a boy). Use recycled boxes and/or cardboard potato chip cylinders for the rooms and castle towers. Have the child paint the pieces of cardboard in whatever bright colors he/she likes before taping them together.
-Use recycled empty containers laying around the house to build various toys and creations: Several match boxes strung together can become an easy train, big enough to carry army men and other small toys. Have the child paint the boxes, glue on wheels and attach cars together with string. An empty coke bottle can become a rocket: paint (or wrap with tin foil) and attach foam or cardboard fins and cone head. The right sized boxes could be painted and strung together to create a robot puppet!
-Invent a super hero together! Decide with the child what kind of 'powers' your super hero will have and design a costume for the recipient/new super hero. Cut a mask out of craft foam or felt and attach a piece of elastic to it to hold it on. Design a logo, cut it out of felt and glue it to an old shirt. Make a cape out of a bed sheet and/or a shield with a piece of cardboard.
Children ages 7 - 11
These children should be encouraged to come up with their own ideas for gifts, discussing the kinds of interests and hobbies of the recipient, but since everyone can use a bit of help sometimes, here are some ideas for 7 to 11 year olds.
By now you should be seeing some differences between the crafts being made by boys and those being made by girls. This should be encouraged by providing the right tools and help in any areas of their natural interests. These are going to be gifts that require a little more time to create, so be prepared to encourage the child through any bouts of frustration, as these aren't afternoon crafts but lifelong skills being developed early enough for the child to feel some amount of personal satisfaction this Christmas!
-Try making gifts with a big plastic needle, shorter lengths of brightly colored yarn and plastic canvas. Stitch a picture, ornament, the recipient's name, a key chain, pencil box, napkin holder, Kleenex box cover, a small bank, miniature dollhouse, train or airplane. This is a good craft for any recipient and there are lots of ideas and free patterns on the internet. My younger siblings (Lizzy & Johnny) have industrious plans to stitch a small castle for their toy people.
-Learn the basic knit and purl stitches and make the recipient a scarf, hat, wash cloth, headband, doll or doll blanket or for a boy; a belt or sweatbands.
-Knitting too hard? Try finger weaving. (Another family favorite of ours. Watch a few videos on youtube if you need more help. A woven jump rope is great fun!)
-With a basic embroidery stitch, a personalized pillow can be crafted by a young lady with felt, a blunt needle and embroidery thread or yarn. I was seven or eight when I first learned to embroider and I LOVED it! (An idea for using a shelf liner to stitch in. So cute!)
-Weave a set of hot pads for Grandma. (We used to love making these as gifts when we were around 7yrs old!)
-Stitch a pair of moccasins using sinew and prepunched leather pieces. This is a project I've set up for my younger siblings on a number of occasions. Its always a big hit!
-Supply your boys with small, lightweight pieces of wood and a few basic, simple carpentry tools, along with Dad's supervision. (If you feel your child is too young or irresponsible for sharp tools, wood glue can be exchanged for hammer and nails.) With adult supervision, a more responsible lad should be able to handle a small jigsaw and wood burning tool to personalize, decorate and accent wooden gifts.
-Using a few small pieces of wood and glue, a simple box and lid can be crafted. Glue the box pieces together. Make a lid using a slightly oversized piece of wood and piece that exactly fits your box size and gluing the two together. Use a piece of carbon paper to transfer a picture, design or recipient's name or initials onto the lid of the box and wood burn all the lines to permanently transfer it onto the wood.
-With some thin, lightweight pieces of wood, a small jigsaw and wood glue, many small pieces of doll house furniture can be crafted to the delight of young girls.
-Some sturdier pieces of wood can be crafted into a shelf, book shelf, bench or stool, doll bed, little chair, or some fun stilts. More ideas HERE. Some responsible young boys may be able to figure these things out by themselves if provided with the supplies and tools, but most will require the help of an adult.
-Find a rustic piece of wood (tree branch), and a rubber band to create a slingshot. Make some soft ammo balls and a target and you have a complete gift.
-Find a rustic piece of wood (tree branch) in the shape of a gun, or cut one out of a board with a scroll saw. Attach a clothespin to the back of the gun with wood glue, small nails or rubber bands, and you have a cool rubber band gun! Again, just add a target and you have an easy finished gift.
Kids ages 12 - 16
These kids generally don't get any help, but should be supplied with ample materials and encouraged to look up ideas online and in crafting books. Their gifts should come from their talents and interests: i.e.: The artist could give the gift of a portrait or coloring book, the sewer could stitch a small lap quilt, the writer could give the gift of a short story, the baker; a batch of cookies, the carpenter; a toy sword, etc.
Or get creative and use them all together! Have the writer write a short screenplay, have the sewer make some basic costumes, have the artist draw some backdrops, the carpenter make the props and film a short movie with everyone. Edit it on the computer, burn it to a DVD and wrap it up under the tree for a lucky recipient on Christmas. :)
If you're overwhelmed at the idea of making homemade gifts for everyone on your list this year, try playing the 'Secret Santa' game as a family instead: Put the names of each family member (or everyone playing) into a hat and have everyone draw their Secret Santa's on Dec. 1st. Then you have one month to craft and complete a gift for your Secret Santa to be exchanged on Christmas!
Anyway, those are my idea's for you. I hope you can find some of them to be helpful and glean some encouragement toward trying out this fun tradition this year!
If you want to see pictures from our family's last 3 homemade Christmas celebrations (including our handmade gifts) check out the list of handmade Christmases on the sidebar to your left.
I am going to be sharing more of our family's Christmas traditions and tutorials for various crafts and games to do with children throughout the coming weeks as Christmas draws near. Please feel free to share my ideas with others, as well as your own ideas/suggestions in the comments section (I'd love to read them!) and let's spread the simple, handmade joy!
An early, (very early, but who cares?),
Merry Christmas to you!!!! :o)