Heartfelt Christmas Gifts, White Elephants, and Handcrafted Journals!

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Although I have yet to perfect a trade, I am an artisan at heart. There’s no denying that! I love to craft beautiful things and something deep inside me sincerely appreciates the time, energy, thought and love put into handmade products as opposed to their unvaried, each-object-is-absolutely-identical, factory-made counterparts.

That being said, I was especially excited a few years back when my family began a wonderful new Christmas tradition. Finances were a bit tight for many of us, so instead of exchanging obligatory store-bought gifts, the adults opted to try a white elephant gift exchange with HOMEMADE GIFTS. Each person made a single gift. The gift could cost as little or as much as the giver was able to spend; the only stipulation was that it had to be handcrafted. The result: An overabundance of interesting, heartfelt, thoughtful, varied, unique gifts showcasing the artistic abilities and interests of the giver and the receivers, all at a fraction of the cost!

If you already know what a white elephant gift exchange is, feel free to skip this paragraph. If you don’t, you’re missing out on great fun! Allow me to explain. Everyone brings one wrapped gift and places it on a table or under the tree (any central, highly visible location will work). Someone counts the number of people participating (let’s pretend there are 20) and writes the numbers from one to twenty on small scraps of paper. Each paper has one number on it: 1, 2, 3…19 or 20. She then folds the scraps of paper and places them in an opaque container. Without looking, everyone draws out one paper. Then the fun begins! The person who picked “1” goes first. He unwraps a gift. (Everyone oohs and ahhs and the gift is admired and discussed.) The person who picked “2” goes next. She can either unwrap a new gift or take the open gift from the first person. Taking an open gift from another player is called stealing. If she steals, person 1 must open a new gift. As soon as a gift is unwrapped, the turn is over. The person holding the paper with “3” goes next. He can steal either of the unwrapped gifts or pick a new gift. If he steals, the empty-handed person can always steal a DIFFERENT gift (no direct take backs allowed!) or unwrap a gift. Again, a round ends whenever a new gift is unwrapped. A new round of play always begins with the next sequential number. It’s a simple game, but if you have a lively group of people and a variety of great gifts, a mad stealing frenzy is sure to ensue! To limit the time spent and to allow for a bit more planning and strategy, any individual gift can only be stolen three times per round. After three steals, the item is frozen, but it can be stolen again in any subsequent round. When the last gift is opened, the game is over. Everyone takes home the gift they are holding.

Here’s a sampling of some of our past presents: A cartoon-style sculpture of my dad, an artfully penned and framed family tree, a knitted scarf, homemade cheeses and other yummies, homemade soap and body lotion, an extraordinary decoupaged chair covered entirely with colored dots hole-punched out of old magazines, a watercolor painting, blown glass Christmas ornaments, a full-size quilt, a pen and ink drawing, a hilarious tutorial about how to draw Babs (a character my Dad has been sketching for as long as I can remember), framed poetry, and a bridge made out of pennies, just to name a few. (I know, I know, I named more than a few! Even so, I had to omit way too many terrific gifts!) Everyone in my family has something of an artistic flair, so we have a lot of fun making the gifts as well as battling over them!

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Last year, my gift was a couple of handmade books. I enjoyed the bookbinding process so much that it catapulted me into a bit of a bookmaking phase. It isn’t something I’m currently doing, but I’d love to return to it! I gave away most of the books, but these ones, showcasing a variety of simple styles and bindings, are still on my bookshelf.

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If you’d like to try to make a basic book yourself, I’m working on a post about how to make a postcard journal (pictured below with the yellow cover).   They’re simple, stylish, sturdy, and a wonderful way to keep track of travel memories. Stay tuned! (Update: Here’s the link: Simple Postcard Journal. Better late than never?)

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(Originally posted on my old blog, Interim Arts, on June 18, 2013)

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