Putting yourself into the holiday

Handmade Christmas

by Rich Finzer

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It's early November and I've already tired of Christmas. I'm not tired of the wonderful holiday itself, rather its blatant over-commercialization. Times are tough. America is still gripped by an economic malaise that seems like it will last forever and money is tight. Worse yet, many folks seem to have abandoned the practice of making handmade Christmas presents for friends and family. I haven't and I never will. I derive as much joy from making presents as I do in giving them to folks. Here are a few ways you can too.

Home cookin': As my extended family's resident canning maven, I'm busy all spring and summer making maple syrup and jams. Come holiday time, I package up a few jars of strawberry, blueberry and blackberry preserves and tuck a quart of syrup in with them. My sisters and brothers-in-law have grown so fond of these gifts that if I don't send them, I'm labeled the family Grinch. After all, on Christmas morning is there anything tastier on a plate load of French toast than homemade maple syrup? Call me if you ever find the answer.

Build your own decorations: Because my locale is nearly overrun with wild grape vines, collecting long strands of the things is easy. And making a traditional grapevine wreath is just as easy. I usually present a neighbor or friend with a bare wreath, plus enough ribbon, pinecones and ornaments to fashion it into a festive holiday display. It's not that I'm lazy. Instead, I want them to enjoy the pleasure of configuring the thing as they think looks best. Is it a popular gift? Well, I couldn't say. But after indulging in the practice for over 20 years, I have yet to receive a complaint!

Holiday greenery: The evergreen bough is an ancient pagan symbol of the winter solstice observation, which fortunately has been coopted as a symbol of Christmas. If the supply of grapevines has been depleted from overharvesting, I present friends and neighbors with pine or spruce door sprays along with an ample quantity of trimmings. And just as with the wreaths, I've received no complaints.

Crafts: After accumulating a number of ruby-red wine bottles, I enclosed pairs of them inside a weighted wooden frame. Connected spout to spout using the cork, I'd bored a hole through and partially filled with pure white sand. Each became a giant "hour glass." The project was fun to work on and every recipient was thrilled. Could you make the same gift? Again, I couldn't say, but I'm certain many of you are equally creative. Your gift could just as easily be a knitted scarf and mittens or a crocheted afghan.

Wood: A former co-worker of mine lives in an older home equipped with a tiny fireplace. Now elderly and bereft of tools, she's what I refer to as a "C and T" (Christmas and Thanksgiving) wood burner. Every year, I give my old friend several bundles of aged black cherry or sugar maple firewood along with a bagful of pine cone kindling and a small box of matches. In return, she always presents me with homemade fudge. After I light the fire, we sip a bit of brandy, eat a few fudgy nuggets, and bask in the glow of a 30-year friendship. Could we give each other more expensive gifts? Absolutely, but none would be more heartfelt.

Hard labor: One year, while a close friend was fighting in Iraq, I gave his pregnant wife the gift of three days hard labor. With the baby on the way, I painted the nursery, moved furniture and assembled the crib. I was a poor substitute for the husband she missed, but her smiles at me were worth the gold in Fort Knox. If you have a friend unable to physically perform as they'd like, the gift of sweat equity will never be forgotten.

As a kid, I was taught that giving a gift of yourself didn't imply you were parsimonious; rather it meant that you cared enough about the recipient to make or do something for them with your own two hands.

Near the conclusion of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss wrote, "Maybe Christmas he (the Grinch) thought doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more." Merry Christmas to all. Now roll up your sleeves and get busy.

Rich Finzer resides in upstate New York. During his 43 years as a writer, he has published nearly 1,100 newspaper, magazine and Internet articles. His award winning book, Maple on Tap is available from his publisher; Acres USA. His two novels, Taking the Tracks and Julie & Me, are available from Amazon Kindle.

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