by Lillian Csernica on November 29, 2014
Thanksgiving has happened. Now it’s open season on Christmas trees. I live in the mountains, so for the next three weeks I’m going to see an increase in traffic as folks from Silicon Valley pursue their Norman Rockwell fantasies. They will drive over Highway 17 or up Highway 9 or maybe even the really crazy ones will take Bear Creek Road. They will find one of the tree farms up here in the mountains, they will cut down their very own Christmas tree, they will tie it to the roof of their vehicles, and then they will discover just how much fun it is to drive back the way they came when the aerodynamics of the trip have just been radically changed. Now that the rains have come and the temperature is dropping, we may have ice on the roads as well. The tourists don’t know the mountain roads. They don’t know enough to go slow, and then go even slower than that, for safety’s sake. In all fairness a lot of the people who live up here never seem to get a clue about that either. Why is it that from one year to the next people forget how to drive in the rain?
Every year as Christmas approaches I like to come up with some craft projects for Michael and John. Michael is still into making ornaments and decorations. John, not so much. So I asked John if he wanted to give Christmas presents to any of the people he knew at school. He said yes, so I had him write down a list of their names. The list includes his teachers, his one-to-one aides, and two girls. Now came the tricky part. What did he want to give each of these people? That took some thinking, and a few suggestions on my part. The female teachers and the two girls were easier, because I could ask John how old they were, what colors they liked to wear, and if they wore silver or gold jewelry. After this game of verbal ping-pong, we’d come up with a gift idea for each of the ladies on the list. Knowing John as I do, I did not expect him to help me make the gifts. What I did do was show him the various beads, chains, satin cord, etc. that I have in my bead bins. He chose the “ingredients” for each gift and I’ve been putting them together. When a decision-making moment has come up, I’ve called John away from his homework or videogames or chores and let him tell me what he thought would be the best idea. He’s not big on labor, but he’s got a good head for design. I do plan on seeing to it he wraps and tags all the gifts himself.
DIY gifts are problematic because personal style is exactly that, personal. Just because I think you look good in this shade of magenta doesn’t mean you want anything to do with it. I have to stretch my imagination and think about what I know you like, not what I think you might like or what I want to give you because I think it would make such a great gift for you. I refuse to give people anything that involves labor on their part. All those “jar” gifts look wonderful, and maybe they are for people who really want to do whatever it is that the contents of the jar will accomplish. Me, I’m into instant gratification when it comes to opening presents. I’m pretty sure most people feel that way too. No potted plants, no “assembly required,” and above all no living creatures unless there’s been some prior arrangement. The last time I got a kitten for my birthday, I was forty-three and told my husband that was what I wanted. The older I get, the less I enjoy surprises. That may be a side effect of the way my particular life has gone. The older I get, the more I enjoy giving, which means I have to put a lot more energy into the process so I create gifts that are not just appropriate to that person’s style and interests, but something that person would actually want to have.
Let’s explore that last point a bit further. On Pinterest there are several listings for “DIY gift that you’d actually want to receive.” Oh dear. You know how it is when you come across a sign that tells you not to do something that it would never have occurred to you to do? You just know somebody did it once and it did not go well. There was a reason why that sign was created. There are several reasons why those Pinterest listings have been created. When the little kids make reindeer out of clothes pins and candy canes, both of them sticky and the whole project looking like it was designed by Picasso, you just smile and make happy noises, right? When an adult goes insane with a hot glue gun in one hand and a Bedazzler in the other, all you can do is say thank you and make sure to put That Gift on display whenever its creator comes over. Miss Manners tells a wonderful story about a high society lady who had an Egyptian butler. When the butler came back from his holiday visiting his family in Egypt, he presented the high society lady with a blue neon replica of the Sphinx that lit up when plugged in. The lady thanked the butler and gave the Sphinx a place of honor in her elegant, high fashion living room. When friends asked her why she didn’t get rid of the horrible tacky thing, the lady told them not for the world would she hurt her butler’s feelings. Friends may come and friends may go, but a good butler is a treasure.
So here I am, making Christmas ornaments that will be gifts, making jewelry that will be gifts, and trying hard to gauge the preferences of a few people I’ve never met. John and I agreed that his P.E. teacher, who is a man, would probably enjoy a keyring decorated with beads in the school colors. It’s the same with Michael’s teacher and his aide. People know my boys have their limitations, so any effort on their part is greeted with extra enthusiasm. People say, “It’s the thought that counts,” but that can and should mean more than just the impulse that prompts us to plunge into the holiday spirit and indulge in our own fantasies of craftsmanship and ecstatic gratitude. If we’re going to make a gift, let’s make sure it’s something the person will like, can use, is not allergic to, and won’t cause trouble with other people in that person’s home. Happy crafting!