Anatomy of a Handmade/Reused/Reusable Holiday/Gift

Even before my interest in sustainability blossomed, I was always a bit horrified by how commercial and shallow the holiday season was celebrated around me. When I was little, it was about family and home and traditional, special foods — I looked so forward to the season! …and then something shifted in the 1980s. Like everything else in America, it became about “getting and spending”* — my grandmother’s generation gave the holidays to the next generation. Our little homemade Christmas eve dinner, for example, got replaced with a giant open house party at my cousin’s house filled with a catered meal, business associates, and flashy gifts. People I never met before or barely knew milling amongst my near and dear, in and out, on to other parties and other dinners, bigger, better. Trash bags and trash bags of wrapping paper and uneaten food were whisked away by a hired hand at the end of the night. It felt so empty.

Fast forward to now — I’ve taken the holiday season back. Not to my grandmother’s time, but something much older. I’m in tune with the darkness, and approaching light. I rest with my most loved ones and try to stay warm. I make special meals, and special gifts. Special for me means handmade and low impact. I thought it would be interesting to “dissect” one of my gifts to show you what I mean.

Each year at work, we have a secret santa/Pollyanna. We go to Monk’s for a late lunch/early dinner, and each place our gift in the middle of the table. After a drink or two one of us gets out some paper, writes a number for each person present, folds it up, and puts them in a hat (which is usually one of mine! The hat I knit for Chicago held the numbers this year!). We pass the hat, and choose the number which represents the order in which we get to choose our gift from the middle of the table.

First — the outside:


The box is from some tea that I ordered many moons ago and saved. The glittery bird is from a holiday card I received two years ago, saved, and then cut the back part off, and then cut around the image with my scallopy scissors. The little nod toward holly are velvet leaves that were on a package of chocolate I got maybe 5 years ago and saved, and the berries are beads that were in my bead stash. I used the wires that were on the leaves to rig up the holly-esque bit, then glued the image on the box, then the holly. What I like about this is no wrapping paper! The recipient can re-use this box for a gift that they give, or save it to store things in — maybe even their holiday decorations they save from year to year.



Here you will find two of my handknit hand towels in holiday colors! Of course, the recipient can use them any time of the year for drying things in the kitchen or hands in the bathroom, as reusable napkins for meals, as place mats or trivets or any number of things!


I also included a bottle of my homemade vanilla extract. I’ve been including this in my handmade holiday gifts for years. This stuff is goooooooood and I also mention that it comes with refills — and guess what — recipients take me up on it 🙂 I’ve gotten many bottles back with polite requests for some more, please! My pleasure 🙂

I also like to include some tea with holiday spices and flavors such as clove, cinnamon and orange peel:


(check out how to dry your own orange peel to add to tea and other goodies — this was easy and I’m blown away by how fragrant it is! Plus — you get to eat the orange first!)

The little tin can be reused indefinitely!

I also threw in a bunch of peppermint swirl candies for color. These were my mom’s favorite candies, and whenever people came to visit she would ask that they bring them. When I got her things, I found 7 enormous bags of these mints (!) in her closet. I took 3 home (David loves these, too) and left 4 for the other residents, because they used to come into her room and ask for some. There is also red tissue paper underneath all this that I saved from a gift and reused.

A little magpie packrattery, some making, some small nods to the past, and ardent hopes for the future add up to a holiday celebration I can feel good about. I wish you and yours a joyful holiday season, any which way you choose to celebrate it (but choose!)!

*The World Is Too Much With Us


The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.


  1. That’s a beautiful gives, and one I’d certainly be happy to receive as a Secret Santee. I think the time and thought we put into something is what matters – it’s the thinking and feeling behind it that are the important things, not flashy commercialism! I hope you have a peaceful and fulfilling Christmas break!

  2. We are very much alike – nothing goes to waste. I would add, however, that such gifts only deserve recipients who can appreciate the ingenuity and the effort. Have a calm holiday, with all those you want near you!

    1. I agree with you! It was actually a sort of litmus test surrounding gift giving in my reimagining of the holidays. If a person wouldn’t appreciate a handmade gift, perhaps the gift giving was a “should do” and maybe needed to be stopped or changed. My husband and I gently ended some extended family gift giving because of this. If I have to give a gift at a gathering where I don’t know people well (like last year’s holiday party at my husband’s work) I buy, too.

      Have a wonderful holiday!

  3. What a wonderfully considered and curated gift! I think this is a lesson in the gloriousness of stuff. Not only is each piece part of your tale but you are weaving it into new tales, one that will be part of your shared story and one that will be part of the recipient’s own story, rippling on and on in its own right. How different from the disposable stuff culture we live in and how wonderful!

    Rainer Maria Rilke may have asserted that we “are utterly alone in the things most intimate and important to us” but in my mind, these lace-like webs, woven from shared stories and human connections, reflect back to us who we truly are, grounding us in ourselves and acting as a balm for Rilke’s aloneness.

    1. Have you read the book Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett? I used it for my research proposal when I was in school, and loved it. She talks about these webs of stuff. I wrote a little review of it on my book blog:

      I think you might like it 🙂 It’s out there, but in a good way.

      I still need to read Rilke — maybe during the break I can get started 🙂 I often think about aloneness/lonely and solitude, and the difference, and I think he’s the person to enrich that thinking.

  4. This seems to be a perfect gift, with all these layers of thought and meaning. And I love that your mom was included! I also liked the idea of the litmus test about gift giving that you mentioned a comment–it’s a fascinating way to sort through the reasons and need for gifts!

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