Handcrafted Happiness: holiday misery and gifting handmade

Since just after midnight the day after Halloween, we’ve been barraged with a constant stream of Christmas commercials. Whether it’s in glossy print between magazine articles, on during breaks in our favourite television must-sees, or spoken rapid-fire by a radio DJ, we’ve heard about every product, every sale, and every shopping destination within fifty miles. Our inboxes have been flooded with messages boasting the best deals, our mailboxes are stuffed with catalogs, and everywhere we look there’s something newer, better, and shinier than what we originally set out to find. We’re on holiday overload and it’s exhausting. During a time of year when we should be sitting back, reflecting on our year, and enjoying time with our most beloved friends and family members, we’re fighting each other for parking spots at the mall and resenting the togetherness that might be keeping us away from the necessary shopping. It’s enough to drive even the most level-headed person mad.

Working in the retail and service industry, I see some of the season’s worst moments unfold right in front of me. It’s hard not to resent the holidays when it turns people into monsters before your very eyes, but it has an uncanny way of changing people. Suddenly, having friends is a chore. Family members are needy money-drains, more obligation than joy. Loved ones are reduced to a check mark on a to-do list, the sooner done the better. And there’s no living with anyone until that list is completely crossed off. But it doesn’t need to be that way. The thing is, the people who love us want us to be happy–and if buying gifts makes you miserable, they would probably rather you not!


In the past, I’ve felt that gifting handmade presents to my friends and family was a cheap cop-out, and handing them homemade trinkets felt like a let-down. After all, they spent hard-earned money on me, searching the malls and shops until they had found just the right trinket: I had spent a few hours at my work table, scribbling down pictures and words. For some pieces, I went big and bought frames. But the reception was never as chilly as I anticipated. In fact, people seemed to like receiving paintings or pencil drawings. Years later, there was no greater thrill than receiving a handmade piece from my artsier, craftier friends. Art is no small effort. It can brighten a room, liven up a workspace, start a conversation between people where words might have never happened. There’s something truly magical about holding a personalized gift in your hands; you can almost feel the thought and effort seeping out of it. Knowing the amount of time and care put into creating a singular, unique piece especially for you is intoxicating.


A drawing or painting of something beloved by a friend or family member is a wonderful gift–try painting an ornament or sculpting a small trinket for their tree. If you’re not an artist, don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to show you care with something handmade. Find their favourite stones and make a piece of jewelry, or decorate something for their home. Use colourful paper to modge-podge the outside of a jar candle, or cover a pillar candle with epsom salts for a wintery effect. Sift through Facebook photos to find a favourite snapshot or dive through their Instagram for pictures of pets, vacation memories, or hangout snaps and print them on photo paper. Then, make a frame from found objects or simply paint one from your local craft store to personalize it. Don’t fret if you aren’t crafty–a tin of cookies is a classic handmade gift. Bake a few batches of gingerbread, sugar cookies, pinwheels, and whoopee pies and tuck them into a colourful tin for transport: everyone loves a sugary holiday treat.


This year, I spent my time in a veritable mad science lab sniffing and mixing and pouring to concoct the perfect perfume for my friends, infusing it with healing stones and topping it off with decorative labels. I probably spent more time working on it than I would have picking up things at the mall, and fragrance oils aren’t necessarily cheap, but it saved me the stress and anxiety of battling other shoppers for that perfect sweater or pair of gloves. I’d much rather spend my time off tucked into a cozy, sweet-smelling corner listening to Spotify radio and contemplating my friends’ favourite smells than hustling through department stores, grabbing things just to have a package to hand off on Christmas Day–and at the end of the day, it saves more than just me from the holiday stresses–no one really wants another pair of clearance gloves or a discounted scarf anyway!