Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Handmade Christmas

Grandmother Martin
Although my Grandmother lived in the same town with me when I was growing up, we did not typically exchange Christmas presents. Part of the reason was likely because she had eight grown children, each with a number of children of their own and even with grandchildren by this time, so there were ‘way too many people to shop for. Grandmother was on a limited income, plus she did not drive and it was not easy for her to shop except by mail order. Christmas gifts for everyone would have been nearly impossible for her to manage; and because we had never done it, I never thought twice about it.

But then one Christmas when I was about eight years old, we were invited to Grandmother’s house one evening before Christmas. I can’t remember if we ate dinner with her or just congregated there after our supper at home. I also can’t remember who else was there, but it seemed like at least one of my uncles and his family came too. 

Since we regularly gathered at Grandmother's house to enjoy family times with my uncles and aunts, the invitation had not seemed out of the ordinary. After we arrived, however, it became apparent that Grandmother had a wrapped package for each one of us, and went around the room presenting gifts to us one at a time. I remember being surprised at the nature of our visit, but a wave of pleasure swept over me when I opened my package. I glanced around to see what others were unwrapping, and it became immediately obvious that Grandmother had made something personally, with her own hands, for each of us.

To this day, I don’t remember what anyone else received; I only remember the gifts my sister and I opened. Our gifts were matching crocheted owls. She had stitched an owl-shaped pin cushion out of fabric, then covered it with a crocheted overlay in a contrasting color that added texture. A piece of crochet provided a hanger at the top. Mine was a small one, and my sister received a larger version of the same owl. It likely occurred to my child-like mind at the time, “What am I supposed to do with this?” But it didn’t really matter because I simultaneously felt a profound sense of gratitude, realizing that she had taken time to make something “just for me”, a labor of time and effort. And I think even to my childish mind, I was aware that it would have taken a great deal of time to stitch something for each of us in that room. 

Grandmother, who was somewhere around eighty-five years old that year, beamed with joy and her eyes twinkled as we each opened our gifts, giving full credence to the biblical principle that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” It gave her immense joy to present us with the objects of her labor.

My sister and I fastened our owls on the wall of our shared closet, and for years they hung there to hold safety pins, straight pins, hatpins, clothespins. Somewhere in a storage box in my home is the handmade owl from long ago. 

During the season when we all strive to search out what our loved ones want for Christmas, we often get overtaken with the monetary value of gifts, and focus too intently on snagging the most sought-after purchases of the season. Whatever is faddish any given year—iPads, UGG boots, crocheted hats—we feel a compulsion to find the perfect gift.

Maybe it’s time to rethink our gifting instincts. What can we give of ourselves to someone we love? If you are handy in the kitchen, consider baking a favorite dish for someone you love. If you can repair cars, find out if a family member needs an oil change or spark plugs you could help with. Give an iTunes gift card and help a loved one download some useful apps if you are a computer guru. If you are a handyman, see if someone you love needs to have new washers put in their faucets or a toilet handle replaced. Those ideas don’t necessarily signal “love” to someone whose love language isn’t acts of service! But to those of us who consider such an offer to be a worthwhile gift, it might mean the world to us. For those who don’t consider it a gift unless it’s something they can open and use, assess whether you own something they want! If you own a lovely necklace that your niece has admired, consider making a sacrifice and presenting it to her. If your daughter-in-law admires your Kitchen-Aid mixer and you know SHE would use it much more than you would, let it go. Those are sacrifices that mean something—to both the giver and receiver.

On the occasions when I have crafted something with my own hands that I think would be meaningful to a loved one, I have received a very specific joy in the giving. Our family has a long-standing tradition of creating handmade gifts, as you can see in the photos below. There is nothing wrong with purchasing a gift to show your love to someone; I do this quite often. But a homemade gift is in an entirely different category.

Jesus modeled a very personal giving for us when He gave His very life for us. His Father demonstrated the concept even more powerfully in sacrificing the life of His Son for us. While we are not required to give up anything quite so immense, it does help us understand what the word “gift” implies: letting go of something significant, whether an object or an act, in order to benefit someone else—freely given with no expectations attached.

What can you do this holiday season to make your Christmas gift-giving more meaningful?

My father made this rocking horse for Eric's first Christmas.

When Nicole was three, I made a Paddington Bear for her and one for Eric at Christmas.