Christmas is a holiday truly deserving of that personal touch. So grab your glue gun and dust off your DIY skills — ’tis the season to make your own holiday cheer.
1. String a popcorn garland
Popcorn garlands have great retro appeal and are a wonderful way to keep little hands busy. All you need is the popcorn (microwave is OK, plain is best) plus needle and thread or even dental floss. Let the popcorn get stale over a couple days before you start, and plan for about one cup per every 3-4 feet of string.
2. Bake a gingerbread man (or woman)
Betty Crocker gingerbread cookie mix is a classic. Grab a gingerbread-man cookie cutter, and whip up a quick batch of royal icing (whites from 2 large eggs, 1 box powdered sugar, add water to desired consistency, starting with 1/2 cup) and scavenge Christmas candy for decorations.
3. Give the gift of cookies
Gingerbread men aren’t the only things worth baking this time of year. Sugar cookies are a standby, and about as easy as baking gets: Mix 3 cups flour with 3/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. In another bowl, beat together 1 cup softened butter and 1 cup sugar, 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of milk. Combine dry and wet ingredients into a dough. Refrigerate for a couple hours, then roll it out into 1/4-inch-thick square. Use the rim of a cup to cut out perfect circles or use cookie cutters. Bake at 375 degrees for 7 to 9 minutes. Prepare royal icing (recipe above) if desired, then decorate. For gifts, purchase an assortment of Christmas tins, line with waxed paper and fill.
4. Set aside a little something for Santa and his helpers
Typically, it’s carrots for the reindeer, milk and cookies for Santa and the elves. Don’t forget the custom Christmas plate.
5. Put pepper jelly in a jar
A small jar of pepper jelly can get you through the most tiresome, bland meals — which makes it the gift the keeps on giving. Chop 2 1/2 cups red peppers, 1 1/4 cups green peppers and 1/4 cup jalapenos. Place in a saucepan over medium-high heat, then add 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 package of pectin and 5 cups white sugar, then bring to a boil. Boil one minute and then remove from heat. Skim off any foam. Pour into sterilized Mason jars and cover tightly. Follow USDA guidelines for proper sterilization and canning procedures. Top it with ribbon — and love.
6. Make pomander balls
Pomander balls smell amazing and add an old-world ambience to any home. All you need are oranges, a jar of cloves, a citrus peeler and ribbon. Use the peeler to scrape designs in the orange peel, such as swirls or zigzags. Use toothpicks to poke holes in the peel in whatever configuration you like, before inserting the cloves. Some people like stripes, some swirls, some place the cloves evenly all around. To hang, thread a needle with ribbon and carefully pull through the top of the peel and tie.
7. Don’t forget the hot cocoa
For the kids — and some of us adults — nothing beats hot cocoa. You can go with the classic Swiss Miss with marshmallows or Swiss Miss Candy Cane, or kick it up a notch with a dash of hot sauce, a tablespoon of coffee or espresso, a bit of orange zest or a scoop of your favorite ice cream.
8. Whip up some eggnog
You can go the easy route and add some unique flavor to a carton of Knudsen Egg Nog by adding lemon zest or a few tablespoons of Nutella. Or go homemade with this easy recipe: Mix 8 eggs, 1/2 cup white sugar, 3 cups milk, 2 cups heavy cream, and add either a 1/2 cup of Nutella or the zest of one lemon. For grownups, add 2 cups rum or brandy.
9. DIY Ugly Christmas Sweater
Sure, you can purchase a DIY ugly Christmas sweater kit — but why not create a truly ugly one yourself with inexpensive supplies? It couldn’t be easier. First, buy a cheap, heinous sweater at a resale shop. Next, decide on your design and shop the store for bibs and bobs for decorating. For example, green glitter glue is perfect for drawing the outline of a Christmas tree. Use a hot glue gun to add cotton balls for snow. Attach Christmas-colored glitter balls or pompoms for the ornaments and put a peel-and-stick star on top. Use another color of glitter glue to write a festive saying on your sweater, such as “I’m on the naughty list. You?” or “I just threw up a sash!” Festive, yet ugly enough to win you an award at the office holiday party.
—Laura Lambert for 99 Cents Only Stores