"Each year about this time, visions of old-fashioned holidays start creeping into my dreams," sighed Mrs. Sharp's neighbor, Ms. Younger, a thoroughly modern mother with responsibilities both at home and out in the world. "And what would an old-fashioned holiday be without homemade gifts?"
There is nothing as fulfilling and as pleasurable--for both giver and receiver--as a gift created from heart and hands. However dear reader, if you, like Ms. Younger, are contemplating making the majority of your gifts, permit Mrs. Sharp to gently correct you. It is already too late.
"But Mrs. Sharp," you may protest, "Didn't Victorian families make their Christmas gifts?"
Of course we did, but we began making them at half past June. By the week before Thanksgiving the presents were finished, wrapped and hidden in the hall closet. Come Dec. 1, we could concentrate on all the fun holiday activities like baking, decorating, caroling fests and sleigh-ride frolics.
How else did you imagine we were ever able to enjoy an old-fashioned Christmas? Did you think that Mrs. Sharp was so versatile that she could stir the Christmas pudding with one hand and apply the varnish to the hand-carved rocking horse with the other?
Well, she's not and neither are you.
But there still is time for your children to make their gifts for the holidays. The gift of self-esteem that comes from an "I made it myself" Christmas is one you can easily incorporate into your family's holiday planning.
One of Mrs. Sharp's favorite holiday memories comes from her children's efforts at gift-making, inspired by a magazine series at the turn of the century known as "The Eleven-Cent Christmas." In this serial, a little girl named Nellie, who was very poor "but rich in love and ingenuity," began planning during the summer.
For months Nellie would "hoard every little thing that might help": at the seashore she collected shells, pretty pebbles and bits of driftwood. When in the country, she gathered acorns, pine cones and a goodly number of little twigs. Slices cut from limbs of red cedar made many pretty gifts. Bouquets of flowers were gathered, hung and dried.
Next, she searched her house and collected pieces of cardboard and cloth, bits of sealing wax, a wishbone and pictures cut from magazines. During the year she had saved 11 precious cents. With her money, she bought silk ribbon and some lace-trimmed handkerchiefs. From this Nellie made an astonishing assortment of ingenious gifts for the entire family.
If your young ones would also like to make Nellie's gift ideas their own, here are two easy favorites: a seashore-decorated frame and a fragrant handkerchief sachet.
For each seashore frame, you will need one plain wooden picture frame, assorted small seashells and clear-drying craft glue. First lay out the shells onto the frame in a pleasing design, then glue the shells down; let them dry completely. Next, find a family photograph to insert for a permanent memory gift.
For each sachet, you will need approximately three tablespoons of dried flower potpourri (available in gift and craft shops); a white, lace-trimmed handkerchief, and a 14-inch length of colored silk ribbon, 3/8-inches wide. Place the potpourri in the center of the handkerchief, pull the ends up, wrap the ribbon around the center in a pretty bow and fluff out the corners.
If we want our children to learn patience and resourcefulness, gift making promotes these admirable qualities, while encouraging self-expression and originality. What's more, when your very modern children make their gifts for others, they'll discover, as Nellie learned with her 11 cent Christmas, that it is not the cost that counts but the loving thoughts behind our gifts.
But children cannot be fooled. Even young ones have an amazing sense of taste and style. Both of you will quickly grow tired of gift making after the tenth plaster of Paris handprint and macaroni collage. To spark their natural creativity, Mrs. Sharp recommends two resources full of exciting holiday gift-making projects. The first is "Victorian Christmas Crafts: A Treasury of Gifts, Ornaments and Other Holiday Specialties" by Barbara Bruno ($14.95, Prentice Hall Press, New York).
"Christmas Is Coming! 1987" (Creative Ideas for Living Books, Birmingham, Ala. 35201, $17.95) is the fourth volume in this handicraft series, written for children, 5 to 12, that will keep them happy and busy cutting, coloring, pasting and painting memorable gifts for relatives and friends.