You know how it is. When it comes to extended family, Xmas can be very expensive. If you have a lot of uncles and aunts, cousins with kids, and the like, you get to the stage where pure economics means you either agree to forsake buying gifts for each other or you just buy a token gift.
It’s the latter my family go for. My parents and brother get decent gifts, but all those aunts and uncles usually end up with a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates or a funny book. Nice, but it’s hard to really wow people with a small budget.
It was my mother and my aunt who came up with the idea last year as they were getting into arts and crafts, that we should do things differently this year, and *make* things for each other. It didn’t matter how badly things turned out, or what people did. What was important was that people just had a go.
And so for the last year, our entire family has taken up new secret hobbies in order to learn or perfect the skills needed to create their gifts. I’ve seen my mother thoroughly enjoy her knitting project, where she made a cushion and knitted a garden onto one side of it, complete with 3D carrots, strawberrys, a hedgehog and even chickens. She’s been so entertained and involved in it, come September I had to remind her that she also needed to make gifts for other people.
So today, we all met up at my aunt’s and exchanged gifts in a second Christmas. And you know what? It was great, hearing people generally whoop and be thrilled to bits by everyone’s endeavours.
My brother made a jar of chocolates for people, some of which did not last the afternoon. My aunt positively shrieked with pleasure at the cushion my mother made for her. I loved the little stocking my Grandmother knitted for me, stuffed with little gifts she’d bought. My cousin and her son baked biscuits for everyone. My aunt made button boxes for her two sisters (something my mother had only said the day before that she wanted).
For my part, I’m not the greatest when it comes to physical skills. I’m the type of person who glues their fingers together. So I decided that what I would do is gather up those short stories that are fairly decent but are never going to sell, and produce a one-off Print-On-Demand Anthology for them. To make it special, I designed different covers featuring the person whose gift it was, along with an in-joke style title. Seven absolutely unique anthologies, only one of each cover in existence in the world.

I’m pleased they went down a storm. My aunt even asked me to sign hers (so she can flog it if I ever get famous she informs me). But in truth, I think everyone really enjoyed all the gifts and this little attempt at bringing back a little bit of the spirit of Christmas. I think everyone agreed that we’ll do it again next year as we all had such a brilliant time not just giving the gifts but in making them as well.
But for me, there was one present that stood out. My father had decided that for his project, he’d learn how to make pens. He bought himself the equipment and spent many an hour whittling down funky acrylics to form the body of these pens. He made some special ones as well. For my cousin’s newly announced fiancée (who’s a teacher), he took wood from an old school bench and made a pen with black at one end and red at the other. For my grandmother who loves the middle-east she made her pen from an olive tree from Jerusalem.
And for me, he managed to get hold of some bog wood. This is nearly fossilized oak from Ireland that is between four and seven thousand years old. That’s older than the pyramids, and I have to be honest, just totally blows my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, the ‘proper’ gifts were awesome, but I’ll really treasure that pen and only use it for the most significant of occasions.
Such an awesome Christmas.