For the last 20 years, my friends and I have followed our own tradition of exchanging homemade & DIY gifts. I feel these gifts are more meaningful because of the effort, creativity, and resourcefulness involved. They are also more memorable. From upcycled pet toys, scrapbook calendars, knitted socks, and artwork, to homemade cakes and cookies, the love and talent in these one-of-a-kind gifts are very tangible. Here are some of my favourite gifts that I’ve given and received. What do they have in common? They’re all easy to make, and so meaningful, that I still remember and treasure each of them today.
How to Introduce the DIY Tradition
At age 18, my childhood friends and I started to be concerned with our finances since we were all attending uni. It’s easy to just buy gifts. Too easy, especially when you’re spending someone else’s money (e.g., your parent’s money). But at age 18, we were on our own. The money was in our accounts under our own name, and this money had to cover all our expenses.
So to ease the financial burden and the inherent “one-upmanship” of the whole gift-giving process, we decided that for one Christmas, we would exchange DIY & homemade gifts.
“Let’s just see how it goes” was the attitude. Two decades later, and we’re still practicing this tradition, even though affordability is not the issue.
Why did we stick to it? Because after that first year, we realised that not only was Christmas more meaningful, but we connected more and our friendships grew stronger. We inspired each other. Each gift offered new insights to hidden talents; each was its own conversation piece.
Although we capped the spending to $10, most of us just used stuff we already had around the home to make our creations. The focus, therefore, was centered around the relationship, and not the price tag.
Just try it for one Christmas. See if it brings you additional joy and depth to your holidays, friendships, and relationships.
Some of My Favourite DIY Christmas Gifts
Dogs and cats really don’t care about the design, colours, and cuteness of a toy. They just want something to bite/scratch and for you to play with them. Family and friends know you love your pets. So making a gift for your darling pets is also a gift to you. The downside, however, is that this gift may not last long.
A Cutomised Framed Photo
Appealing to one’s own ego, giving someone a self-portrait or a photo of his/her family is always a sure bet. Crafting and designing a special frame makes this gift even better. Pick your recipient’s favourite photo and decorate a frame with paint, stickers, jewels, or other elements.
The most memorable gifts I received when I was a teacher was artwork by students. I also dabbled in art when I was a student, and I used to give my artwork away too. It was simply the best feeling – to give and receive masterpieces.
Cakes, Pies & Other Homemade Treats
That first Christmas, one of my friends baked personalised cakes/pies for each of us. We all got to choose the type or flavour, and she would bake it from scratch. I chose a chocolate mousse, which my friend later remarked was the easiest to make as it didn’t even require baking.
If you want healthier homemade treats, maybe try a fruit basket, homemade yogurt, achar, jam, or apple cider vinegar instead. All of these are super easy, but require a bit of practice.
Once, I made a snack tray with cookies and konnyaku jelly moulded to spell out the recipient’s name.
A Homemade Meal
Home-cooked food is filled with love, and free of preservatives, fillers, and other industrial chemicals. Food in Singapore is abundant. But nourishing food made from the heart is not as easy to come by.
Some of my friends traditionally send Christmas cards to their friends and family members who are overseas. As my gift to them, one year I designed their postcard and even had them printed. All they needed to do was sign their name and mail them out. My friend told me that my gift helped to lessen her (already lengthy) Christmas to-do list. And for a mum with kids, she greatly appreciated it.
Poems & Songs
In this age of digital cards, instant messaging, emojis, and Christmas GIFs, a handwritten card or poem can really stand out as being very special. Even more special are personal songs, especially ones in which you can serenade your recipient.
I once recited an original poem which made my recipient cry. After nearly 10 years, I asked her if she remembered it. “Of course,” she said. “I’ll always remember it.”
I love giving plants as gifts. They bring beauty and nature into the home. I recently gave a peace lily as a housewarming gift (did you know they help filter indoor air?). I’ve also given terrariums, which are fun to make.
Edible plants, such as basil, aloe, and pandan, can be quite useful. And I’ve also given some more unusual plants, such as the touch-sensitive plant (called Mimosa Pudica, a “weed” that can be found everywhere in Singapore) and carnivorous plants, such as the Venus flytrap.
I’ve seen some amazing works of art using clay. Most people choose pottery clay, which is usually store bought from art supply shops (even Daiso sells clay). There are places in Singapore (such as the old dragon kiln) that will help you fire up your clay.
But these days, you don’t necessarily need a kiln. You can use air-dried, self-hardening clay. I’ve even seen some homemade versions of self-drying clay using ingredients like corn starch and glue.
There are many online resources for easy clay projects, so easy that kids can do them.
Why buy Christmas ornaments when you can make and gift your own? Add some flare and personalisation to these DIY ornaments, and you’ve got yourself a nice and easy Christmas gift.
Personalised Name Pin
To make a personalised name pin, all you need is a pair of needle-nose pliers, craft wire (around 20 gauge), and some coarse sandpaper (around 100 grit) to sharpen the end of the needle. It takes a bit of practice, but the learning curve is really not high at all.
Knitted & Sewn Goods
Knitting was one of my grandmother’s favourite activities (very stereotypical!). But this craft can be for everyone, as it is relaxing, enjoyable, and lends itself to some degree of multi-tasking. Getting started just requires a ball of yarn and some comfortable knitting needles. To help you get started, check out some easy beginner’s stitches and patterns.
Sewing requires more upfront investment as you will need a machine. Of course, you can hand stitch using a needle but it takes a lot of effort and time.
Over the years, I’ve been the lucky recipient of many sewn and knitted gifts – plush toys, quilts, potpourri sachets, and pot holders – and they’ve all been very special to me.
Friendship Bracelets & Other Jewellery
If knitting and sewing are too daunting, friendship bracelets are great alternative. Besides the traditional friendship bracelets (usually made of embroidery thread), there are other versions you can try, such as paracord bracelets, bead and charm bracelets, and recycled t-shirt bracelets. And of course, you can try to make other types of jewellery, such as necklaces and earrings.
Some Final Thoughts
Holidays were meant to be a joyful time to gather and reconnect with friends and family. But often, they can be stressful, dreaded, and full of anxiety. The custom of gift-giving can also be a financial burden.
There are so many ways to make Christmas meaningful without this burden. Create a new tradition of giving one-of-a-kind DIY gifts. Just try it for one year. Choose to be creators, not merely consumers.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up doing it every year like I do. Maybe you’ll discover a hidden talent, which can turn into a hobby or side gig.
Having this tradition might result in more gratitude towards the things you already have.
It might inspire the younger generation to be more resourceful, clever and creative. And remind them (and us) that the real treasure is the friendships and lasting connections behind the gift. That is truly priceless.