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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Handmade holidays

The day after Halloween, my niece posted on her crafty blog that she was making little crocheted snowmen out of yarn scraps as Christmas presents for some little kids she knows.

A couple of days later, I heard “Feliz Navidad” on the radio on my way to work. The next day, I put my snow tires on the car. So I guess there’s no denying it: Election season is over, winter is here and it’s all holidays, all the time, from now until January.

Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t really mind. Like my niece, I love the holidays — the visiting, sharing meals, doing projects with the kids, doing projects for the kids. We make block prints for our cards, make cookies for everyone, gather pine boughs and pine cones to fill vases and the window boxes, and generally focus on the little things we can do to delight each other.

I can get sick of “Feliz Navidad” pretty quick. But I can’t get enough of making mittens out of scraps of yarn.

What I can’t get behind is the overconsumption of products and stuff, the buying of things no one needs, just because there’s an expectation that you will. It’s the waste of it all — all that packaging, all that virgin wrapping paper, all that time and money.

Maybe it just runs in the family. Our Thanksgivings, Christmases, New Year’s celebrations are all pretty much DIY affairs. And they all start with the boxes of stuff we have saved — paper, cardboard, fabric, yarn, lovely bottles, pretty tins — for making into other stuff.

My son is a pro at making things out of liter seltzer bottles, anything from airplanes to catapults, just in case anyone on your Christmas list needs a portable catapult.

My husband and I tend toward the practical, making handy little shelves out of salvaged lumber, or hats and scarves out of leftover yarn, or felted bags out of old wool sweaters. We’ve made blank books out of paper, stitched together and covered with fabric or paper collages.

My daughter has made earrings and necklaces for all her cousins. One of those cousins once made us individualized glasses, etching our names and some pictures of things we like onto glasses she picked up at thrift stores. Yet another niece made everyone homemade sake last year, delivered in mason jars. When you think of it, I have a lot of crafty nieces.

Sometimes I think the reason I make so many gifts is that I hate shopping. The crowds and the hard sell that starts now and runs through January is more than I can take. Right around Thanksgiving, after I see my first parking lot fender-bender, I generally have my first wave of anti-consumerism and declare that I won’t step into a store until spring.

Or maybe it’s just the way my sisters and brother and I always did things, hanging out together with scissors, paper and glue, making books and boxes, cards and paper dolls.

Somehow, we all still do it. My sister makes mosaics, taking old, broken dishes and turning them into breathtakingly beautiful tables or wall pieces or decorated boxes. We’re all handy. We all draw — some seriously and some in a sillier way — and birthdays and holidays always come with handmade cards.

It’s hard to say whether it’s tradition, an environmental philosophy or just plain stubbornness. But I prefer thrift stores and craft boxes, reclaiming and repurposing, to buying dozens of brand new things, encased in plastic, to hand off to someone else.

Sure, we’ll buy some presents. But we’ll make far more, and it’s that process — making things together — that we’ll remember of our holidays together.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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