I come from a family that values homemade gifts. None of us like shopping, and some of us are downright anti-consumerism, but all of us appreciate time and effort spent making and choosing presents, even when they don't always come out well.
Perhaps the first gift any child in the family learns to make is the bookmark. Made from stiff paper, felt, or cardboard, bookmarks are something everyone needs. You can never have too many bookmarks. At least that is what my mother always says as a grandchild hands her yet another bookmark. I think she's gotten enough bookmarks over the years to keep one in every book. Luckily, she reads a lot.
My older kids always give their grandparents chore coupons, carefully printed pieces of paper, each worth one chore. When the kids were younger, the chores would be something simple, like helping with the dishes after a holiday meal. But as my parents have gotten older and the kids have gotten bigger and stronger, the coupons have soared in value. My father is a stubborn, independent man who doesn't like to admit, as he gets older, that he needs help with anything, but for some reason, he feels perfectly comfortable calling in the chore coupons. One summer, Boy in Black helped him put a new roof on. My father loved having the company and the help of a young person with boundless energy. And Boy in Black learned how to do roofing.
Before my oldest nieces started going to college and grad school, it was a tradition for the grandchildren to get together and make a video tape each year. They would come up with a plot, write a script, get together costumes, and plan props. Urban Sophisticate Sister, who was part of this project, would come home one weekend in December, rent a camcorder, and shoot the whole thing in a day. The movie would be unveiled on Christmas Eve, when the extended family would be together at my mother's house. We'd all crowd into the small living room, sitting on the couches and chairs and floor, to watch the movie over and over again, while the grandchildren would tell all the funny stories that happened during the making of it.
We still have all the Christmas videotapes, and we will watch them tomorrow night at my mother's house as we gather once again for Christmas Eve. The videotapes are not without their precedent. We've got movies made during my childhood – movies complete with corny plots, dreadfully stereotypical costumes, and subtitles. They are silent movies because they were shot on a movie camera and later transferred to video. It is just as well. When we watch the movies, we all scream and laugh so much that we wouldn't be able to hear any dialogue anyhow.
Some of the older grandchildren are working now and have money to buy presents for family members, but I think the best presents are still the homemade ones. Tonight I helped With-a-Why wrap the boondoggle keychains that he made for everyone in the family, carefully choosing each person's favorite colours. I am hoping that in secret he made me one too.