Hating Homemade Christmas

the classic struggle of crafting your own Christmas gifts

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Janae Breunig

The English language contains very few phrases capable of tearing a family completely apart in mere seconds. But there are a handful. And chief amongst them is the following series of five words: “Should we do Homemade Christmas?”

This is usually uttered by a hopeful, over-achieving aunt upon drawing names from an old basket after Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone must get a gift for the person whose name they drew. And as for the haphazard DIY spectacle known as “Homemade Christmas” ... opinions usually vary. I’ve lived through multiple Homemade Christmases, and thus, can tell the tale. 

I have one aunt who hates Homemade Christmas with the sucking, howling fury of a super massive black hole. It’s dark and vast, like a thousand stars of Bethlehem wrenched from the sky and guzzled by a Homemade Christmas-hating void. 

If this aunt even hears you say the words “homemade” and “Christmas” in the same sentence, she makes a face like someone ran up and punched her in the butt cheek. It’s a mixture of surprise disgust and pain and how dare you. 

How dare you punch me in the butt cheek with Homemade Christmas! Just tell me what you want so I can drive to the Pamida in Rice Lake and buy you an iTunes gift card!

As if ripped from the pages of a Greek tragedy, my other aunt (this first aunt’s sister) just love-love-loves Homemade Christmas. Loves it. Every year, she and her husband somehow find time to craft elaborate yuletide concoctions. The husband is a woodworker, and one year he made this gorgeous little end table that can fold up and then unfold into a friggin’ chair. You read that right – he built a beautiful wooden Transformer. Like after months of work, Optimus End Table (Ottoman Prime?) simply emerged from my uncle’s garage to battle his evil archenemies, the vile Futon-a-cons. 

Everyone in the family hopes this uncle draws their name from the basket. A few years back, he got my name, and he made this beautiful little magazine rack/table thing. It was both shiny and awesome – absolutely the belle of the Homemade Christmas Ball – and ’twas unwrapped to many oohs and sundry aahs. 

It was far more than I deserved, which became painfully obvious when my cousin’s husband unwrapped the gift I made that year. It was a duct tape wallet. Sure, I’d made a number of sweet customizations, but ... I basically just bought a $3 roll of tape and 20 minutes later I was done. 

Back in the ol’ days, you had to make your own holiday gifts because convenient gas stations with gift racks weren’t invented yet. You had to walk out to the barnyard and slaughter a goat to make a towel rack or something.

One year I made my anti-Homemade Christmas aunt a sweet mix CD. I’m not even sure she owns a CD player. I just found a bunch of country songs I figured she’d like and then bought them with the iTunes gift card she’d gotten me the year before because that, folks, is the CIRCLE OF LIFE.

You know, I guess I like Homemade Christmas in theory. There’s an undeniable historical precedent to the handmade tradition. Back in the ol’ days, you had to make your own holiday gifts because convenient gas stations with gift racks weren’t invented yet. You had to walk out to the barnyard and slaughter a goat to make a towel rack or something. You had to chop down an oak tree and whittle a guitar. You had to make toys for your kids out of rocks and leftover corncobs. And I honor that heritage. 

But that said, I can identify with the uneasiness that accompanies creating something for a loved one. Is it a Midwestern thing? Are we making ourselves too vulnerable by bestowing upon friends and family an intimate part of ourselves, exposing our personal talents – or lack thereof? Yes. Yes, we are.  

Lucky for most of us, it seems the homemade-haters outnumber the homemade-lovers, and we must rarely put your creative talents on display, laid bare upon the yule log for our families to see and judge. We can rely on that old holiday standby: “being thoughtful.” But if you really want to score some extra points this year, try being thoughtful and creative. Get out of your comfort zone and make something. If nothing else, it’s a holy jolly exercise in self-realization. 

Take it from me – make a duct tape wallet or a similar piece of junk. It’s not too difficult and people will laugh and talk about it for years to come. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

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