A Meaningful and Handmade Holiday

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Connecting with your children through handmade activities.
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“The Creative Family Manifesto” by Amanda Blake Soule created a classic book to help you and your family live a more intentional life.

The Creative Family Manifesto (Roost Books, 2017) by Amanda Blake Soule dives into the challenges of raising children during our time. You can find advice on how to embrace life with a more simple approach and learn how to create meaningful connections along the way. The following handmade guide will allow time to relax, play and grow together. This following excerpt is from Chapter eleven, “Handmade Holidays.”

Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.  — Eleanor Roosevelt 

At the time of year that is most full of consumption, marketing, and consumerism, I find an overwhelming need to create moments and objects of ritual, creativity, and connection. In the midst of all the shopping and busyness that goes on around me, I feel full of a need to slow down, be mindful, and create with intent and purpose with my children. I strive as a parent to keep our holidays simple; meaningful; and full of love, family, gratitude, and creativity. We work to make as many of the gifts we give as we can. This means that gifts are homemade and simple, but full of intent and loving energy for the people receiving them. When we make gifts for the people we love, we are able to think about them while doing so, and I believe that energy is received and loved in turn. We also try to keep our holiday decorations, celebrations, and events simple and natural, focusing on the gifts that the earth gives us year-round.

The holiday season provides us with an endless number of opportunities for creating with our children — and for instilling in them a love for handmade items. The activities in this chapter will give you just a few ideas on making holiday gifts for the ones you love, keeping the holiday celebration in your home full of creativity, and giving beyond the doors of your home to your community.

A Child’s Wonderland 

There aren’t many things more magical to a child than the lights, decorations, and warm feelings that come with the holidays. I remember the feelings of wonder I felt as a child, watching as what seemed like the whole world was transformed into a magical, holiday, winter wonderland. Now as a parent, I’ve had the joy of watching that sense of magic and wonder appear in my own children’s eyes as the holidays approach. While the fancy, elaborate decorations that we marvel at are amazing, just as amazing to me are the signs of a creative childhood during this time. Paper snowflakes covering the windows, paper garland chains hanging from the doorways, and Santa beards made out of cotton balls are all signs of children creating a bit of their own holiday wonder.

This holiday season, I watched my five-year-old son, Calvin, as he fully dove into the project of making his very own Winter Wonderland village. He spent countless December hours dreaming up the plans for his village; laying it all out; gathering bits and trinkets to include; and making new things out of clay, paper, and anything else he could find. It was never “done,” but rather became an ongoing creative work in progress that belonged only to him. When he wasn’t making things for it, he would gaze into it and “try to imagine a way to get inside the village.” It became a creative expression and a form of creative play as well.

When the holiday decorating bug hits your home, don’t forget to carve out some space for the little ones to work their own holiday magic. Consider dedicating a prominent spot in your home that your children can decorate as they wish, and provide them with a few things to use. Holiday decorations are found inexpensively at thrift stores or, even better, in your attic. You don’t need a large space to make this happen. Calvin’s Winter Wonderland was all on top of a dresser in his bedroom that was cleared for the month. Surely a bookshelf, end table, dresser, or other spot can be found in your home if your little ones are interested in creating their own Winter Wonderland or village. This can be a wonderful way for them to feel included in the decorating of your home and a chance for them to share their creative ideas about the holidays.

A Gift to the Earth

In our desire to keep the holiday spirit of giving to all, including those beyond the doors of our home, we began giving a Gift to the Earth. Each year, we’ve chosen a different gift related to a different issue that we wanted to address. With that gift, we make a yearlong commitment to continue giving. For example, one year, Calvin was just beginning to notice, inquire, and have much sadness about the homeless people we would encounter in our town. So for that holiday season, we decided our Gift to the Earth would be a gift to the people of the earth, the people who had no homes of their own. This gift began during the holidays with an initial donation of a small amount of money, in addition to a box full of things that our local homeless shelter needed — nonperish­able food, new blankets, and a few winter coats. Our gift continued through the year, as we made a commitment to ourselves and the local shelter to put together a small box of similar items each month and make as much of a donation as we could. At only three years old, we felt Calvin was too young to participate in helping at a soup kitchen, so we kept our gift to a drop-off that he was able to be a part of. It was an amazing experience for us to commit to a year of giving, and I believe that it gave Calvin’s young mind and heart some ease and comfort, knowing that he was doing something, when he saw homeless people in our community. He remembered the blankets, he remembered the canned food, he remembered the drop-offs — and it all made him feel very good whenever we talked about it. In other years, our commitment has been stronger or weaker, depending on the events in our lives. But we strive each year to work on this Gift to the Earth and hope that it becomes a tradition and ritual that our children will carry on into their adult lives. Following is a list of ideas that your family can use and adapt to give your own Gift to the Earth:

People of the earth — You can try giving time to a soup kitchen, making donations, or dropping off items shelters need.

Trees — Dedicate yourselves to a year of random tree planting. Contact your city or town to find out how you can help in neighborhood planting. Commit to participating once a month.

Adopting a trail — Do you have a favorite trail or walk in your neighborhood? Commit yourself to caring for it for a year. Bring trash bags along on your walks and pick up the garbage that you see. Clean up the fallen tree branches after storms and pick up brush. Find out if you can help with pruning and/or planning a park. Contact your local land trust or conservation organization to find out what their needs are. 

These experiences and gifts not only provide help to the people and planet we share, but also give our children amazing growing and learning opportunities. Imagine the powerful effect of our children growing up and giving Gifts to the Earth by habit. Surely, it will change our world.

Giving Handmade 

There’s no shortage of ideas when it comes to what to make for holiday gifts, and I’m sure you and your children have plenty of ideas yourselves. Around the holidays, the inspiration is over­flowing from everywhere — craft fairs, the Internet, online craft forums, craft magazines, and craft stores. If you need inspiration, seek these places out to find projects that will be fun for your family to make and give. I’ve included a few ideas here that you hopefully haven’t thought of yet or that might spark your inter­est to do something else.

Card Sets

This gift is fun and doable for even the youngest in our families. To make a standard 4 × 6-inch greeting card, we fold a piece of 8 × 12-inch heavyweight cardstock in half. The children or I then paint, draw, or write messages on the front of the cards, leaving the inside blank, and putting a small signature on the bottom of the back of the card. I purchase envelopes of matching size and color in bulk. So that it doesn’t become an intense labor effort, I usually spread this activity out over the year, making a few cards at a time here and there, so that by holiday time, we have a gen­erous stack of them ready to give as gifts. I bundle the cards and matching envelopes up in sets of four or so, and wrap with twine or a pretty string. I then place them in vellum envelopes, and they’re ready to go. The recipient can use the cards throughout the year and remember the art of the children they love.

Coloring Books

With the most basic of drawing abilities, you can make handmade, special coloring books for the children you love. Using a standard 8 × 11-inch piece of white paper and a thick, black pen or pencil, create simple designs, patterns, and whimsical drawings for little ones to color in. If you have a high-quality printer/copier, you can copy these drawings onto thick copy paper or have them copied at a print shop. The images can be random, themed, or things that are particularly special to the children who will receive them. Create a colorful page for the cover. When you have enough pages to put together a small coloring book (I generally do fifteen or so), the drawings can be bound at your local print and copy shop. What a joy it will be for a little one to have a special coloring book made by someone they love, and what joy it will be for you to see how they create on top of your creation!

Joy Jars

A Joy Jar is a special jar you can go to when a little bit of extra goodness is needed. They’re made quite simply with a recycled or purchased jar that can be decorated with sequins, trim, ribbon, fabric, beads, or anything else you may think of. Inside the jar are strips of paper with a bit of joy written on each one. Write the joyful text with the recipient in mind, with the intention of making them smile. For example, the Joy Jar that Calvin made for his grammie includes the following messages:

  • I love it when you call me your angel.
  • Think about how much fun it is to sit on the dock at camp.
  • I love to go visit Grampie at the fire station with you.
  • You make the best toast ever!
  • You have pretty eyes.
  • You have so many fun shoes, Grammie!
  • Let’s go to the bakery together soon and share a cookie! 

These Joy Jars are literally brimming with goodness intended to bring your loved ones pleasure. They are gifts that children of all ages can make, with even the youngest dictating the statements to an adult.

I remember making a Joy Jar for my grandmother, Meme, when I was a small child. She kept that jar on her kitchen stove, made a point to always pick something from it when I was around, and to this day, she still has it. It was something that made me feel special as a child and something I know she treasured simply because she loved me so.

When you think of holiday gift giving as a time for you to share something you love — a time to share the fruits of your creative passions — it becomes a very exciting time of year indeed. Whatever your passion may be, there will likely be a way for you to turn it into gifts for those you love and want to share it with.

Supporting Handmade

As much fun as it is to make as many of the holiday gifts as we can, it’s not always possible or realistic that we’ll be able to do this for everyone on our list. When we’re not able to make them ourselves, the next best thing is to find something that someone else has made. The holiday season can be a great time to show support for crafters and artists for the beautiful and meaningful work they do. Try skipping the big-box stores, and instead opt for small-run, one-of-a-kind items made by hand by creative people just like you. Affordable arts and crafts surround us; we just need to look in the right places to find them. The following are some ideas to get you thinking about and looking for hand­made gifts to purchase around the holidays.

Craft Fairs

The traditional holiday craft fair is still a standard in many com­munities. Think beyond what you remember from your childhood, and know that as we’ve aged, so too have the crafters at the fairs.

Give your local fair a try, and you might find things that are just what appeals to you. All the while, you’ll be supporting and encouraging local artists and crafters in their passions. Bring your children along for inspiration, encouragement, and experience.

Art Shows

In addition to craft fairs, art shows are another place to find handmade goods by your local artists and crafters. Find out if your local art school or college has an annual holiday show or sale, as many do. You’ll often find very affordable and innova­tive art by budding artists in your own local community at such sales. And it is so valuable for your children to see you supporting young artists and their work.


Taking craft fairs to a whole new level is Etsy, an online shop. Etsy features thousands of crafters and artists, many of whom keep their creative pursuits as a hobby and sell a bit of their work and passion here and there. Etsy is a fabulous place for finding handmade work, as well as an endless supply of creative inspiration. Other similar, crafty boutiques are found all over the Internet and feature arts and crafts made by hand. Search around for shops like this.

While finding handmade goods for the holidays might take a bit longer or require a bit more effort than if you went to a chain department store, the benefits far outweigh the extra work. Not only are you supporting people in the pursuit of their creative passions by buying their work, but you’re also gifting your loved ones with something that is truly unique and handmade with intent. All the while, your children are learning lessons about what kind of work and art you value — a win for everyone. 

From The Creative Family Manifesto by Amanda Blake Soule © 2017 by Amanda Blake Soule. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.