Homemade gifts a good option

If Santa Claus is beginning to resemble a corporate mascot and your sense of Christmas spirit is becoming synonymous with hand-to-hand combat in the aisle of a crowded chain store over the last plush figurine on your shopping list, maybe it's time for homemade presents.

For those skilled artisans who can turn yarn to sweaters while sitting on a couch or transform a block of ice into a glittering angel with nothing more than a chisel and a chainsaw, homemade gifts are the obvious choice. However, even for the untalented among us who should be required to complete a licensing program before operating scissors, there are good gift ideas out there.

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If you're better with a search engine than an internal combustion engine, you might consider researching your family's history.

Learning about the travels and turmoil faced by your relatives is engrossing and enriching, often giving the reader a better understanding of how they came to be. And with just a little luck, any dastardly deeds committed by the ancestors will have taken place so long ago they seem more like lovable quirks than criminal offenses.

A well-researched family tree makes a great gift for anyone with a sense of history, and can also be good for young people on the brink of genealogical curiosity.

If you know someone well enough, the personal calendar can make a great gift. You can highlight the important days in the Canucks schedule (assuming Santa has the power to end the NHL lockout), circle birthdays, mark the openings of movies or art exhibits, and make a note of meaningful anniversaries or historical dates.

Similarly, a memory jar can make a fine gift. Generally, a memory jar works better for someone with a long history and a somewhat disjointed past. If you can track down a meaningful photograph, an old report card, a forgotten letter, the sheet music of a beloved song, maybe even an old edition of a favourite book, those can all go in the jar.

If done well, the memory jar can be one of the most meaningful gifts, reminding a loved one of the power of the past. It can also provide an opportunity for other family members to learn a little more about a relative.

While tastes are subjective, everyone eats and far too many cooks underestimate their kitchen prowess. If you cook up treats like truffles or Nanaimo bars, there's almost certainly a sweet-toothed relative who would appreciate a box of your specialty.

If your particular skill doesn't fit into a box you can still make a pledge of your time. Whether you're good at mowing the lawn, dental surgery, babysitting, or repairing drywall, offers to fix something, look after the kids, or just spend time with someone can all be good gifts.

And if you're comfortable behind a bar, offering to make Christmas Eve cocktails will likely be greatly appreciated by those relatives who just escaped from a chain store after engaging in hand-to-hand combat over a desired plush figurine.

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