By The Urban Nanna
With the easing of lockdowns across Australia, many folk have found themselves enjoying the liberty of going shopping again, and as we enter November, thoughts naturally head towards the festive season.
But due to continued delays in global and local shipping caused by trickle-down effects of the pandemic, there’s less certainty around supply than ever before. Unless of course you’re going to Shop Local, which is another great way to to reduce your carbon footprint. We’ve got a lovely little range of festive handmade gifts on offer here if you fancy a look, and the Handmade Christmas project book we created last year is full of great achievable eco gifts. 🙂
What a perfect time to sidestep your way out of commercialism and into a more eco-friendly, personalised and meaningful way of celebrating!! Don’t worry if you’re not the creative type; we’ve got sackfuls of ideas and instructions to get you started, and you’ll have plenty of time to get making before the festive season hits.
TICKET TO RIDE
I remember being a kid in primary school, long before pocket-money was a thing, and having a teacher encourage the class to create a booklet of vouchers for someone’s birthday or Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Christmas. As a former teacher, I can now recognise this was a neat way of tying together literacy, numeracy, art and civic engagement, but back then, I remember thinking “What a great gift to give someone for free!!”
Here’s the hot tip: it really IS a great gift to give someone, and whilst it may be inexpensive to create, the value of a well-considered book of personalised IOUs far outweighs something your local department store has packaged up in excessive plastic wrapping so they can charge you an extra $20.
You can use free designing programs and apps like Canva to access thousands of templates to create your vouchers (we pinned a heap of them here for you), and either print them yourself, have them printed at your local printer, or even just download and send electronically if you want to avoid paper waste entirely. Or, you could use pencils, paints, textas and paper or cardboard that you already have laying around – they don’t have to be the most beautiful thing on earth, because the real gift is what’s promised on them.
Here are some ideas of things you could include:
Gift of a skill
Offer to teach a skill you have that the recipient has always admired. Baking; gardening; electronic stuff; how to start a website; bike/car maintenance; cooking; fishing; how to use a particular computer program (a great inter-generational gift); play chess; iron a shirt.
Gift of service
Weed a garden; trim hedges; do a thorough pantry or fridge clean-out; walk or feed pets; clean a garage; give a massage or manicure/pedicure; reorganise a workspace.
Gift of experience
These may involve paid experiences, but they don’t necessarily have to. Voucher for workshop, course or online course; a personal coaching session (kinda like the Gift of Skill stuff); a picnic with friends; a home ‘concert’ performed by family or friends; a night at the local bowls or bingo; an evening at a home ‘cinema’ complete with popcorn, homemade choc-tops and fizzy drinks.
Gift of time
These are less formalised than the others, and they’re all about showing that you *want* to spend more time with the recipient. They could be things like ‘an afternoon coffee date’; ‘a walk by the river’; ‘a day trip somewhere we both like’ etc.
If you’ve got someone in your life who loves to garden, giving them something plant-related is a nice way to build a connection with them throughout the year, as they’ll think of you whenever they brush past your leafy gift.
Indoor plant cuttings
You may have noticed that indoor plants are ‘cool’ again, but what you may not know is how easy it is to create new plants from the ones you already own, and gift them to friends! Many people are into growing indoor plants hydroponically in stylish vases or in upcycled teacups or tins. You can strike cuttings from your indoor plants in November, and they should be just about right to pot up in time to put under the Christmas tree as a gift. Here’s a video talking about a few of the different ways you can strike cuttings of indoor plants.
A potted herb
Spring brings a boom of fresh new growth on many herbs like rosemary, mint, lemon balm lemon verbena and lavender, and this tender new growth (called ‘softwood’) is perfect for propagating new plants. Here’s a great explainer on how to grow your own nursery of potted herb cuttings. Get them started now, and then find some nice pots to upgrade them into just before Christmas day.
‘Neighbourhood seed mix’
When you’re out walking in your neighbourhood, keep an eye out for flower seedpods in gardens. When you spy something you like the look of, knock on the front door and ask if you can collect a small handful of seeds to create a seed mixture which captures the flower profile of your local area. Pollinator attractors like calendula, poppies, dahlias, marigold, foxglove, aquilejia and nasturtium all make great additions. You can either make your own envelopes or buy these cute ones made from Australian-made recycled paper.
Potted salad garden
Find a growing container (lots of people are spring cleaning and putting pots out for hard rubbish collection in November), and fill it with seedlings of basil, tomato and lettuce. Wrap a ribbon around the pot or decorate it with paint pens for an extra festive touch.
Maybe you want to prepare a gift for a friend who’s somewhat of a gourmand. This could be something you’ve made for them to enjoy eating, or it could be for them to enjoy making.
You can dehydrate all sorts of foods and grind them up with salt to make delicious flavoured salts and spice rubs. Presented in repurposed clean glass jars with a little ribbon of sprig of dried herb tied around the next with twine, these can be super cheap to make, and a great long-lasting useful gift.
The simplest is celery salt, which uses the leafy tops of celery that many people throw away, and this salt is immensely useful for flavouring and seasoning lots of different foods with a single sprinkle.
Another easy one that’s great to do with kids is rosemary & garlic salt. Simply hang up rosemary stalks until they’re crunchy dry, then blitz them with salt and some garlic powder. So good on chippies ad roast veg!
And if you’re feeling more adventurous, you could have a go at making crowd-favourite, lemon pepper seasoning. It uses up waste citrus rinds to make the perfect addition to summer BBQs!
A wonderfully simple thing to make, dukkah is basically just toasted nuts, spies and sesame seeds, and it has al sorts of uses, so makes a really versatile gift. You can tailor your own flavoured blends, making use of what you have on hand, and we’ve listed a few favourite blends (as well as the basic recipes) here for you.
Equally delicious on eggs, roast veg or meat, smashed avocado on toast, labneh, or even just served with olive oil and bread, dukkah makes an excellent gift. It freezes really well for 3-6 months, so make up a big batch now and defrost it to package up in airtight jars with a ribbon around.
These Swedish ‘pepparkakor’ are scrumptious ginger thins enjoyed year-round, but at Christmas, they’re traditionally decorated with intricate white line icing and hung from the tree as decorations. Make up a big batch and pack them up in airtight jars with a ribbon around the neck, or write the recipient’s name in icing and use them as gift tags!
If you’re short on time for baking loads of bikkies, why not simply make up a mega batch of your favourite cookie dough, freeze it and gift it with instructions on how to bake them. You can freeze dough in logs by wrapping them up in a piece of baking paper large enough to cover a standard baking tray and tied like a bon-bon with two ribbons.
Fermenting has become popular again, as the benefits on gut health and subsequent mental health re becoming more widely known. If you’ve not fermented before, here’s our comprehensive guide on what you need to understand to get started. The you can have a go at making some chilli hotsauce, ‘cheat’s dill pickles, fermented garlic honey, wild onion grass seasoning, a versatile kimchi, or the all-time favourite, sauerkraut.
If you’ve not made many preserves before, here’s a post to get you started with jams and jellies. Some of our favourite preserves to gift include Wild plum jam (especially because wild plums ripen along Australian roadsides all through November, providing ample free fruit), marmalade (we like to add some Christmas spices like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves to make a festive batch), versatile Summer Jam, chutney, lemon curd and lemon cordial (using the spring abundance of lemons).
If your recipient likes the occasional tipple, have a try of one of the following infused alcohols. For the most part, it just involves steeping a strong-flavoured ingredient in clean spirit like vodka, gin, brandy, rum or whisky. You let it infuse for anything from 3 days to 12 months, and usually add some sugar along the way. You can even go super Christmassy and try infusing candy canes or edible pine needles!
You can have a go at making your own gin with vodka and some herbs & aromatics, or even create a little kit for the giftee to make their own blend. Here’s our basic recipe for damson plum gin, which you can experiment with by changing either the fruit or the spirit (or both!) to suit what you have. Try rhubarb gin, plum brandy, cherry vodka, peach vodka (like schnapps!), pineapple and white rum – the possibilities are endless. Point of note: cheap-ish spirits are good enough for this, so just choose something middle of the range.
Tin can cakes
If you love the idea of making fruit cakes for someone but can’t fathom the expense of buying enough dried fruit and brandy for multilple full size cakes, you can bake mini cakes using baked beans tins! Here’s how.
Herbal tea blends
Herbal teas can be made of just about any edible flower, leaf, root or fruit. Make your own blend with ingredients you love, or possibly from things you’re growing in your garden! If you want inspiration for which ingredients to dehydrate and add to your mix, spend some time in the tea isle at the supermarket, and jot down some of the most common ingredients. A great place to start is with mint (garden-, spear-, pepper-, native-), lemon *something* (-verbena, -balm, -grass, -myrtle), edible flowers (calendula, lilac, magnolia, wild violet), apple and it’s always great to include a small amount of fennel seeds or liquorice root as these add a sweetness to the flavour.
These types of sweet treats have featured in Christmas gifts for centuries for a good reason: people love them, but seldom make a batch for themselves. Think baked goods, chocolate bark, fudge, rumballs – the works!
If you’ve got time, creating a mini book of your 10 favourite recipes and having a few copies printed at your local printer is a wonderful longlasting and meaningful gift to give.
If you’re a bit time-poor, or the thought of that much editing makes your eye twitch, just write out or type up the one recipe that people know you by. Y’know, “Aunt Eileen’s meatloaf”, “Dad’s roast spuds”, “Brother John’s chocolate cake” – that kind of thing. Here’s a range of templates you can use to make it even easier!
Mulled wine kit
Equally delicious with wine, cider or non-alcoholic grape, apple or pear juice, this Scandinavian drink is typically festive and is perfect for sharing with friends either during the Christmas season, or saved for a warm winter getaway with friends. Involving just a few spices, dried fruit and some sugar tied to a bottle of plonk, this is a great gift.
Many people instantly associate gift-giving with the ‘search for the right gift in a shop somewhere’, but if you start thinking about your skills, talents and time as ‘valuable currency’, this scenario quickly shifts into more sustainable territory. Here are some ideas of creative things you could make to give your loved ones.
Use old clothing, scarves, bed linen etc. to sew reusable shopping bags. Cut, hem and sew the bags, and then give them a boil-wash with half a cup of vinegar to sterilise them (especially if using bedsheets). You might even like to dye them first using the solar/eco dying process which utilises food scraps/weeds to create lovely colours.
DIY felt badges
You can make a badge of just about any design, and these make excellent gifts. Here’s how to make felt patches, and if you stitch a safety pin on the back, you’ve got a brilliant wearable piece of art! We’ve got some cute handmade wearables and DIY kits here if you’re interested.
Make your own cards
Get into some collage using old wrapping paper, book pages, Who Gives A Crap toilet paper wrappers, biscuit/cereal boxes. Take a look around at some different card designs online and have a go at making your own!
Write a story
It could be completely made up, or about you and the recipient, or about the adventures of your pets or toys, and can be as inventieve as you like. A nice idea is to write a Christmassy story involving characters based on your friends, family and pets. An additional nice touch could be to provide a printed copy of the story with spaces for the recipient to add some illustrations. illustrate it together
Make something creative
A personalised drawing, painting, sculpture, poem, song, or anything else you can think of creating!
DIY Christmas bonbons
Using cardboard and paper that may be laying around the house already, these are cheap and simple to make. Here are instructions if you want to have a go.
Handmade Christmas decorations
There are SO many different ideas for handmade yuletide ornaments. We’re gathering a whole range of them here to give you some inspiration.
Collect some dried flowers (lavender, chamomile, rose petals and calendula) and mix them with some Epsom salts, rock salt and possibly even some milk powder to create a delicious bath soak mix. Pour into a clean recycled glass jar and decorate with a ribbon or some paint markers.
Hopefully that’s given you lots of ideas to get started making some eco-friendly gifts to give this season. The planet will thank you as much as your friends and family will!!
If you’re keen to see what handmade eco-friendly gifts we have on offer, please head to our Shop here.
Permaculture Principle 1: Observe and interact; 3: Obtain a yield; 5: Use and value renewable resources and services; 6: Produce no waste; 8: Integrate rather than segregate; 10: Use and value diversity; 11: Use edges and value the marginal.