It’s still hard for me. After hours of working on a small cupboard for my wife this Christmas, I brought the pile of parts to my eight- and three-year-old boys to help me assemble it. I lined up all the parts just so and started the nails in their places before nervously handing them hammers. Every little boy I’ve ever known loves hitting things with hammers.
Back and bottom boards I have no problem with – it’s the top that makes me nervous. As they drove the parts together, I had opportunity to teach them how to control the hammer’s swing so as not to dent the surface below. Despite our best efforts, the top got a bit dented. By setting the nails below the surface and planing out the dents, I easily erased most of the damage. I did, however, leave the faintest reminder of the boys’ earnest swings. These are their fingerprints.
A small pine cat I carved for our seven-month-old
My wife and I have always loved making things and when we give gifts to our kids, we try to give something from our hands and from our hearts. It is an amazing experience seeing joy and gratitude on the face of your child after you’ve spent time creating something specially made for them. My boys are used to this kind of gift giving and look forward to making things for others.
Julia and I like to gift this way to each other too. If we aren’t making something with our own hands, we either end up finding beautiful handmade items at antique stores or providing each other the tools or materials to continue the making habit. This is our family’s way of severing ourselves from the destructive cycle of insatiable consumerism that runs deep in our culture. In our family, we try to gift simply and thoughtfully.
It’s not that purchasing new shiny things is always bad. There are products on the market that we cannot make ourselves. There are high-integrity businesses that make quality goods and my conscience is clear supporting them. Saddleback Leather is a prime example of a company we love. While we can’t afford to purchase many items from them, we’ve saved up throughout the years in order to purchase a few of their multi-generational-quality items. This is business at its best.
But more often than not, we make our gifts. Until you’ve experienced the joy of handmade gifting yourself, it’s hard to understand the rationale. For those accustomed to the convenience of Amazon.com and other retail giants, the transition to handmade can be hard. It takes a lot of time. It takes tools, energy, and skill. But these are exactly the things my family values. Teaching our boys hand skills empowers them for their future. They are growing up believing it’s normal to design a gift for a loved one, acquire the appropriate materials, and spend time crafting it.
Another side benefit is that it keeps gifting sane. Purposing to make by hand limits our giving to a reasonable quantity. Rather than heaping piles of disposable goods on our loved ones, giving a thoughtful handmade gift is something that is worth passing on to future generations. These are always the most personal gifts. As I examine the things we’ve made for each other over the years, I see love, thoughtfulness, and growth in skill. I think that’s a tradition worth continuing.