I miss my grandmother. This is our second Thanksgiving since she died and though my mother and aunt took over most of the cooking years ago, as the architect of many of our family traditions (and the one who taught us all to cook) her influence on holiday meals endures. We took a few minutes to read through some of her recipe cards yesterday, which include detailed notes to my aunt on how to use every last bit of the bird (use the giblets in soup stock and gravy, but not the liver because it makes the stock bitter, instead the liver should be cooked separately and fed to the baby or made into a delicious spread for the adults). She remains present in every part of the meal from start to the grand finale: it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Grandma’s incredible pumpkin pie full of flavor from freshly ground ginger and a healthy dash of cognac.
As I munch on a slice of that magic for my traditional day-after breakfast, I have been scanning social media and noting alternating updates from friends and family who are either camped out to take advantage of sales or holed up at home abstaining from the consumer madness. Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day, whatever you call it, many of us have gifts on the mind. At the end of our family meal yesterday, we discussed what we each would like for Christmas gifts, whether adults should exchange gifts at all, whether there should be a low price limit on gifts, and closed promising to send detailed wishlists to one another. An email chain with hyperlinks to exactly what we want has become our new tradition. And while this eliminates waste in that it cuts out unwanted presents that would be tossed or relegated to the regifting pile, it also eliminates the charm.
I am reminded again of my grandmother, who one year more than a decade ago declared homemade Christmas and insisted that the gifts we gave one another be things we made ourselves. I still have and cherish nearly everything I received that year: a watercolor rendering of the view from my childhood bedroom painted by my mother, a colorful apron made by my youngest cousin (with significant help from Grandma, but whatever), and a sewing kit put together by my grandmother. It is far and away the most useful gift I have ever received. She decorated a lunch pail with magazine cut outs of a thread and needle and stuffed it with basic sewing supplies: a seam ripper, black, brown, navy and white thread, some embroidery thread, miscellaneous buttons, iron-on patches, thimbles, pin cushions bursting with pins, Velcro strips, safety pins and a pair of scissors. These tools, combined with the knowledge of how to use them (an earlier gift from Grandma, dispensed over time) have been put to use constantly since I received the kit. Knowing how to sew a button, open the sewn-shut pockets of a new coat without tearing it, patch a tear in a favorite pair of pants and remove gaudy brand labels from any item of clothing made me a popular dorm and roommate. Over the years I have added the extra buttons from new clothes and the occasional mini sewing kit swiped from a hotel, but the otherwise have never had to restock.
It may be a bit late this year to spring on my family, but I hope at least some years down the road we revive the homemade holiday. DIY may seem intimidating at first, but even the least crafty person can find a fun project. What are the best homemade gifts you ever received?