Christmas to me will forever be associated with my Great Aunt Betsy's homemade 'Surprise Balls'. When the family Christmas party rolled around, there would be a carefully constructed 'Betsy ball' for all 20 grandchildren. Usually about the size of a large grapefruit, unravelling this ball of brightly coloured strips of crepe paper, you'd arrive at a series of little trinkets wrapped in tissue paper. It'd be half an hour - an eternity in a child's Christmas world - before the stage where the ball would be no bigger than a walnut. In fact, it probably was a walnut, such were the nature of the trinkets, many of which were salvaged from around her house. I haven't the faintest recollection of the more expensive Christmas gifts I received as a child.
And as it turned out, for all of us here at the Ecologist, the most memorable aspects of Christmas past had a homemade element. To prove it, the Ecologist team got into the kitchen or took up a needle and thread to recreate the treasured homemade gifts they remember best. The results can be seen on pages 69 to 76. Not only does it prove the point that gifts don't need to be purchased – but also that with a bit of time and effort, even the most time-strapped amongst us can make sophisticated, luxurious and delicious gifts that can bring as much pleasure to their recipient as anything bought. And of course to the recipient, it says that a lot of care and thought went into the gift. Not to say that purchased gifts can't say the same. The Ecologist's ethical bought gifts special is a selection of gifts crafted with care, grown without damaging the environment and made without exploiting humans, and can be seen on pages 77 to 84.
In fact, gift giving can mean anything you want it to. No Christmas budget? Why not enjoy a pennywise Christmas by identifying objects round the house that have been forgotten about or overlooked. Wrap them up and they take on a new resonance; or present them for a contrary use. The Christmas season – also known as the time when advertisers go into hardsell overdrive – seems to start earlier every year. Great Aunt Betsy bucked the system by retaining the Christmas spirit year round. Her mantra: Don't throw away anything small until you have evaluated its potential as a Surprise Ball gift.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2006
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