Home > Heather's Writing > Christmas presents

Christmas presents

Living with severe CFS, I sometimes feel like I spend all my time saying 'thank you' and living in dependence on other people. Sometimes I would like to be the one giving out - the one other people are grateful to. Giving presents is one way I do this, so I am always on the lookout for presents to make that are inexpensive, quick to complete and that don't overtax my weak hands. Here are some of my favourite ideas - I hope that they spark ideas of ways that you, too, can give pleasure to those around you this Christmastime.


Wrap selections of biscuits and sweets in cellophane tied with a ribbon, or put on paper plates lined with a pretty serviette. The examples below can all be made ahead of time if you have enough freezer space to store them there.

* Shortbread
* Dried fruit or nuts, maybe dipped in melted chocolate. Just take ordinary chocolate, break it into squares, microwave it on high for one minute, stir, and then keep microwaving it in 30 second bursts, stirring in between, until it is smooth. Dip the fruit or nuts in the melted chocolate and then put on baking paper, a silicone baking sheet or one of those thin, flexible chopping boards until set. You could also toast the nuts in 30 second bursts in the microwave, until you can smell them, before dipping them. When the chocolate is set, flex the tray and they should all fall off easily.
* Lavender biscuits (using dried lavender flowers that you can get off any unsprayed lavender bush)
* Chocolate fudge
* Macaroons (good for those who are gluten or dairy-intolerant)
* Candied citrus peel (these take a while from start to finish but not much time all at once, they're very cheap, and have been hugely popular with almost everyone I've given them to)

For children, especially those who live in the northern hemisphere where it is cold at Christmastime, 'mulling beetles' are a fun present. Simply chop a large orange in half lengthwise, scoop out the fruit with a spoon and then leave the two half-shells in the hot water cupboard for at least 4 days until they're really dry. Fill each half with brown sugar (packed in tight) and make a 'beetle' on the surface from a piece of cinnamon stick (the body), six cloves (the legs) a whole nutmeg (the head) and two allspice berries (the eyes). Wrap it in gladwrap with a note explaining to unwrap it and simmer the whole thing in 1 1/2 litres apple juice for 30 min to make a special wintry drink.

You can make a jar of homemade hot chocolate mix customised to the recipient's tastes.

You could make up jars of spice mixes for them to use in their own cooking and entertaining, such as:

* milk masala (a mix of spices and crushed nuts that you sprinkle on yoghurt or icecream or stir into hot milk)
* chaat masala (a zesty North Indian mix that goes really well in fruit salads or mixed with raw vegetables, yoghurt and chutney and served on rice. Includes a few exotic ingredients that you'd have to buy at an Indian grocers)
* dukka (a mild mix of spices and crushed nuts. Dip sticks of raw vegetables in olive oil then dukka and eat as a snack)
* baharat (a spice mix common throughout North Africa and Palestine. Use in lentil or potato dishes or add 1/2tsp per cup of dry rice before cooking)
* Mexican coating mix (good to toss over chicken before cooking or for flavouring potato wedges)

You can make 'sun-dried' tomatoes in the oven. Slice fresh tomatoes 2cm thick and place on racks in the oven at 80 degrees for 10-24 hours until dry but still flexible - they're not too sensitive, so you can just check them as you are able. Store them in the freezer and, when you want to give them away, microwave them in oil with a little chopped garlic and/or chilli and fill into jars. In oil, they keep about a month in the fridge.

Lavender jelly is very easy to make and is a pretty warm purple/red colour. It is served with lamb, poultry or cheese or spooned over milky desserts like yoghurt or icecream.


If you like gardening, you can grow herbs from seed or potplants from pieces of your own to give as gifts. Herbs that grow well from seed include coriander and lemongrass for those who prefer more Asian-type flavours, and basil, dill, parsley, sage and thyme for people of more Western tastes.

Depending on what potplants you have, you may be able to propogate them with minimal effort if you watch and see when they are naturally reproducing. I have two plants that do this easily. My peace lily forms new plants around its base that are easy to remove and put in their own pot when they are small. My kalanchoe, on the other hand, doesn't form new plants but it forms hairy roots along its stems after it finishes flowering, and if you break the stems off just below the new roots and pot them out then they develop into new plants. So keep an eye on your plants and see if you can catch them making new plants for you!

When giving potplants, I tend to simply make sure that the plant is in an undamaged pot then stand it on cellophane and tie around the cellophane just below the top of the pot with a ribbon. The cellophane stops it leaking water everywhere and the ribbon makes it look like a present. For herb selections I tend to be giving many small pots, so I will generally line the lid of a box with tin-foil then put the plants in that, maybe with a ribbon around the edge. The tin-foil isn't as good at containing the water as the cellophane as water tends to get under the edges, but it does a reasonable job and looks attractive.


If you enjoy sewing, you may well find that it is one of the few handcrafts you can do in bed. I have found that the choice of fabric makes a big difference to the viability of a sewing project: soft or slippery fabrics like satin or polyester need to be held firmly and tire my hands easily, while very heavy fabrics like sheepskin or upholstery fabrics require a lot of strength to get a needle through. My favourite fabric to work with is felt, and heavy-ish cotton and calico are also fairly easy. One technique that I have found particularly helpful in working with felt is to edge each of the pieces of my project in blanket stitch in wool and then form the seams by looping a piece of wool through matching stitches of blanket stitch. You can do that with any pattern (just remove the seam allowance) and it means you never have to push the needle through multiple layers.

Your local library may well have books with patterns for making things from felt. I have mostly used it to make things for children such as soft toys, hats, mittens, slippers, balls and booties, although I have also made some colourful felt bags for adults. If you get stuck then please get in touch with me and I can post you some patterns. From cotton or calico I have given many people reusable shopping bags, and there is a good pattern for these at http://www.morsbags.com/html/patterns.html

You can also purchase pre-made items very inexpensively on TradeMe and decorate them yourself. I once purchased a set of plain linen serviettes and a set of napkin rings then embroidered each serviette with a design similar to that on the ring to make a gift set, and another time made a cardboard stencil of a design I found on the internet and painted it onto a tablecloth with fabric paint.

Other Handcrafts

If you are unable to leave the house, you can purchase many craft materials on TradeMe, and also keep up with what new things are becoming available. Spotlight also does mailorder, but doesn't have a very good online catalogue, and there are several mailorder companies on the internet that specialise in supplies for particular crafts.

If you have a favourite poem or quote that you would like to give someone, you can choose a nice font and paper, print it out in one of the standard picture frame sizes, and put it in a nice frame.

If you have candle stubs around the place you can melt these down (use an old tin can over a saucepan of simmering water to avoid a nasty cleaning job), sieve out the wicks in a tea strainer and make new candles. You can colour the wax with wax crayons and scent it with essential oils or just leave it as it comes. Straight-sided tin cans make good molds, as do straight-sided mugs. Simply dip the wick in and out of the wax a couple of times to make it rigid then suspend the wick from a skewer over the container (make sure the wick touches the bottom). Pour in the wax, but make sure you keep a bit aside so you can top the candle up in a few hours time when it has cooled--it will sink in the middle. The next day, to remove your candle from the mold, dip it in boiling water until the outside starts to melt (about 20 seconds) then turn it upside down and it should drop out.

(You can't use ordinary string for candle wicks as it doesn't burn properly, but you can buy wicks or make your own from cotton string. To get the right thickness of wick for a standard tin can candle you will need to plait four pieces of string together.)

Last Christmas I also began experimenting with home-made toiletries, and had the best success with lip balm and bath teas. If you can't find suitable little pots to put balm in then look to your pill bottles - I cut down old tablet tubes and covered those with foil, and they worked very well! Bath teas are basically mixes of herbs and dried flowers that can make a relaxing bath smell good - nice to pamper a friend with. Accompany the 'tea' with a muslin or organza drawstring bag about 10cm square, and instructions to put a couple of tablespoonsful of 'tea' into the bag and place it under the running tap as the bath fills.


You can buy cards in bulk by mailorder from various charities, but last year I was able to handmake around 100 cards in the space of a 10 days, spending less than an hour on them each day, and for about 25c per card. This is how I did it - maybe it will spark ideas of something similar that you could do.

I purchased blank, white pre-folded cards, several A4 sheets of both golden yellow and sparkling shiny blue paper, and a rubber stamp with a Christmas greeting. I then drew a Christmas star shape about 6cm tall on a piece of old cereal box, cut it out with a craft knife, discarded the star itself and glued the empty frame to another piece of cardboard to make a backed stencil. I cut the yellow paper into rectangles a bit bigger than the stencil and placed each one over the stencil and rubbed it with the round end of a small paintbrush to make an embossed star on the paper. I cut the blue paper into a slightly bigger rectangle, glued the yellow star to the blue background and the blue background to the white card, and finished it off by stamping the greeting inside. They looked very smart and were remarkably easy. I have since made a variety of other backed stencils (sunflower, leaf, butterfly etc.) and used them to make little cards to thank the many people who help me with stuff.

If you can't find a stamp with the greeting you want, there are companies that make stamps to order for around $20 for a stamp around 2x5cm. You should be able to find them in the Yellow Pages, and you can generally email, fax or post them the image you want.

I hope you enjoy making gifts to give to your friends and family, and that you also know the joy and peace of Christ this Christmas.