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Success and fail of the handmade gift

Of all the gift-giving traditions, my favorite is watching my children make presents for one another.

We decided long ago that siblings' gifts had to be handmade because (a) It saves us a trip to the store and (b) We’re cheap.

Of course, that’s not what we tell the children. We tell them handmade gifts are more meaningful. Which is also true.

The best part is seeing what the kids come up with. How else would we end up with dozens and dozens of yarn-wrapped Chinese stars? I have a son who makes them every year, for every occasion. They are his signature work. In the near future, we will need an entire Christmas tree dedicated to Chinese stars.

My son with the voracious sweet tooth always makes edible gifts. (And yes, he makes and wraps one for himself.) Casting aside the Legos, his yearly offering of chocolate suckers may be the favorite gift of Christmas.

I am a little less eager for candy-making day. There is nothing worse than washing dried chocolate out of bowls and saucepans. But I can’t deprive my son of the excitement when he sets those wrapped suckers under the tree.

My tech-oriented child always has the loftiest gift ideas. A feature film! A handcrafted video game! This year, I talked him into making something more reasonable: a dance mix CD. We spent a delightful afternoon hunting for the best songs in our iTunes library.

He scoffed at my suggestions for Lionel Richie, Billy Joel and Paul Simon.

“Mom, that’s not dance music!” he said, cranking up a techno version of Hava Nagila.

Ah, kids these days.

This is the other thing I love about handcrafted gifts — they are some of my favorite times to spend with my kids, giggling and talking while we play elf and wrap the gifts in my bedroom. In a season filled with mystery and anticipation, it's nice when the kids get to be in on some of the secrets.

My kids are infinitely more successful at handcrafted items than I am. My first Christmas with my husband, I decided to carve him a dolphin. Out of wood. To this day, I don’t know what came over me. I had never whittled or carved anything in my life, but every night I sat on the couch and sliced away at that block of wood. I think I was hoping for some sort of Michelangelo manifestation. That dolphin was in there — I just had to find it!

Except, I ran out of time. No matter how quickly I worked, that dolphin never seemed to lose weight. On Christmas, I gifted my (surprised) husband a chubby piece of pine with a tail and two flippers.

Then there was the time I wanted to make my sister marionette dolls. I was envisioning a “Lonely Goatherd” scene where we all danced with my beautiful puppets. A few days before Christmas, I fashioned heads, arms and hands out of clay and painted them. The intent was to sew clothes (even though I didn’t know how to sew) and put all the pieces together. I never quite got around to that portion of the plan. On Christmas, my sister received a box filled with dismembered clay body parts.

The list continues. I’ve knitted scarves that were too short and sewn pajama pants that didn’t quite reach the ankles. I’ve made ornaments that crumbled in the hand of the receiver and hats so big we could have worn them as ski masks. In short, my handmade gifts have been an epic failure.

Perhaps this is why I revel in the sweet and simple success of my children’s Christmas gifts. You can’t go wrong with a Chinese star, a chocolate sucker and a CD of techno.

On Christmas morning, we will dance, eat and throw our yarn-wrapped stars. And we will all be quietly grateful that I didn’t make a single handmade gift this year.

Tiffany Gee Lewis lives in St. Paul, Minn., and is the mother of four boys. She blogs at Her email is