When I was in high school, I used to start making my Christmas gifts in the summer. I’d knit stuffed animals, ornaments, socks, mittens, and anything in between. They were a vivid collection of knit items that didn’t always look like the pattern pictures in the books. But that was part of their charm.
I was deeply invested in the gifts during the weeks leading up to Christmas—I would bring my knitting with me to all my classes. The metallic reverberation of knitting needles dropping on the floor would send all eyes in my direction, my teachers scowling at me, or laughing if they were a little more sympathetic. Making handmade gifts is a ritual that has always been a part of the holidays for me.
This season was no exception; as we reach the conclusion of another turbulent year, handmade gifts offer a creative outlet for academic-weary students to extend a thoughtful gesture to a friend or loved one. The McGill Tribune sat down with a few students to hear about their craft.
Sydney Saleh, U4 Arts, created a collection of quirky objects for her roommates last year.
“I found fuzzy gloves at the dollar store and I made them into little creatures,” Saleh explained. “I pushed the thumb in so it only had four fingers in the bottom, and then I stuffed it with stuffing from an old pillow. [They] definitely looked so asymmetrical, but that was kind of the point.”
In addition to being inherently unique, handmade gifts are also often a cheaper alternative to store-bought presents.
“We usually have a Christmas get together where we all exchange gifts and I was very broke,” Saleh said. “I didn’t have a lot of money to go and buy them everything that I would have wanted to, so I [decided to] make things from scratch that will have some kind of unknown value.”
Rather than attempting to disguise the fact that the gifts weren’t store-bought, Saleh decided to take advantage of their unique handmade nature.
“I wrote little individualized notes for each of my friends and I put them inside [the gifts] in case they ever came undone,” Saleh said.
I couldn’t help but think of my many stuffed animals that had fallen apart—this just became part of the endearment of Saleh’s gifts.
While Saleh gave her friends their gifts in person last year, Christal OuYang, U3 Arts, who stayed with her parents in Vancouver, shipped off her handmade presents across the country, and even across the world.
OuYang made crocheted scrunchies, painted cards, and whimsical earrings. She and her girlfriend also sent each other packages during their long-distance relationship.
“For Christmas, I embroidered a hoodie for her with one of her favourite kinds of instant ramen,” Ouyang told the Tribune.
Like Saleh, OuYang agrees that the unique nature of the handmade gift sets it apart from store-bought alternatives.
“I think it’s so much more personalized,” OuYang said. “I feel like when you buy a gift it can easily become one of those things where it just sits around.”
For many others, like OuYang, the pursuit of crafts spiked last year during the pandemic.
“During COVID, I had a lot more time because I didn’t have a social life,” OuYang joked. “When I scroll past all the pictures of people [on my phone] and I get to the COVID-era, it’s just photos of things.”
As I talked with Saleh and OuYang, I was reminded of how deeply therapeutic it is to make gifts for others. Once exams are over, it’s relieving to become invested in a ritual, tactile activity—an activity so different from the endless essays and exams that dominate finals season.
“It is very fun as a stress reliever,” OuYang said. “There’s also a goal that I’m reaching and it’s not just benefiting me, but making other people happy.”