While the holiday season is unusually hectic, fashioning a homemade gift or taking time for small, fun activities can bring the real spirit of Christmas to your life and the lives of your loved ones, says Michele Hieb, who is both a registered nurse and crafter extraordinaire.
Hieb regularly teaches craft sessions at an outreach site for Eastern Wyoming College. In her popular classes, she teaches adults how to make ornaments, wreaths and other holiday decorations.
Crafting with friends during the Christmas season is an "ongoing tradition," says Hieb. One of her favorite projects was creating small trees out of felt. "You can make several and group them together for a Christmas display," she explains. Simply cut out the felt in the shape of a pine tree, buy or cut a branch and a slice of log, hot glue the felt onto the branch, and glue the base to the log slice.
This year, Hieb and her crafters are making ornaments with a log cabin theme, complete with vintage-looking canteens, miniature blanket rolls and tiny snowshoes for a "camp-style" Christmas. "Pinterest is a wonderful source for holiday cheer," she says. It includes "step-by-step instructions and inspiration for any time of the year."
Hieb seems to have inherited her love of crafting from her 90-year-old paternal grandmother, who began making painted, wood-cut ornaments when her oldest grandson was young. She continued making them for over four decades, until she was making nearly 50 a year for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The collection included a variety of Christmas bears, candy canes, Santa figures and birdhouses.
"It's a tradition that my mom, my friend Jennie and I go out into the forest to cut down a fresh Christmas tree, where we place Grandma's handmade ornaments that I will treasure as long as I live," Hieb says.
Even the smallest hands can fashion simple ornaments to keep, use as decorations or present for holiday surprises, says Ann Conlon. Simply purchase pipe cleaners and craft beads -- preferably in holiday colors -- and string them to bend into candy cane ornaments. Or, for a more finished look, use red and white jingle bells.
"I've done this Christmas activity with all of my children and now with my grandchildren," says Conlon. "It's a fun little project, and it is interesting to see if they want to follow a pattern or just string the beads any which way. Some of that depends on their age, of course, but sometimes it is simply their personalities coming through. No matter what, the ornaments become part of the tree-decorating."
Parents can also use crafts to keep their children busy during the weeks leading up to the big day, Conlon says. Make amusing little holiday bags to fill up with either treats or notes as the days go by. The treats can be as simple as pieces of Christmas candy, special cookies or new ornaments for the tree.
Notes in the bag can be promises of special activities for the upcoming days: a trip to see Santa at the mall, a nighttime drive to check out the holiday light displays or a visit to the Christmas tree farm. If time and a giving spirit allow, consider adding a note with a charitable activity in mind, such as collecting canned goods for the local food pantry, picking out toys for a local giving tree or taking pet food supplies to a nearby animal protective league.
Hieb believes, just as her grandmother did before her, that taking time for holiday activities like these is a great prelude to Christmas. "To me," she says, "making a gift is expressing a little extra love and gives meaning to the holiday season."