Jane: Christmas isn’t Christmas for me without a panic about presents. In our family, almost everyone has birthdays in November and December (including 21st Dec and Christmas Day itself) – so the idea of just going ‘Christmas shopping’ sounds an incredible luxury. We’re still bogged down in birthdays as the turkey hits the table. As a result, all questions about what the children are going to give relatives/friends/teachers are easy – it’s got to be homemade, otherwise we’d go mad and no doubt bankrupt too.
There are many pluses: most homemade gifts are green or edible or both, they’re funky and fun to make, and have the added bonus of being low-cost – and like the pop group the Swinging Buildings, I’m forever ‘Praying for a Cheaper Christmas’. They’re also personal and endearing, a sure sign that thought, care and attention have been lavished around.
We have a couple of rules: all homemade presents have to be quick, simple, and easy to make in bulk. So this year the children are making dinky little Chocolate Pud Truffles for their teachers, decorated with green and red holly icing on top. They’re a doddle to make and taste really good – they’re basically melted chocolate and cream, so the better quality the chocolate, the more luxe the flavour. In pretty boxes, they look fab. A friend who’s a Year 1 teacher recently said she worries about hand hygiene with her class’s homemade goodies, so this year we’re making a joke of it by putting a label on saying ‘All hands washed thoroughly before these puds were made’.
Last year, Edie made Christmas Star Biscuits in chocolate and vanilla – and a few days later, her teacher raced across to us in M&S to say how much she liked them, which I count a BIG success.
Edie’s friend Amber has perfected a chocolate chip cookie recipe that is simply one of the best I’ve tasted – if I was a teacher, I’d be looking forward to a big plate of these this Christmas (hint, hint...).
Last year Joe made Cherry Shortbread Mice, dipped cherries in chocolate with almond slices for ears and icing noses and eyes – cute, easy and speedy if you have loads of people to make gifts for. It makes you realise that homemade gift-giving is all in the presentation – wrap anything up in a sheet of cellophane and tie with Christmas ribbon and you have a good-looking present.
I remember once reading that books made the best Christmas presents because ‘they’re never fattening, seldom sinful and permanently personal’. The same is true of bookmarks – and they’re easier to make. Brightly coloured personalised bookmarks always go down a treat with the literary of our rellies.
For Jo Malone fans, this year we’re also making Honeycomb Rolled Candles. They take a bit of finicky cutting at first but once you’ve got the hang of it you can churn out lots of them quickly – they look great bunched together, tied with ribbon.
Very young children can have a go decorating plain white candles with bits of coloured wax – if you use miniature cutters they’ll look surprisingly professional even as a centrepiece on the table at Christmas lunch.
For the kids who come round, we’re making Candy Striped Pencils and hanging them on the Christmas tree so they can pick and take one home. And as a thank-you gift for Christmas parties, I’ve stashed away some pots of Herb Jelly, Quince and Ginger Jam and Cranberry Conserve that I cheated and made earlier.
That’s it. We’re knackered and it’s only the 8th December. But give us a couple of days and we’re looking forward to getting going on the Christmas (and birthday) shopping proper.
Tamsin: This year my family is going to be dipping crystallised oranges and peel in chocolate and making boxes. Carla, dipping, Joe, making boxes. Joe has yet to design the container but when he does I'll put it up as you always need a box or two at Christmas.