Make, Take, or Bake. Our Christmas Tradition

Christmas morning was always such a special day for our family because my mom was really, really good at playing Santa. 

She'd pin a sheet across the doorway leading into the living room where the tree was so, if we woke up early, we couldn't peek at the gifts he'd left. There would always be a mix of things we needed (new toothbrush, the big bottle of our favorite scent of shampoo, a massive box of our favorite cereal) and things we wanted (a tree-shaped Reese's, new video game, and one year, a bike). It was magical and exciting... honestly, even into our early teens.

And it only got better from there. 

Once we'd finished opening our gifts at home, we'd pack up and head over to Bum and Papa's (my mom's parents). My mom is the oldest of five girls (the youngest was only 6 when I was born), so their house would be filled with Christmas morning energy and anticipation by the time we arrived. 

There were more stockings to open and gifts to unwrap, but my favorite part was giving the gifts we'd specially picked out for each person... and watching them unwrap the gifts their sisters had chosen for them.

The tradition has always been that everyone buys for everyone. And, starting from youngest to oldest, we give out gifts one-by-one, each watching the others to see what they've received. 

It takes hours

And there are several breaks for bathroom runs, coffee refills, or more food. 

But it is my very, very event of the entire year.

As the years went on—as sisters married and/or gave birth—the house became more and more full and the list, and, thus, the expense, became greater and greater. 

So we switched things up.

We went with the classic: Secret Santa. We pulled names at Thanksgiving and purchased one $50 gift per person. But some people broke the rules and bought more expensive things (think Michael Scott and the iPod) and others went the opposite direction and brought me a bag of clothes from the back of their closet. (Thanks a lot, Creed!)

So we switched it up again... and it worked really well for us!

For the last nearly ten years, we’ve done a Make, Take, or Bake Christmas. You can create the gift from scratch, wrap something from your home, or cook up something excellent... the one rule is: you can’t spend more than $5 per person.

It’s been so fun to see everyone’s clever spin. 

My cousins have created incredible works of art from clay, metal, and wood. My aunt drove all over the county to find street signs with each of our names and gave us each a framed photo of ours. My Papa gave each of us a beautiful, hardback book from his collection with a personalized inscription inside. 

One year, I made "About Me" journals for my Bum and Papa and asked that they fill it in and gift it, completed, to me the following year. It took two years for my grandmother to complete it since her childhood was pretty painful for her to recount. On the morning she passed away, it was sitting on her bedside table. It's now, my most treasured possession--the thing I would run back into a burning house to save.

People think about it all year long. For the last three years, Papa has gifted volumes of his life story. He spends all year writing and editing then has a copy printed and bound for each of us. What a treasure they are... and something he may not have done had we not switched to these kinds of gifts.

Needless to say, there's a lot of bragging at the pre-Christmas family gatherings when someone has figured out what they’re going to make everyone that year. (My aunt Gina is known to have her mind made up as early as Easter!)

This year, I decided to cross-stitch something special for each person. (This is part of the reason I’ve been a little MIA in this space... every spare minute was spent making sure these were ready.)

Side story: A friend of mine recently saw me stitching one of the bigger pieces and commented, “Oh, I used to love cross-stitching when we were newly married. I would stitch while we watched LOST!” 

I laughed and told her I’m about 10 years behind her since we’re currently watching LOST and I’m big into cross-stitch.

She laughed and said, “Enjoy this season, because it’s short... then you’ll have kids and wonder what happened to all of the time you once had!” 

(When I relayed the story to Josh, he said, “Oh, she’s right... maybe we shouldn’t have any kids!") 

I thought it might be fun to share them here... if for no other reason than to commemorate the holiday season I had all the time in the world. 

• • • • • 

For my aunt Debby and her two sweet dogs 

For my aunt Sarah and uncle Scott, who met Josh for the first time last Christmas and told me about a week later that they went straight home and looked up Josh’s birthday on Facebook so they could check our astrological compatibility.

My cousin Elijah traditionally makes dozens of pancakes for breakfast one morning during our family weekends in Palm Springs. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up at Le Cordon Bleu. He can look back on this and remember when he was just starting out.

For my cousin Sunny who has celebrated her birthday at Sushi restaurants since she was three and has taught me so much about the history of women in politics—especially as she’s taken class after class at UC Santa Cruz.

Sunny and her boyfriend, Derek, went to Spain this summer. This gift for him felt like a sweet little keepsake to remember the trip. 

My brother runs a record label called Doom Trip Records, which releases albums primarily on cassette.

And for my cousin Thatcher who is the perfect blend of surfer and artist.

Logan is an avid Orioles fan. (In my family, mentioning you really like something means you’ll receive anything and everything people see with that logo. Hence the dozens of Abe Lincoln books, stamps, and banks I have displayed in my home!)

Logan’s girlfriend, Jamie, loves Alice in Wonderland. This was the last piece I made, but maybe the most fun. I finished one character each night and really loved watching it come together. And she cried when she opened it, so I'd say she liked it, too.

My aunt Gina got two because I couldn't choose between this one:

And this one. (They were both too perfect for her!)

For my mom--who has beaten me and my brother in every game of Dr. Mario we've played since the early '90s. She made up words to the background music, so I stitched those around his little face. (They just bought an arcade game archive for their living room, so Josh and I played Dr. Mario while we were in CA over the holidays. The skill is in my blood--I dominated every round!)

For her husband, Dave. He loves a good martini! This now hangs in their bar.

The more I stitched, the more inquisitive Josh grew. He'd lean over while I was working on a piece and ask questions like, "how do you know where to start? How do you make the little 'x'?"

Then lo and behold, Christmas morning, I opened this little beauty. (He's desperate for my logo to be a T-Rex wearing a space helmet.) Sure, it's a little rough and ready, but it's also so dear.

I love our family Christmas traditions. (Even when it takes six hours to give open presents.) I'm grateful to be part of a thoughtful and generous family who knows and loves each other enough to give great gifts! (A big recap of our Christmas in California to come!)

Have you ever made all of your Christmas gifts? What did you create? What's the best gift someone has made for you?


  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE!! So fun...great pics...LOVE Josh's cross stitch!

  2. I absolutely LOVE this post and will say, I'm thrilled to see you writing again! Your cross stitch is beautiful and even more special with the personal sentiment attached to each of them. Like your friend, I too did cross stitch in the early years of marriage, especially on road trips. My favorite made gifts would be when working with wood....I made birdhouses for my family one year. I cut the wood, put it together and painted them. Another year it was lawn signs with four seasons and four holidays (two-sided) and another year it was an outdoor holy family decoration. It's been about 25 years and there are still some of these items to be found. Thanks for sharing, Allison!