Do it yourself holiday gift ideas

Culture Food | Drink
Emily Thiessen (graphic)
Emily Thiessen (graphic)

Skip the retail experience this winter season and do it at home instead. The Martlet has assembled a list of gift ideas that are simple, fun, and won’t burn a hole in your wallet. Who doesn’t want to receive a gift made especially with them in mind? Be creative and expand on any of the ideas below.

Mixed CD / Playlist

Homemade CDs carry 20th-century nostalgia and we guarantee you have a blank one hidden in your house. If you don’t have a blank CD, iTunes has your back. Create a playlist and send it via the Internet. Pick songs you associate with people in your life and think about their own musical tastes. Reggae is generally a crowd favourite; most people won’t say no to Bob or the Toots. Harpoonist and Axe Murderer are a great, contemporary blues duo; St. Vincent will please any electric guitar fan. Oh, and don’t forget Van Morrison.

Body scrub

This simple idea uses ingredients you can find in your cupboard. Everyone needs a good body exfoliant—both ladies and gents. Regularly sloughing off dead skin will prevent future breakouts or unpleasant, surprise bumps, leaving skin looking silky smooth. Combine and mix the following ingredients in a large bowl then pour the scrub into mason jars, sealing tightly:

2 cups brown sugar

½ cup oats

½ cup oil (olive, grapeseed, or coconut)

1 lemon (juice and rind)

Spread the scrub over your entire body one to two times per week while avoiding the eye area.

Wine bottle art

I’m sure most of you have an empty wine bottle in the recycling bin. If not, I’ve given you just cause to buy one. Along with crayons and a heat appliance, you can create a multi-coloured vase or candlestick holder. It’s quite simple, but may consume some time and patience. Make sure your workspace is lined with newspaper for rogue wax droplets. Peel the paper labels off the crayons and place them around the neck of the bottle, then wrap an elastic around the crayons and bottleneck. Grab a blow dryer and aim the hot air at the crayons. Eventually the wax will begin to drip down the bottle and solidify. Switch the crayon colours to create a multi-coloured layering look. Garnish the bottle with fresh flowers or a beeswax candle.

Write a Poem or Song

As clichéd as it may sound, receiving a handwritten letter is something everyone appreciates. In a technological age, handwritten notes are hard to come by. Take the time to think about qualities or memories you admire about someone in your life and write them down. Create a letter, poem, song—whatever feels right. Written truth need not compete with material objects.

Vanilla Flavour Extract

Follow this simple recipe and create your very own vanilla extract. It’s a great gift for the bakers in your life as an all-around flavour enhancer. Keep in mind the extracts taste better the longer they sit. A month is ideal, but anywhere between two and three weeks is fine.


3-5 vanilla beans split lengthwise

¾ cup vodka

1 glass bottle with cork / top (pick a bottle long enough to hold the vanilla bean)

Take your clean, dry bottle and place the vanilla beans gently inside. Pour in the vodka, put the lid on, and give it a gentle shake. Keep the bottle in a warm, dark, dry place and shake once a day for the first week. Throw on a ribbon, a ‘To’ and ‘From’ tag, and voilà, c’est fini!

Draw a portrait

Sharpen your pencils, bust out the felt pens, and draw a portrait of a friend or family member. Think about their personalities and try to create metaphors associated with them. Perhaps your mom has luminous eyes—emphasize this feature by drawing large doll eyes. There is no wrong way to draw someone’s portrait and to see yourself through someone else’s eyes is a rare gift to receive.


In some Indigenous cultures, dreamcatchers are created to snare dreams. It’s one of my favourite art activities and gifts to give. You can incorporate plants from your environment, but please do so in a respectful way. Search for fallen cedar or willow branches that you can bend into a circle larger than your face. If you cannot find any fallen branches, ask the tree’s permission before taking a branch all willy-nilly. Be sure to thank the tree afterwards for the provided branch and next set your intention on the beautiful dreamcatcher you will create. Find some string, yarn, ribbon or leather, beads, and feathers if you feel so inclined.


Bend the branch into a circle, weaving the two ends under and over the branch until the circle stays on its own.

Take two inches of string around what will be the top and create a loop knot.

Take an infinite amount of string and tie at the top by the loop knot.

Next, move the string an inch down and wrap around the branch. Continue clockwise until you reach the top again.

Do the same thing except working from the line you just created, so on and so forth, creating a web-like structure.

When you feel the web is done, secure it by tying the end of the string off of the final hitch you previously made.

Tie two or three strings at the base of the dreamcatcher and adorn with beads and feathers (tying both ends so beads don’t fall off).

Cookie jar

Sometimes the hardest part of baking is finding all the ingredients. Make baking this holiday a breeze for people in your life by removing that step entirely. Find a favourite cookie recipe online or from your grandma’s cookbook. Grab a mason jar, measure out the ingredients, and layer one on top of the other. Though most recipes will call for wet ingredients of some kind (milk, eggs, water, vanilla, etc), leave this one dry—they must add those on their own. After the last layer, usually chocolate chips or raisins, seal the lid tightly. Write or print off the recipe and attach to the mason jar.