Ten years ago, I asked my husband, Fatty, if he would make me something for Christmas. He gave me a quizzical look and I blurted out, “I don’t care if you make me a playlist and burn it to a CD. I just want someone to make me something.” He was quiet and slow to respond. I could tell that he wasn’t sure where this was coming from.
“Um, okay, I guess,” he answered.
“And, maybe we should all make each other something,” I suggested. “I’d make something for you and Jane and Kate. You’d make us each something. We could help them make gifts for each other. What do you think?”
“Hmm.” I could see him thinking. “Okay. Sure. We could do that.”
I admit it was a strange request. Fatty is not a crafty guy. That is my department. I have made many handmade gifts for my loved ones over the years. From sewing appliques onto t-shirts and making aprons to knitting dozens of hats and stitching quilts, I have crafted my way through birthdays and more holiday seasons than I can count.
The process of choosing the perfect gift idea, and then literally making it, suits me more than buying something from a store. While I am sewing or knitting, I think about who I am crafting for and by the time I have finished, I’ve done more than just create an item: my love has been poured into it. I wanted my daughters to experience this themselves, to realize there is value in giving something handmade. And I secretly, and selfishly, hoped we would start a new tradition of making gifts for each other.
On Christmas day, we exchanged presents. We practically pushed the boxes into each other’s hands, eager to see the reactions. I knitted something for each of the girls and made Fatty a cook’s apron. He made the girls playlists and burned them onto a CD. The girls drew designs that we screen printed onto t-shirts for Fatty. Jane made Kate a bracelet and Kate painted a picture frame for Jane. All the gifts were thoughtful and made from the heart, just as I had hoped.
The last three boxes that remained under the tree were for me.
I carefully opened the first box, pulled some tissue paper aside and I gasped. Inside was a perfectly round, glass ornament speckled with blue, green, and white dots. It was from Jane, and I was amazed. The second box contained another exquisite ornament in pinks and purples from Kate. The third was the ornament that Fatty made me out of glittering green glass with red and gold speckles. All three were absolute treasures. I looked up at them, smiling, saying nothing. My words were gone, but tears sprang to my eyes. I was touched.
I had a mental list of all the things I thought I might receive from my family, things like paint-your-own pottery, a bookmark, photo frames, or even the playlist on a CD that I had suggested. But I had never imagined something so special and delicate. I didn’t know that you could blow your own ornaments. And how was it possible that our six- and eight-year-old daughters could manage that? The three of them hurriedly told me stories of sneaking to the glass studio one weekend afternoon and how they made the ornaments. I sat there, listening, and thinking that Fatty outdid himself. I got way more than what I wished for.
When the holidays came around the next year, we considered making gifts for each other, but quickly realized it wasn’t practical. Fatty suggested that we all go to the glass studio and make more ornaments for our tree instead. I called and made an appointment.
The next weekend, we went downtown to the glass studio. After checking in at the showroom and choosing the colors we wanted, we made our way to the hot shop. As we walked through the door, I was overwhelmed by the extreme heat from the glass furnaces. I shed my coat and helped the girls off with theirs. They were chatty and, along with Fatty, excitedly explained what was happening as we watched the group before us finish their ornaments.
When it was our turn, the girls went first to show me how it was done. I watched them blow into a small tube, adjusting their breath as the glass artist told them to slow down or give a big puff. The glass grew with their breath and, once completed, the artist added a swirl of glass to the top for hanging. He then placed the ornaments in a large box where they would cool until the following day. Fatty took his turn and then I took mine. I was a little nervous, but I didn’t need to be. It was simple, easy even. All I had to do was follow directions and breathe.
Every year since our one and only handmade Christmas, we have gone to the glass studio as a family and blown four ornaments. Our collection is quite large now – thirty-nine ornaments, soon to be forty-three. When it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree, we start with the boxes of hand-blown ornaments. As we pull them from the bubble wrap, we look at the colors that we have and discuss what new combinations we might add to the mix. Someone always wonders out loud how we can possibly fit more large ornaments on the tree, but no one suggests we skip ornament blowing this year.
When I asked Fatty to make something for me all those years ago, what I really wanted was for him to give me that special time and attention that I was giving of myself when making gifts for others. What he gave me was bigger than that – it was a tradition, year after year of the four of us making the ornaments together. Those are memories I will hold forever.
Words and image by Erin Harris.