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Making Christmas

Homemade gifts make the holidays special

December 21, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

In tough economic times, it not only makes sense to make gifts by hand - it also can bring a sense of comfort and community.

Barb Skoda, of Johnstown, said she loves to give her hand made table runners, tree ornaments and baked goods as gifts. She added that the special energy that goes into hand made goods also brings a sense of connectedness and security.

"It's not just the economy," Skoda said. "It's the experience of making something special for someone special."

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Barbara Skoda of Johnstown places homemade table runners on her dining room table at her home on Wednesday. Skoda made the runners as gifts for the holidays.

Skoda said a sense of comfort and security comes from making and receiving hand made gifts.

"Most of us don't need more things," she said. "But there is a need for a stronger sense of community in troubled times."

There are different ways of making a gift special, Skoda said. One gift that can be a special "making" experience is by donating to a charity in someone else's name with a thank you card sent to the "gifted donor" making them a part of giving to someone in need.

Skoda said this may not be a traditional home made gift, but it is a growing tradition in her family. She said it was a special way to show we are all connected.

Billie K. Hulbert, also of Johnstown, said she sends baked goods to her family members in California.

"Most of my family are there," she said. "I bring some baked goods with me whenever I go there also."

She said it was a way of bringing family traditions and and family ties together for the holidays.

Hulbert said it doesn't have to be a fancy gift or difficult to make.

"It can be as simple as a tray of cookies," she said. "Simple things can mean a lot."

Skoda agreed. She said her small, hand sewn cloth tree ornaments were a favorite that were brought out year after year when friends and family decorated their Christmas trees and she was remembered as they hung the hand made ornaments.

Hulbert said she had a few special challenges in that she was diabetic and couldn't eat sweets.

"I have special sugar-free recipes for cheese cakes and other desserts," she said. "I find most people I give them to really appreciate baked goods."

Hulbert teaches classes on baking and recently taught a class on candy making for 4-H children at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Johnstown. It was a "Make it and Take it" workshop for youth, according to Roseann Doran who is the extension educator for nutrition and health there.

"I have printed up booklets of "Gifts from the Kitchen" for those who would like one," Doran said. "They can be picked up at our Johnstown office."

Doran said they also publish a "Frugal Finds for Tough Times" article from Cornell University with information on making economical holiday gifts.

At The Finishing Touch in Johnstown, Alan Harris was busily matting and framing gift items of a variety of gifts for the holidays.

"We do a lot of framed needle point this time of year," Harris said. "Then there is children's art that is framed and given to relatives or hangings that were tacked up and someone wants preserved to give as a gift."

Harris said given the economy, he is surprised people are still bringing art, photography and needlepoint in for framing, but they are "busier than ever."

"Sometimes an item is framed as an afterthought," Harris said. "And unfortunately, often the item is brought in at the last minute to be framed."

Harris added that with the poor economy, he knows some families who aren't giving any purchased gift items at all.

"They are just getting together and having a meal together over the holidays," he said.

It's a different kind of home made gift, he said. It's a home made memory for years to come.

Home made gift ideas are all around and can be simple, easy and nearly free of cost.

According to, "Homemade gifts are often the treasured family heirlooms of the future." The Web site lists some ideas for home made gifts including measuring cup windchimes, a floral air freshener and a canning jar lamp. A gift can be as simple as a decorative holiday card cut into a shape as a Christmas tree or folded and cut like a paper doll with string looped through the card to become a tree ornament.

For more information call Linda Wegner at 762-3909, Ext. 114 or e-mail at about Cornell Cooperative Extension materials.

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at



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