Remember the Dolly Parton song, “Hard Candy Christmas?” She once explained in an interview that when she was a child, she and her siblings knew what kind of Christmas was coming by the kind of candy bought by her parents. A good year was identified by the soft chewy candies with Christmas scenes on them. I remember these, too. They came individually wrapped, were easy to chew and weren’t cheap. A hard year was identified by a bag of hard Christmas candy. Although brightly colored, it was not individually wrapped and was more often than not stuck together in a mass lump so hard only a hammer could break off a piece. It was very inexpensive. Kids knew the latest and greatest toys weren’t under the tree, so they were grateful for whatever they did get.
The last line of the chorus made the point of the song: “…I’m barely getting’ through tomorrow, still I won’t let trouble get me down.”
Enter today with our decidedly materialistic society. In some families, only the latest and greatest advertised gizmos or toys will do. Don’t “keep up with the Joneses,” BE the Joneses. Now the country finds itself in a recession with all the credit card debt, auto debts, mortgage debts still due and the “spend it, charge it, lease it” way of live has crashed like a house of cards. Not every family has lived this life, though, and through lay-offs, company closings, etc., finds themselves in the same financial hardship.
So, it looks like this year may be a “Hard Candy Christmas.” And yes, those bags of rock hard lump of brightly colored candy still exist. Does that mean Christmas is over?
Of course not.
So if the new attitudes in spending for Christmas are: a) not using credit cards to buy presents, b) spending only within your means, and c) make gifts instead of buy, how does one make a hard candy Christmas one to remember when they’ve never been through one?
There are a plethora of ideas on the internet with recipes for making Christmas gifts from the kitchen. Mixes for hot cocoa, brownies, cookies, etc. can be put together quickly and easily, loaded into pastry tubes boxes or jars and given as gifts.
Oprah Winfrey pointed out her greatest treasured possessions were letters from her friends and family who had written her to let her know what she meant to each of them. Now that’s a gift we all wish we had – to know what we mean to people we care about!
I grew up in a poor family. No joke. I was a skilled knitter by the time I was 10, so every year I gave slippers to my family as gifts. The yarn cost me all of 50 cents (that was the 70’s). Everyone scrambled for the soft packages. Why? Knitted slippers on linoleum floors are as good as ice skates! A knitted or crocheted muffler or scarf was also a prime gift. We sent cookies, brownies and fudge to relatives, always waiting until the last minute to mail the boxes so the food would be ok.
My sister took up macramé during the craze in the 70’s and I received the most beautiful plant hangers for my “hanging forest.” My most prized gift from her was a custom made bridle and reins for my horse. (A mustang I adopted and worked to support through babysitting and odd jobs.) We were the most decked out equestrian team in town. All my friends wanted a set too. She made enough money to buy an entire wardrobe for that coming school year- and worth every penny!
My brothers weren’t born with the “craft-gene,” but they could work. I got gift certificates for chores, help with my horse stall and barn repairs, and certificates (when my older brother got his license) to take me and my friends to the movies or shopping. Now what older brother is willing to chauffer his younger sisters and their giggly, gabby friends around? A gift certainly worth more than money, I can tell you!
My mom received these gifts and more from us, always cherishing the fact that often, we weren’t copying someone else’s patterns or ideas but coming up with our own. When my older brother and I reached the age where we could be legally hired, we gave our mom a certificate letting her know WE would pay the electric bill for the next 3 months. Believe me, lights got turned off, the thermostat was watched like a hawk and no window was left open while the heater or air conditioner was on! (Our mom knew she got more than just a bill paid with that one. Perceptions about money change when the pocket it’s coming out of changes!)
Many years later, I was going through a hard candy Christmas after a nasty divorce. For the ladies’ ministry of my church I searched high and low for anything nice that would fit the $10 price tag. I overheard employees at one store saying they wished they had help for the holidays- and the idea was revived- a gift of service. I used a pretty “Thank You” card and wrote that the bearer of this certificate was entitled to their choice of: a) 2 hours of babysitting while mom went shopping or to decompress, b) 2 hours of help house cleaning to get ready for relatives/guests, or c) 2 hand-made loaves of specialty breads. When I put my gift on the pile, it really was the smallest one there. I looked out at all the big boxes and (way more than $10) gifts and I felt small. When my gift was chosen, the woman who got it opened it and read what was written. A previously LOUD room suddenly went quiet. She said, “A gift of service. That’s truly precious! I’m keeping this!” I began to hear whispers around me asking who made the gift and they wished THEY had chosen it. That tiny little card was the most talked about gift! I couldn’t believe it! She chose the bread and let me know later her family wanted the recipes- I pulled them out of my bag and gave them to her. (I thought they might, so I made copies and took them to church with me.)
Having trouble footing the bill for all the food at the Christmas feast and during relative visits? Go pot luck. Guests love being part of the celebration, and cooks truly love showcasing their best dishes at a family dinner! Need recipes? Check the internet or ask relatives to make a “family recipe book” and give copies as gifts!
I’m not bragging about anything. The point is simple: Every Christmas, especially a hard candy Christmas, the BEST gift is the one from your heart. And more often than not, it’s those gifts that cost little to nothing that make the treasured keepsakes and memories that last a lifetime!