I think this is kind of missing the point. For me, the joy and fun of giving and receiving gifts doesn't correlate well with the price tag those gifts had on them at all. I mean, sure it's nice to get something expensive, especially if it's something you could really use that you would have trouble affording, and it's given to you by someone who can afford it, but I don't think the choice here is between expensive gifts that leave everyone with "five months of bills" as the song goes, or forgoing the tradition completely.
One good option is homemade gifts. This is an especially good option for those of us who are unemployed or underemployed and are therefore short on money, but probably have extra time. You can knit a scarf, bake a batch of cookies, or can a batch of salsa. Often these things are much better than anything you can buy in a store anyway.
Just about every year I make a batch of pecan pralines. I've had this recipe for years and don't remember where I got it, so I hope it's ok to reprint it here for you. It's really very simple, and a great first step into homemade candy making.
- 1 1/2 cups pecans
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter (that's 3/4 of a stick)
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
It will get really bubbly and foamy. Be careful because boiling syrup is also known as "culinary napalm" for a good reason. When it gets close to pour time, it will stop being as foamy and have fewer, bigger bubbles blooping around. This is the point where if you didn't have a thermometer, you would start dropping syrup into cold water to see if it makes a soft ball, but like I said, that's too much trouble and you really should use the thermometer.
Pralines are kind of similar to peanut brittle but easier to make, since pralines are supposed to have a crystalline texture, while peanut brittle is supposed to be glassy and transparent, which requires a little more skill to achieve. They're also super-sweet like a pecan pie, but they're full of nutritious nuts, so that makes up for it right?
Of course, Yule is just not right without cookies. I made a batch of this recipe for Jam Filled Shortbread Cookies with homemade peach jam, and they turned out great.
Now I'm trying to decide if I want to bake any more cookies. I've been drooling at some of the cookie recipes on Tigers and Strawberries. I've also already made a Freerange Fruitcake like I posted about last year, which is curing in rum right now. I think I will take that to a Yule campout I'm going to over New Year's weekend. Maybe baking even more sweets is overkill. My fiance is on a diet, so he can't have any, and I'm running out of people to give cookies to.
On the other hand, I don't have any cookies! Everything I've made so far is designated for other people! Maybe I should make some just for myself! But which kind? Tigers and Strawberries has so many good ones I want to try, like the elegant looking Frostflowers (I've always loved pfeffernuesse, actually, the brand I always got were not tooth-breaking in the least), or the yummy sounding Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies. Even the so-called "humble" oatmeal cookies from that blog sound festive with their cranberries and cardamom. Such a hard decision. It may just come down to how I have all the ingredients to make the oatmeal cookies right now, but I'd have to go to the store to get stuff for the other recipes. And Daniel doesn't like oatmeal raisin cookies, so it would be less tempting for him to cheat on his diet with them. And even if he does cheat, the oatmeal cookies are probably the most nutritious of the bunch.
Yeah, I might go with that and save the other recipes for next year. Which seems so far away! (The Aphrodite Cakes sound perfect for Valentine's Day or Beltane, though, so I might have to wait THAT long to try another of Barbara's cookie recipes, if I can find some rosewater.) But yeah, now I've convinced myself that I MUST bake more cookies!
Finally, one shouldn't forget the non-humans in one's life. They should have holiday goodies too. I just got one of those big seed-cakes to put outside for the critters. One of these days I need to try out making my own. It's fun to watch Mr. Squirrel doing acrobatics to get it.
Lily just likes "helping" with the gift wrapping, as most cats do. Cats always get into the holiday spirit, don't they? Tearing up the wrapping paper, attacking the bows, climbing the Christmas tree. They're very festive animals.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Io Saturnalia, Glad Yule, and Happy New Year to whoever is reading this!