Often by Christmas morning we will have resorted to explanatory diagrams, thumbnail sketches and back of the envelope calculations to give as presents to each other.
Or Dad will have been up half the night, tinkering in the shed to pull off a Christmas miracle.
Some years, I have to resort to humour and concoct gifts which are more funny than technically accomplished.
Of course, Mum is usually the most organised of all of us.
And this has been the way we have celebrated Christmas for more than ten years now: by making Christmas presents for each other.
It was Mum’s idea, inspired by the tales of Christmas in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. The Ingalls faced a harsh existence in their single room log cabin on the Kansas prairie, but still found the time and the material to make Christmas gifts for each other.
My family doesn’t face such harsh circumstances. We could easily buy each other elaborate and impressive gifts. We could join the heaving throngs of shoppers in the weeks before Christmas, but instead we force ourselves to think about each other more carefully.
There are only three of us – Mum, Dad and me – so there’s no need to set up small-scale industrial production lines in time for Christmas Day. But it is a process which is deliberate and takes time.
It has got harder as the years have gone by. It is now much more difficult to find things that we need and can realistically make. In the early years there were ideas everywhere – now, we struggle to think what each of us could need.
In the six weeks before Christmas, it is expected that Australian shoppers will spend $47 billion. That’s $47 billion on gifts which will be half-appreciated, stored in the backs of cupboards, will be forgotten about in a year, were never really selected well for their recipient in the first place.
They say it’s the thought that counts, but how much thinking goes into a scented candle or a coffee machine?
All through December, we try to suss out what the other two are up to. Have you started yet? What are you making? We know from experience now that sometimes there won’t be much to look at come Christmas.
But that’s OK. In fact, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I remember when we first started making presents for each other and I thought it was a bit silly. Very young and undeniably selfish, I figured I wouldn’t receive anything nearly as cool.
Now, over a decade later, I know that I receive presents which are far more valuable. And I get to give them too.
I still use the handkerchiefs Mum embroidered my initials into, my camera is still stored in the special box Dad made. Mum still raves about the enormous daffodil sculpture Dad and I put together of an old water tank (Dad was the brains, I was the assistant).
Even when we resort to diagrams and explanations in cards because we didn’t finish in time, it means a whole lot more than anything bought on a Christmas Eve shopping rush could.
To make something is to think about it, to consider its need and application. You then have to overcome to the problems that arise when you’re putting it together.
To make something for someone is to think about them, what they need and how you can help them with something to do that. And that seems to be the perfect thing to do at Christmas.
In the end, it really isn’t about what we make for each other – but the fact that we have made it (or set out to make it) in the first place.
That’s how we make Christmas special.