Traditions: Homemade gifts lead to hilarity

It takes a really creative mind -- or a wacky one -- to dream up a Christmas present made from dryer lint.

Editor's note: This article is part of our lighthearted weekly series in which we asked Minnesota families to share their nontraditional holiday traditions.

It takes a really creative mind -- or a wacky one -- to dream up a Christmas present made from dryer lint.

That's all in a day's gift-making for the Crandall clan, who began drawing names for exchange 39 years ago. Only two rules: The presents must be homemade, and the cost of materials has to be $2 or less.

Since the extended-family numbers run into the 70s, said Deb Crandall of Roseville, this plan was almost a financial necessity. But it's also enriched the family's memories and added to the holiday lore more than they ever imagined at the beginning.

"We have seen tears of joy, tears of laughter, envy and paybacks," Crandall said. "We have seen people try to rig the drawing so they get the name of someone talented."

But it's also brought out the best, and occasionally the worst, in the gift givers, some of whom get competitive. "People want to outdo each other. The $2 rule is regularly breached."

Her brother's fireplace starters (made out of dryer lint pressed into tight rolls, then sealed with wax), were a hit, but her own experiment rolling birchbark around wax to make candles? Not so much.

"Everyone had made beautiful blown glass and pottery that year, and I was almost crying by the time mine got opened," she said. Now, her misshapen candles are the white-elephant gift that gets passed around every year (they're laughing with her, not at her).

Because the family is spread out from California to Maine, a lot of the gifts have to be mailed.

"So many of them arrive in shards, or with still-wet paint rubbed off on the packaging, we ask everyone to include a picture of what it once was in the box, so we can at least know," she said. "Sometimes, unassembled gifts arrive in pieces in garbage bags."

One present in particular has high sentimental value.

"My sister did a beautiful cross-stitch with the seal of the Navy emblem for my brother, who's a retired Navy man," she said. "He was living in Homestead, Florida, and lost everything in Hurricane Andrew. When they came back, somehow that cross-stitch had survived."

An unanticipated bonus of the homemade gift tradition is that, because so many family members got into art, jewelry and pottery classes trying to make the best stuff, "at least four or five of them grew up to become artists," Crandall said.

Turn to E8 for an additional traditions story.

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