Homemade and DIY Gift Ideas

Handmade gifts are great—and inexpensive—ways to show people you care. And this holiday season, we have just the ideas you need to let out your inner creativity. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Food Gifts

Nothing says loving like something in the oven, goes the old saying, and we couldn’t agree more. From cookies and cakes, to candy and chocolate, you’re sure to make someone’s holiday bright and tasty with the gift of treats.

Get Crafty

Crafts make for some of the best—and unexpectedly useful—gifts imaginable. Here are some simple, inexpensive ideas for you to choose from.

For the foodie in your life: Take an old wine bottle, paint it with non-toxic paint, fill it with olive oil and, presto, you have a lovely and useful gift. Not much of a painter? Don’t worry. You don’t need to create anything elaborate. A simple flower or nice design is all you need to let someone know you care.

Handy with a needle and thread? Then we’ve got just the idea for you. Get some cloth napkins and add a monogram to each one with cross-stitch, embroidery, needlepoint, or embellish with buttons, appliques, or stencils.

Live wreaths also make great gifts, and are easy to make. All you need is some evergreen boughs, assorted greenery and wire. In just a few hours you’ll have several wreaths.

You could also go with this holiday classic: The gift basket. Just get a nice basket, some ribbon and fill the basket with an assortment of whatever you think the recipient would like. Popular items include bundle handmade soaps and herbal cachets, potpourri, jellies, organic candies and treats.

Virtual Gift Ideas

These days, virtual goods are a part of everyday life. As the world moves to a digital model for delivery and consumption of products, so does the appetite and ability for virtual gifts. And why not? They’re easy to purchase, can be delivered instantaneously and are every bit as good as physical gifts (unless you’re expecting Santa Claus to bring you a new car for Christmas.) Here are some virtual gift ideas that will do the trick this holiday season.

Video rental stores? A thing of the past. And while services such as Redbox offer cheap movie rentals, nothing can replace the convenience of streaming a movie on-demand. Netflix offers users the opportunity to stream movies and TV shows, receive DVDs by mail or both. And of course, they offer gift subscriptions. Netflix is a great gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.

For the person who loves to shop by mail, a gift from Amazon.com is high on the wish list. They offer gift certificates that can be printed or e-mailed. Gifting specific items and having them delivered (either physically or virtually) is an easy process from beginning to end. iTunes gift cards are also a great way to give the gift of digital products including music, movies, television, ringtones and even books. What will Apple think of next?!

Online discount websites such as Groupon and Living Social can help you gift any number of great deals at 50% or more off retail price. Just sign up, buy and designate that the purchase is being sent as a gift. The recipient will be pleased to see your gift in their inbox and appreciate your thoughtfulness.

If the person on your holiday shopping list loves to stay in touch through cards, an annual subscription to Hallmark’s e-card service allows users to send as many e-cards as they want for the low price of $12.00. While it might seem like a novelty to old-school folks, the convenience and ease of e-cards can’t be matched and sending as little as three e-cards will match the money you’d be plunking down in stores.

If you’ve got a specific store, brand or service in mind, check the business’ website. Chances are they will offer a way to give a gift digitally. And you can sit back from the comfort of your computer or mobile device and cross another person off your holiday shopping list.

The origins of Christmas stockings

Christmastime is celebrated with all sorts of tradition. From holiday meals and decorations to putting up outside lights and buying a Christmas tree, Americans love to celebrate the yuletide. Hanging Christmas stockings and filling them with extra goodies is a ritual for many families. But when did the tradition begin?

Curiously enough, there aren’t any definitive answers to when people started hanging Christmas stockings. It is widely believed that the tradition got its start in Europe, when children would hang one of their “everyday” socks (ew) at the end of their bed, with the hopes that Santa Claus would fill it with a gift on Christmas Day.

The tradition of Christmas stockings made its way over to the United States, where it became an annual tradition. Family members often put their names on their respective stockings and hang them above the fireplace or from a mantelpiece, often designating a stocking for the family pet. Smaller Christmas stockings are sometimes hung from Christmas Trees or filled by Santa himself (wink, wink), then placed underneath the tree for Christmas morning.

The story behind the tradition of Christmas stockings varies from country to country and dates back to the 1600s, but the general concept is: leave a stocking out for Santa and he will fill it up for you! Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!

Hot holiday gift idea: Tablets/e-readers

There is no question that tablet usage is on the rise in the U.S. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 11% of Americans own a tablet and 77% of tablet owners use the device daily. And with the Kindle Fire lowering the price threshold ($199.00), it’s likely that tablets will be a hot item on wish lists this year. Here is a round-up of the top tablets available this holiday season, along with Amazon’s e-readers, some of which are morphing into tablet-like devices themselves.

iPad 2 – Apple’s tablet innovation remains the top choice for tablet buyers. The user-interface is completely intuitive and the iPad’s versatility is astounding. While it doesn’t replace the desktop computer (it wasn’t meant to), the iPad allows users to consume, share and experience media in an exciting and fun way. Prices start at $499 for the 16gb wi-fi model, which is plenty unless you’re a digital media junkie.

Kindle Fire – Amazon has recently introduced more economical lines of its e-reader, Kindle. And it’s also rolled out Kindle Fire, which is the first full-color Kindle and first with Amazon Silk, a cloud-accelerated browser which allows users to surf the Web. At $199, the Kindle Fire is a slam dunk and will appeal to those who already love the Kindle as well as tablet noobs.

Kindle and Kindle Touch – Amazon has dropped the price on its cheapest Kindle to just $79 and now allows users to borrow books from their local library. Incredible! And new for late 2011 is the Kindle Touch, which  has a multi-touch interface for those used to the iPad and/or iPhone tapping, dragging and gesturing to control the device.

Nook and Nook Color – Barnes and Noble is still fully behind its e-reader, The Nook, for now anyway. While the Nook is essentially a really good e-reader and nice alternative to the Kindle, the Nook Color has more tablet features and allows users to read content in full color as well as do apps, web, video and social media.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 – If for some reason you’re opposed to the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is the next best thing for a full-on tablet experience. The price point is $499, the same as iPad 2, and the two tablets are comparable, although the Galaxy Tab uses the Android operation system. (iPad uses iOS.) Compare the Galaxy Tab and iPad 2.

Sony Tablet S – Loyalists to the Sony brand might be thrilled with this Android tablet. It doesn’t set out to be an iPad tablet alternative per se, but rather is a really souped-up version of previous Android tablet models that have hit the market previously. Again, there’s nothing wrong with the iPad and Apple’s iOS operating system. It’s just that some people have it in their head that they don’t like Apple products or they feel Android devices offer more flexibility such as the usage of Flash on a tablet.

Five great gadgets for the guy/girl in your life

If the love of your life is really into gadgets, they may be expecting you to gift them with something really awesome this holiday season. While some gadgets can be expensive, a good gadget is both reasonably priced (not more than a few hundred at most) and has a strong value proposition for the recipient. In other words, get them something really cool!

Five great gadgets for women

iPod Touch or iPhone 4S – She may not know it now, but once she has the iPhone 4S or iPod Touch in hand, she won’t want to give the device back. Sleek, stylish and totally functional.

Kindle – If the woman in your life loves to read, but isn’t the most gadget-oriented person in the world, the Kindle may be the perfect gift. The ease of use is excellent and with roll out of the Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire, using an e-reader has become second nature.

Roku – The Roku is a really inexpensive gadget (starts at $59.99) and allows streaming of all sorts of TV shows, movies and web content. Works with NetFlix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video and hundreds of other content networks. If she likes TV, she will love Roku!

Car remote start – She may wonder at first why she’d need such a thing, but a remote car start installation can help a woman feel safe when she’s driving alone and warm up the car during the winter!

Keurig Coffee Maker – Ah, the Keurig Coffee Maker is a thing of beauty, especially in the morning. Quickly prepare your coffee and get on the road. No messy leftovers, no grinds to dispose of. Just pure coffee.

Five great gadgets for guys

iPhone 4S – When it comes to the iPhone 4S, the device is not gender specific. Both sexes can appreciate the incredible functionality and ability to surf the Web, connect on social media, check e-mail and so much more. All with this amazing little phone.  You can now get the iPhone 3GS for free (with a two-year contract).

Boxee – Chances are the man in your life loves gadgets, electronics and sports. And with the media horizon opening up with digital and on-demand content, Boxee makes the perfect gift for the guy obsessed with consuming online media.

GPS – Sure, he won’t ask for directions. But he won’t need to if he has a new GPS. Save yourself the trouble of getting stuck in the car, being lost and having your stubborn spouse trying to figure out how to get to the destination on his own.  Get him a GPS this holiday season!

3D TV – If your man loves television, we mean really, really loves television and you’ve got some cash to plunk down, consider getting him a 3D TV. It’s not clear if the technology will become mainstream, but for the time being it’s a fun novelty.

Turntable – Does the man in your life still have his old records? Did he used to be in a band or once was a wild rock and roller? Get him a turntable. Stand-alone units that offer conversion to digital files start at around $100 or you can find one at a garage sale if you get lucky. Or check with insound.com if you’re looking for something beyond the basics.