Every year around the holidays numerous people from family members to friends to co-workers participate in the age-old act of secret santa gift giving. In this activity, an individual is provided the name of another person who is also participating in the secret santa group. Now for family members this is pretty easy to conjure up gifts for the recipient they were given since they are around the other family members and know enough about them and their likes/dislikes to get appropriate gifts. But for other groups like co-workers, it is hard to know what people truly like and don't like just by working with them! This is why the secret santa organizer will usually have the participants fill out a simple questionnaire detailing their hobbies, interests, likes/wants, and dislikes/do not wants.

This year, I participated in my job's secret santa activity in which we were to get one gift per day throughout the whole week before our Christmas break, and then provide a larger gift on Friday morning at our secret santa reveal breakfast. The catch- I had only worked at my current job for 2 and a half weeks, did not know the first thing about my secret santa, and didn't get much help from her questionnaire other than she was diabetic and did not want any candy or treats whatsoever! I always have so much fun creating unique holiday treats for my secret santa that I started to panic when I couldn't utilize my treat-making-love for this activity!! After doing a little research and relying on my crafting/artistic skills, I realized that I could make all kinds of fun useful craft gifts for my secret santa without breaking the bank either!!

For the first day of our gift exchange, I wanted to start small. At our workplace you have to wear your I.D. badge all day, every day while at work. And we are only provided a boring black cotton lanyard or snap holder for our badges. So I made my secret santa an really pretty glass-and-metal bead necklace and added a clip to attach her I.D. to the necklace. Since she did not list any favorite colors, I made my necklace out of clear, white, black, and silver beads in a unique pattern. You can find beads, necklace connectors, and sturdy bead string at a major retail store or your local craft store. I spent less than 4 dollars on this gift because I already had the string and necklace connectors.

The next day I knew I wanted to use candles, but it was hard to think of a way to present candles that hadn't already been done a million times. After a little more researching, I found this wonderful idea for hand beaded candles. You only need seed beads in the desired color, flat head silver sewing pins (the shorter the pins the better), and one or more candles that are at least 2-3 inches across. I used two white candles with silver and gold seed beads for my project so that they would match any decor. Start by taking a sharp pencil or pen and mark the pattern that you would like to place your beads in. I did a simply diamond pattern on my candles, once you get the hang of this project it is easier to do more complex designs. Begin by taking a seed bead and threading it onto a pin- flush against the end of the pin to make sure the bead won't fall off over the head of the pin. Now place the point of the pin onto the desired dot on your candle and press it perpendicularly straight into the candle a little so that it stays on it's own. To save my fingers from all of the pin pushing, I got a prescription bottle lid to push the pins into the candle evenly and avoid hurting my fingers. The reason I chose a pill bottle lid was because there was a little indent that the pin head and bead fit into so that I could push the pin into the candle and keep the pin from sliding and bending before it was pushed all the way into the candle. If the pin does bend (which is inevitable as I found out), simply pull the bead up so that it pulls the bent pin out of the candle. Do not try to straighten the bent pin in the candle as it will crack and flake the candle exterior. To finish off this gift I tied some complementary ribbon around the tops of the candles.

For my third gift I wanted to get really creative with a totally unique present that I had never attempted before. I happen to see a plain mirror lying in my craft box, and started to think of ways I could use that material. I then thought of my experience with face painting, college painting classes, and random doodling and decided that I would personalize the mirror with some hand painted designs. When I face paint, I do these designs called "free forms" where it is just a bunch of swirly pretty designs with little accents- even though I had never painted on a mirror before, I figured it was worth a try. After looking through my paint box, I decided to use some pearl white acrylic craft paint- you can find this at local craft stores, or retail stores. I chose this color because it was neutral and I thought that it might look like etched glass! I began in one corner, slowly, and pictured what I wanted to paint before trying to paint on the surface- as I started painting I realized that 1. this was really easy and 2. It wasn't going to end up perfectly without mistakes no matter what. While you don't have to paint exactly what I painted, you could use stencils or try to replicate a picture and use multiple colors of paint to accessorize your mirror design. Some tips that I noticed and will be helpful to anyone else trying this project are: use a VERY thin brush at least 1/2 inch long if you are going to do fine details, pour your paint a little at a time as you won't pile the paint on this (it looks nice as a transparent color/design), and make sure you give yourself plenty of table space because you may have to position your arms in awkward places around the mirror to get your design right. To polish off this gift I cut a piece of fancy fabric to cover the back of the mirror (if it is not a framed mirror), and I cut a piece of matching ribbon twice the length of the top of the mirror. I hot glued the ribbon to the very edged of the top, outer edges of the back of the mirror. I glued at least a two inch section of ribbon to make sure that the ribbon would hold the weight of the mirror. I then hot glued my piece of fabric to the back of the mirror to cover the ribbon. My secret santa went crazy for this gift and couldn't stop showing it off to everyone!!

The fourth day I was really racking my brain as to what I could make and still be unique and budget friendly. So I headed to my local craft store to try and muster up some ideas. That is when I saw the plain old wood frames that are already made and ready to hang- they just need to be decorated! I picked up this really neat circular frame for around 2 dollars and took it home to get started. I began by using my compass to create a donut shape on the back of a pretty black and white floral piece of scrapbook paper to cover the inner portion of the frame. This would be the inspiration point of the theme of the rest of the picture frame decoration. This is a very common idea for me, and I have found that it helps me when decorating or creating a lot of different things. Start with one item that you really really like- use it how you want to use it on the project- and then build your supporting bits and pieces around that main decoration's colors and theme. I then decided that I was tired of keeping all of my projects neutral colored and decided to add a pop of color to this project. After arguing with myself for a while on what color appealed to most people- I decided on turquoise as my accent color. There happen to be two lipped edges on my circle frame (one on the outer edge, and one on the inner surrounding the actual picture space), so I painted those white to get rid of the wood grain and then topped that with my turquoise color when the white was dry. My frame still looked a little plain, so I used some of my turquoise glitter puffy paint and lined the inner side of the lipped edges- which also covered any mistakes I made when cutting the scrapbook paper cover or when painting the edges. After letting that dry I used glitter and small sequins to decorate over the turquoise color to really ad some sparkle and shine to the once plain-wood frame.

For the final day I wanted to make a few larger things to go together, so I made a cork, fabric, and ribbon note holder board and customized thumb tacks to match. To create this gift, it required a little more money and time- but not much. I started by trying to find a base for my note holder board that would withstand repetitive tack punctures and was sturdy. I found a few options for this part: corkboard, thick cardboard, or even Styrofoam. For my project I used corkboard, which was a little more expensive. I then chose some fabric to cover my corkboard, and since I meant this gift to go into her classroom (she is a teacher), and her classroom is really plain and the white brick walls dominate- I chose a very fun bright colored fabric to use. I then found some ribbon that matched the fabric that I bought really well. The amount of fabric and ribbon that you need is all dependant on the size of board you decided to use for this project. I made my board 2 1/2 foot wide by 1 1/2 foot tall. I also got my hands on a industrial stapler, flat thumb tacks ( for pinning the ribbon on the board), colorful thumbtacks (for decoration), and little trinkets to decorate the personalized thumb tacks. To start this project I cut a piece of fabric that covered the entire board and wrapped around the back with an extra 2 inches or so of extra around the entire board. I then laid the fabric with the right side down on the table, nice and flat, and placed my board base upside-down in the middle of the fabric piece. I then took my industrial stapler and, after folding the extra fabric around one edge of the board, began stapling the fabric to the outside edge of the board. (It is smarter to have a thicker board or shorter staples because of this step). After stapling around the entire edge and securing the fabric cover, I trimmed the extra fabric on the back of the board off. That is the hardest part!! After the fabric is attached, you can turn the board over so that the front faces you. Now you need to lay the ribbon out across the board where you would like to place it. The idea is to criss-cross the ribbon so that you are able to place little notes or small items behind the ribbon and be held in place. A lot of note holding boards will utilize a diamond criss-cross pattern that is very uniform and nice to look at- others use an abstract pattern of ribbons with different sizes and colors intersecting all over the board. Either way is just as easy and just as good of pattern as the other. One the ribbon is laid across the board you can now take your flat thumb tacks and use them to secure the ribbon to the board. If you are using the uniform diamond pattern, put the tacks where two lines of ribbon cross, if you are using the random pattern- be sure to secure each line of ribbon so that it is tight against the board. Use the loose ends of the ribbon lines and wrap them around the sides and secure with flat tacks in the back of the board. This ensures that you will have nice clean sides across the board and wrapped around the visible edges as well. Now the board is done. I also personalized some colorful thumb tacks with fun scrapbooking sticker decorations, glitter, and colorful buttons affixed with a hot glue gun. This project was one of my favorite, it was easy, and my secret santa hung this up in her classroom as soon as she got it!!

Even though I have only provided a few ideas for non- food snacks for a secret santa, there are plenty of other ideas out there. A little bit of research and a lot of creativity can prove to be great tools in giving unique, personal, inexpensive, and memorable gifts. I couldn't think of one person who wouldn't like a nice homemade gift that they would actually be able to use!