Alison Craig: Dreaming of a tight Christmas

Yup, the ice rink in Princes Street Gardens is open, Grant is in rehearsals for the Panto, the Dome has put up its decorations, the incomprehensible perfume ads have started on TV, small children are getting that glassy-eyed, excited air about them, which all means, whether you like it or not, Christmas is just round the corner. Gulp.

Retailers are clenched as people consider what they don't have to spend on frippery and festive nonsense this year. Last year was bad. This year is worse.

Being self-employed, life is a rollercoaster: sometimes good, sometimes bad, and often on the brink of destitution, so this year rather than notch up a horrific debt on a previously unabused credit card, the Craig house are going all out for the DIY Christmas.

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When I was a kid I used to spend most of this time of year with my tongue out licking sticky paper and making endless paper chains, before vandalising a few coat hangers and attempting to create the Blue Peter advent crown.

The silvery tinsel Christmas tree would be dug out of it's box and festooned in all the baubles of years gone by, and by Christmas Eve there would be the tantalising sight of one present each under the tree. Santa's goodies appeared overnight courtesy of the sleigh, but the real cost of Christmas was so much less than now.

As the years have gone on "bigger", "better" and "more" have been the by-words of this time of year. Those who can afford it, trying to out do those who can afford it too.

Those who can't afford it, getting themselves into serious debt trying to keep up with the Joneses, or mistakenly believing their friends and family will love them less if they don't get a seriously big present.

Well, all change 2010. Let's take the pressure off.

First off, forget the Christmas cards. Charity cards bought on the high street give an average of just 13 per cent to the charity concerned, with some as little as four per cent. Buy direct from the charity and you will find a lot more goes direct to the cause.

Alternatively work out how much you will pay for the cards, stamps and time spent writing them and give that money directly to your favourite charity, then send your friends an e-mail with an update of what you have been doing, and who they are supporting by not getting a card.

Despite this I am not a bah humbug girl, honest. I believe Christmas is for kids and they are the exception to every rule. But for the grown-ups there are other ways.

Two months ago, a friend of mine, Sarah, went off to work in Wales for a while.

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She has an allotment in Edinburgh and harvested all her tomatoes, despite most of them being green and hard, and made a huge vat of chutney.

As we met to bid her farewell she handed each one of us a small jar of homemade chutney. We were all very touched.

It was a lovely personal gesture which meant so much more than a Gucci handbag - only joking - than another shop-bought token.

The idea of someone considering what they are going to make, reaping the fruit from their own home-grown produce then taking the time to cook it, sterilise the jar and then pack it and label it is a real act of Christmas. An act of love which, after all, is where the whole thing started.

So, this year, of course I will gaze into the shop windows and admire their Christmas sparkles and covet the beautiful bags, boots and jewels on offer, but rather than go in and be whipped into a spending frenzy I can ill afford, I am heading to Costco to buy a crate of vodka.

No, I am not going to pull into a lay-by and neck the lot. I am going to transform the vodka into delicious bottles of Limoncello.

A lemony, sugary, Italian vodka liqueur which I hope my friends and family will love. I'm happy to share the recipe if you want it.

It doesn't need to be spirits, what about homebrew? Another fun way to make a unique present. Brew your own beer and label it up as Uncle Bob's Beery Breath 100% Pure Dead Brilliant. Or Best Friend's Brew: delicious and lethal, much like the girl herself.

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And having just watched Kirstie Allsop doing her Homemade Home programme on Channel 4, it seems to me we are turning back the clock to the 1950s make do and mend era.

Yes, it takes more time, but it means so much more. The one down side I foresee is self-control.

My last attempt at home brew was only in the container for about three days, as opposed to four weeks, when we started breaking into it for a wee slip, a slug, a pint and eventually we just drank the lot.

That was many years ago, so I just hope my self-control has improved or I will be bleezin' from now til 2011. Mind you, Tis the Season To Be Jolly.

• Alison Craig's Limoncello recipe is available online at