Shopping for Christmas presents gives me a headache. I love the hustle and bustle and general merriment of the holidays as much as the next person, but when it comes down to picking out a unique, yet feasibly priced, yet somehow personal, yet also not too weird Christmas present, I come up with a big fat blank. I have bought my father so many ties and handkerchiefs he has started to weave a comforter. To my shame, I have bought my girlfriends many premade baskets of "wild rose lavender symphony" or "simply soothing exotic coconut lime" bath supplies. My boyfriend has caught on to my "buy boyfriend nice jeans so he will trash his old raggedy ones" scheme. I've seen enough frozen, clenched teeth "Thank youuuuuuusss" in my time to figure it out: I have got to become better at buying Christmas presents.
If you find yourself in the same predicament as I am, consider this: At Flame Run on Market Street, for the mere price of forty dollars, you can take your loved one (or even just yourself) to blow a one-of-a-kind glass ornament. For ten more dollars, you or your loved one can make a handcrafted blown glass snowman. It's a fun and unique gift that leaves a great memory. My dearest girlfriend Lauren took me and our friend Katie to blow Christmas ornaments as a gift, and it is one of the best I've ever gotten, at Christmas or any other time.
Appointments at Flame Run for ornament blowing are usually only on the weekends, but the week before Christmas they run all week long. You must call to get an appointment with one of the artists who help you (to avoid burning yourself on the molten-lava hot glass). When we arrived at Flame Run we got to pick out our favorite combination of three colors for our ornaments. We got there a little bit early and chose from an array of pink, white, green, purple, yellow and blue. I chose green, white and pink as my colors, and we were ushered into the big room where the blowing is done. Squiggly waves of heat emanated from two furnaces, but the room was otherwise rather cool. We sat and watched as the group before us began their ornaments. The little boy was watching in utter delight as the artist formed a snowman for him, a little potbelly glass decoration. Then it was our turn and we stepped up to the plate and handed the artist our colors and our best "can-do" grins.
The artist assisting in the process dipped out a hunk of white hot glass, glowing at the end of the pole. He rotated the blob of molten material in a dish of colored sand and stuck it back in the furnace. This was repeated several times until all the colors had been absorbed into the little ball. Then, he attached a small (sanitized) hose to the end of the hollow rod. "Blow" he instructed. As I blew, the glass expanded and the artist rotated the rod. As the blob of glass got bigger and bigger the colors began to emerge, like a big glittering butterfly expanding out of a plain little cocoon. The glass also got harder and less malleable, and eventually the artist told me to stop, and set the newly formed ornament on a little stand. The glass was still so hot the lighter colors were orange rather than yellow or green. Then he added another little blob of super hot glass to the top, and shaped it into a little circle (for the hook) with a pair of long tweezers. After that, we had to wait for the ornament to cool down for twenty-four hours and come back to pick it up. Our glass decorations were thick and surprisingly sturdy for blown ornaments, but swirled with the colors we had picked. As I watch the lights of my family's colorful Christmas tree play on the surface of the ornament my friend took me to make, I think of that day fondly, and I think of the friend who made it all possible.
Perhaps getting the perfect Christmas present isn't just about getting someone something they can use, or they can wear and look pretty or rub on their skin to smell nice or show off at the office. Maybe a real gift also gives a memory, a snapshot of the relationship you share with a special person. If you're still scampering around and frantically trying to find the perfect present for that difficult person, ask yourself: am I giving away a gift, or just a present? This Christmas, give the gift of a great time, a reminder of Christmastime, and a great support for a local business.
All photos by Elizabeth Orrick