Being a Jew, I don't think of Christmas much except to fume about its unfortunate proximity to my birthday. If I had kids I would fume more, of course - what with everything in this area being Christmas-themed all month and every community celebration featuring santa clause and the baby Jesus surrounded by lambs and wise men - there's nothing for Jewish kids to do! And being as I believe that Chanukah is a mediocre charity-holiday created by the marketing conglomerates to make little Jewish kids just as consumer-oriented as little Christian kids, I'm prone to go through December enjoying the pretty lights, wreaths, and garlands and happily avoiding the consumerist hubbub. to be honest, I consider myself lucky (though if I had my druthers, I would move my birthday to some point a bit farther from Christmas when people could actually focus on me, come to my birthday party, and give me presents that weren't afterthoughts at best).
This year, in a great departure from the norm, I am making some Christmas presents. I'm making them for my landlords, who very sweetly sent their daughter over with not one but two homemade Chanukah gifts for me. Seeing as they're my landlord-soulmates, I'm going to make them a Christmas gift. Also, I'll have some on hand for whoever else I need to bestow gifts upon - which is something I generally reserve only for my friends who are giving birth soon, and their children, and, when I think of it and see something they'll love or am making something lovely anyway, my closest friends. Seeing as I have at least 3 birthdays in February for the sweetest little girls, and have infused oils on hand from the summer, the following recipes should do. (taken from Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair)
Calendula and St. John's Wart Salves
Salves are super-luscious, concentrated moisturizers and healing balms that can be used all over the body. Calendula, which is an all-purpose skin-healing super flower is many a mother's favorite tool for moisturizing chapped baby skin, keeping cold wind from chafing rosy cheeks, etc. To be honest, I don't know any mother who doesn't have a bit of it on her at all times. Also, it's great for grown-ups. i used it as a lip balm, on cuticles, and the backs of my hands when they get cracked.
St John's Wart is also a super-healing, mildly antimicrobial flower found just about anywhere in mid summer. In tincture form (steeped in alcohol for months) it is frequently used as an anti-depressant. In salve or oil form, it is great for relieving pain in aching joints, and generally soothing minor physical complaints both topical and injury-related. Great for arthritic hands or aching joints brought on by cold or flu. Mixed with some fennel and lavender oils, it has a soothing effect.
Clandula flowers dried or fresh, olive oil, or calendula-infused oil (6 ozs)
St. John's Wart plants, dried or fresh, olive oil, or infused oil (6 ozs)
Beeswax (4 ozs total for both recipes)
A double-boiler, or a small pot of water and a heat-resistant measuring cup
something to stir with (a chopstick works)
little jars, 1- or 2-oz, or 1/4 pint jars
We're making 2 seperate salves here - in my case, on for the parent(s) and one for the kid(s). So follow these instructions twice over - one time with the calendula and another time with the St. John's Wart
If you're lucky, clairvoyant, or have been doing this already, you'll have some olive oil infused with calendula and st john's wart on hand. If not, wait until the summer for a fresh harvest or go to your local health food store that features an apothecary (mine does, for some wonderful reason) and pick up some dried flowers.
Now, if you have time, here's how to do it: Cut up petals (in the case of calendula) or the whole plant (in the case of st john's wart) and place in a jar of olive oil to cover (more or less depending on how strong you want it - for these recipes 6 ozs of finished oil is required). Let sit in a cool, dark place at least a month or more. 6 weeks is ideal, but it can sit for a long time. Mine have been sitting in a closet since the summer.
Strain your oils and put 6 ozs into your double boiler, once the water is boiling. get the oil good and hot, and then chop in 2 ozs of beeswax into small chunks into the oil. stir until assimilated and then pour into your containers. If you're planning on adding essential oils do so at this point (lavender and fennel for calming colic, tangerine for energy, none at all for most salves, since scents are so invasive and define a salve's purpose so strongly). Cover immediately and store in a cool, dark place until they're ready to gift.
If you don't have the time to infuse oil, or don't have infused oil
You probably don't. If this were the book I want it to be, you would have read in May that it's time to plant your calendula and in August you would have read that it's time to dry it and steep it in oil, and on December 15th, having all the ingredients on hand, you'd be reading this. But since that book is still in my brain and not in your hands, here's what I would do if I didn't have infused oils on hand.
Follow the directions above using olive oil and beeswax. If you'd like, replace half of the olive oil with jojoba oil or cocoa butter for extra-moisturizing power. Then, when you pour it off, choose an essential oil mix that's right for the person you're gifting this to. Lavender would make a great "bedtime salve" for lips, temples, chafed noses suffering from colds that would be a sleep-aid. Tea tree oil would be great for a scent-reducing foot salve. Tangerine would be great for a morning or pick-me-up salve, and sandalwood and rosemary would make a great scent for soothing tired hands (also- it's a fairly masculine scent)
Note on herbs: Really, you can use just about any medicinal herb in this way. Comfrey is good for treating bruising and internal aches. Black Walnut hulls and tea tree oil are great for fungal infections. read up on things and experiment. To make a colored lip gloss, infuse annatto seeds (for an orangeish tint) or alkanet root (a reddish tint). replace 1/2 oz of the infused olive oil in the salve recipe with castor oil for gloss. Replace 1/2 oz of infused oil with jojoba or avocado oil for extra moisturizing. add fragrance if you'd like, but be sparing, this is going right under your nose! in another alternative, you could make a salve-perfume, mixing a lot of essential oils in to make a solid perfume. Be careful though. gifting and making perfumes is a very specific art.
Note on consistency: The recipes above are not hard science. If you want a runnier salve, use less beeswax. If it's summer and you want the salve to hold up better and don't want to risk oils going rancid, use more beeswax.