Winter holiday celebrations are filled with many joyful activities. One way to get into the holiday spirit is to make your own decorations at home. This is an American tradition that goes back to colonial times when people gathered holly, balsam, and other botanicals to create decorative garlands and wreaths for the winter solstice.
A Brief History
The early days of Christmas in America were a much more solemn occasion as most colonists practiced Puritanism. The modern Christmas scenes we know and love of homes and towns lavishly decorated with twinkling lights, ornaments, garlands, and trees did not exist back then. In fact, most Puritans did not decorate the inside of their homes, and those that did, did so quite modestly.
Over time, the way Americans observed and celebrated holidays evolved and blended together the different traditions early settlers had brought from their homelands. And that includes the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree. Now a Christmas tree is one of the most universally recognizable symbols of Christmas, but it wasn’t until the 1840s that the German tradition of bringing a pine tree inside and decorating it began to catch on.
Massachusetts was the first state to declare Christmas an official and legal holiday in 1856. It was also around this time that people started to hang stockings on their fireplace mantle in anticipation of Santa’s visit. And Christmas trees became even more popular when news that Queen Victoria celebrated Christmas with her family gathered around a tabletop fir tree–complete with decorations–reached the United States.
The first Christmas trees were decorated with real lighted candles (do not try this at home!), garlands of popcorn and cranberries, and ornaments made from paper, dried fruit, or materials gathered in nature. By the 1870s, Christmas was nearly as popular and widely celebrated as it is today, with many stores selling handmade ornaments and some mass-produced decorations.
These days most of the ornaments and decorations available for sale are no longer handmade. And we realize that not everyone has handmade heirloom decorations passed down to them. With our easy-to-follow guide you can craft new (soon to be heirloom!) ornaments that will beautifully adorn your Christmas trees for years to come..
Jump to Directions:
There are lots of ways to make your own garland, from simply adding ornaments to greenery you buy to stringing together some variation of your own design, the combinations are endless. Below are two different types of garland that can hang alone, or use to adorn your tree.
Dried Orange Garland:
To make this sweet, simple garland, you’ll need the following:
- 3-4 oranges (or citrus of your choice)
- Bakers Twine
- Embroidery Needle (these have a less sharp tip that usual sewing needles)
- Time and patience
- Optional: greenery like eucalyptus or rosemary
Drying the oranges can be done in a dehydrator, but if you’re not lucky enough to have one, it’s just as easy to do in the oven. Here’s how:
- Preheat your oven to 225°F and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice each orange into rounds that are at least ⅛” thick. (Any thinner, and they might curl or become overly brittle in the drying process).
- Arrange your orange slices in a single layer on your parchment lined baking sheet(s), and place into the oven.
- Bake for about 3 hours, checking every 20 minutes or so. Flip the orange slices about halfway through the baking time to help ensure they dry flat.
- When the oranges are stiff and dehydrated, removed from the oven and let cool completely.
- To make the garland, cut your desired length from the spool of baker’s twine, and tie a loop at one end. Thread the tapestry needle on the opposite end of the twine.
- The rest is up to you! You can thread the twine through the center of the orange, or weave it through the top edge of the peel depending on the look you’d like.
- Space the dried orange slices in a way that looks appealing to you. For an extra pop of festive color, alternate dried orange slices and whole cranberries, or stitch in some evergreen or rosemary.
- When you’ve filled the length you want, remove the needle and tie a loop at the unfinished end. This garland looks lovely hung on mantels, over windows, or draped gracefully over the boughs of your tree.
- Optional: Weave your orange garland in with eucalyptus and other greenery for a fuller look.
Got extra dried orange slices? Don’t let them go to waste. If you’ve dried more orange slices than you need for your handmade garland, use them to make ornaments! You can keep this simple by stringing a loop of twine through the middle of the orange slice, or add a little something extra by stitching a star anise through the center of the slice, and hanging them both together. (back to top)
If the drying time for making your own orange slice garland feels like too much of an investment, but you’d still like to keep little hands busy for a while, try making a popcorn and cranberry garland!
This is a project that is fun to do with your family’s favorite Christmas movie playing in the background. You’ll only need a few items for this garland as well. Here’s what to gather:
- Popped popcorn (no butter or seasonings)
- Whole cranberries
- Baker’s Twine
- Embroidery Needle (these have a less sharp tip that usual sewing needles)
This garland couldn’t be easier. We find it’s easier to work in smaller lengths, no more than 3-4 feet at a time.
- Just like the orange slice garland above, we’ll start by tying a loop in the length of baker’s twine, and threading a needle on the unfinished end.
- Use the needle to thread the twine through the popcorn, and pull it to the end. As you thread each piece, nestle it up beside the one before, but not too close or your garland will lose flexibility.
- Thread a cranberry in between every few pieces of popcorn. There’s no rhyme or reason here, make it your own! Repeat patterns or work randomly–the beauty of making DIY decorations is that you can make them exactly as you’d like them to be.
- Repeat until you have your desired length of garland, or until you run out of popcorn.
Just as lovely are strands of just popcorn or just cranberries. Both add a pretty layer of color and texture when hung through the rich green boughs of your tree. (back to top)
Scented Salt Dough Stars:
One popular type of handmade ornaments are salt dough ornaments. Even if you’ve never made them, you’ve probably seen them, most often as a small handprint in a rough round of dough. Or maybe you’ve seen some designs made with a finer touch, and painted in the heart-warming shades of the season.
Something you may not have seen or heard of are scented salt dough ornaments. While these are typically made with the basics: salt, flour, and water, our version is made with the scents and spices of the season.
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup water
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1-2 tsp ground clove
- 2 tsp nutmeg
- 10 drops Orange essential oil (optional but it adds to the amazing smell)
- Cookie Cutters in the shape of your choosing
- String or Bakers Twine
- Skewer or straws
- Rolling Pin
- Preheat your oven to its lowest setting.
- In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and spices. Add the essential oil if you are using it.
- Next, add about half of your water and mix to combine. Then, add water a little at a time until you have a workable piece of dough. The dough should be smooth, not gooey or sticky, and similar in texture to play dough.
- Roll out the dough to between ⅛” and ¼” thickness, and use your cookie cutter to cut out your desired shapes. If you plan to hang the ornaments, use a skewer or straw to cut a small hole from the dough before baking.
- Place the ornaments on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake the scented salt dough ornaments for 1 hour. Remove them from the over, and carefully flip them before baking another hour.
- Once you’ve removed them from the oven, allow them to cool completely before painting or decorating (if desired)
You can get creative with these ornaments! Hang them on your tree individually, string them together as garland, or even use them to add something extra special to your gift wrapping. (back to top)
There is something special in having a collection of Christmas decorations unique to your family. Making them by hand ensures no one else will have anything quite like it, and making them together is a wonderful way to make memories with loved ones you’ll cherish for a lifetime.
Want to read more about vintage ornaments? Check out our blog HERE