We needed to take things up a notch with our holiday decorations this year. I knew we’d put up the usual lights and candles and tree, but I had a hankering for something extra sparkly, extra magical, extra jolly. Hell, I totally lost my mind and brought red into the picture.
If it’s looking like my adult Christmas tree is merely a vehicle for me to live out my childhood dreams of time traveling well, then, mission accomplished.
I love a good old-fashioned Christmas tree, not just because I think they’re pretty but because they make sense in a small space. I’ve written before that we try to keep all of our holiday decorations to a single shoe box and with the exception of one special addition this year, we’ve stuck to that rule by making our tree a little more festive through the magic of compostable decorations. Here, four simple ideas for decking the halls a bit more lavishly, without breaking the bank (or needing to invest in a storage unit).
Cinnamon and Applesauce Ornaments
What you need:
Apple sauce + Cinnamon + Heat + Time + Upholstery Needle + String
One of my cousins makes them every year for Christmas, but I hadn’t made a batch of my own since I was in elementary school. Happily, these guys couldn’t be easier and if you omit the traditional use of Elmer’s glue, you’ll find that they still hold perfectly well together. (Caveat: It might be that without the glue these guys get crumbly after a year in storage—I haven’t tested that—but for now, they’re as solid as the glue-filled alternatives.) I got cinnamon in bulk from my neighborhood spice shop, bought a jar of plain apple sauce, and used my friend Katy’s recipe to make a batch.
We ended up with so many stars, that I’m planning to use them to decorate presents this Christmas, too. I used an upholstery needle to make the holes and string the stars, but any poky thing you have around will do.
What you need:
Cranberries + Needle + Thread
We made these a few times growing up and I was glad for a little something in a pretty shade of crimson to add to the tree. The good news is that in the week or so following Thanksgiving fresh cranberries often go on sale, and you can make a festive garland or two inexpensively. The cranberries are easy to puncture with just about any sewing needle (and if you use a blunt-tipped needle even little helpers can join in). No hugely extensive tutorial needed here; just string those berries and tie off the ends of the garland! (Update: As with all things, please make an effort to source sustainably! Industrial cranberry agriculture is something of an environmental disaster. I found sustainably harvested, organic berries for just $2.99/bag at my local organic market!)
One tip: For both cranberry and popcorn garlands, I find that it’s easiest to drape them nicely in the tree if I make several shorter lengths that wrap around the girth of the tree just once, rather than trying to string one very long garland neatly around and up the entire tree.
What you need:
Popcorn + Thread + Needle
Stringing popcorn is admittedly slightly more tedious than stringing cranberries (sometimes it takes a few times to strike the sweet spot that will let the needle through the popcorn and sometimes the popped corn crumbles under too much pressure) but generally making these is a cinch, very inexpensive, and something meditative to do while watching a movie in the evening. I make a batch of stove top popcorn that I leave plain—no need for butter or salt or za’atar here—and string it onto cotton thread. For my tree this year, I chose to alternate all-popcorn and all-cranberry garlands, but of course you can mix them up and add other interesting things to your garlands as your heart desires.
Dried Fruit Ornaments
What you need:
Sliced apples, pears, and oranges + Heat + Time + Needle + String
A bit of dried fruit on a tree is another inexpensive and easy-to-make alternative to traditional holiday ornaments. You can follow last year’s tutorial for dried oranges if you’re looking for a step-by-step guide. I concede that I was a little impatient this year and had these guys in too hot an oven, so my pears and apples were a little more on the brown side of golden than I would have preferred. No matter, they still look pretty and apparently they’re still delectable, too—Faye took a gigantic bite out of a hanging pear and was very pleased with the results.
A tip: In general, the oranges take a little longer to dry out than the apples and pears, and so it might be a good idea to cook them separately, or at least to check in to make sure your apples aren’t getting too cooked.
All put together, I think the finished tree is every bit as cheery as we needed, without being overwhelming in a small space.
For our tree-topper this year, we decided to go the decidedly heirloom route. My dear internet pal Ashley of ABJ Glassworks made us this five-pointed glass star to add to the top of our tree. Needless to say it’s quickly become a treasured gift and a reminder that you don’t have to be overly dogmatic about any of this minimalism stuff. Strike a balance that works for you, treasure the things you have and that you love, and otherwise get on with it. If you are wanting to go a simpler or smaller route for your tree-topper, I happen to think a lovely length of mustard-colored grosgrain or velvet ribbon would make a mighty fine bow atop an otherwise compostable tree (and of course it would be very easy to stash in a small space for future years).
In case you’re not into the the compostable Christmas tree look (and yes, I admit I had one reader email me earlier this year to say that she needed something a little less…homespun), here are a few more ideas for finding ornaments with a bit more polish.
Shop Vintage: While we really don’t have the space to store them, I can imagine one day starting a collection of vintage glass ornaments. (And likely there are plenty of folks who have boxes of family ornaments that might eventually get passed their way—or that already have.) There’s no shortage of beautiful vintage options on places like Etsy, but it might be worth keeping in mind that in addition to being fragile, some of these older ornaments likely include things like lead paint, so they might not be best choice for homes with small children.
Shop Fair-Trade: There are lots of artisans around the world making beautiful ornaments this time of year (and always). Businesses like Ten Thousand Villages or Fair Indigo are committed to sourcing fair-trade ornaments from around the globe, so they might also be a nice place to start looking. These sparkling snowflakes from Bangladesh caught my eye.
Shop USA-Made: If you’re looking to invest in brand-new traditional ornaments, you might also consider seeking out Made-in-the-USA options. While I can’t vouch for the products or company personally, I did notice that Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Michigan has a section of their site devoted to USA-made products, including sets of very classic glass balls.
Shop Small: Finally, my personal favorite route is to turn to small designers making beautiful ornaments and decorations by hand. Here are a few beauties that have caught my eye:
+ Beveled Star Ornament by ABJ Glassworks
+ Carved Wooden Bell by Pilosale
+ Balsam Fir Embroidered Ornaments by Quite Alright
+ Big Dot Ornaments from Pigeon Toe Ceramics
+ Patchwork Stockings by Ace & Jig and Kou Kou
+ Homespun Christmas Star by 86 Home
+ Porcelain Moose by Art et Manufacture
What about you? Any favorite sources for ornaments? Any favorite things to make yourself?