When I was growing up, the holiday season was always very special for me. My sisters and I would help my mom bake sugar, butter and gingerbread cookies while my dad readied the Christmas tree for decorating.
He would fit the fresh-cut pine into its stand and then drape the Christmas tree skirt — one my mom had made — around the base. Next he would arrange his little railroad and town – he called it Dinky Creek – at the edge of the tree skirt so it could wrap its way past all the Christmas gifts.
Once dad was done setting up the tree and the cookies were cooled we all got to decorate them with colored icing. Some would go on the tree; most would go in our mouths. We would often “accidently” break one or two gingerbread people so that we could eat them immediately, claiming it was cruel to make them suffer without their limbs.
As we ate our cookies and drank hot chocolate, we hung our ornaments – many of which were homemade — and planned what new ornaments we could make to add to our collection.
The tradition of decorating Christmas trees started hundreds of years ago and continues today, though originally most families put edible fruits and cookies on the branches while most trees today are adorned with store-bought decorations.
If you want to capture the beauty of the American tradition and decorate your tree with home-made early American Christmas ornaments, it is merely a matter of encouraging your family to be creative.
Cookie Cutter Christmas Ornaments
What’s great about cookie cutters is that they can be used in so many ways. First, you can use them as a template. Just place them on colored paper or felt and draw around them. Then cut out the paper or felt shapes and decorate with crayons, paint, glitter, bits of paper or felt, and ribbons.
Or why not just use the cookie cutters themselves as the Christmas ornaments? They’re sturdy and can be decorated with things you might find in your sewing or craft area: bits of ribbon, fabric, old buttons, glitter, or whatever else you can find.
Finally, you can always use the cookie cutters as originally intended and make cookies to hang on your tree. Not edible ones perhaps, but how about some made from…
Baker’s Clay Christmas Ornaments
What’s great about baker’s clay is that it is made from flour, salt and water, can be baked or air dried and anyone can create wonderful Christmas ornaments with it. Plus, since American tradition tells us that the first ornaments were cookies and fruit, you can even model your ornaments after these traditional decorations.
The recipe is easy: just one cup all-purpose flour, ¼ cup of salt and enough water so that the dough is the consistency of pie crust. Too dry and the dough will crack; too moist and it won’t hold up. Fortunately because you’re not eating it you can knead it and work it to the consistency you like.
Roll out the dough to 1/4″ to 1/2″ in thickness on a floured board and use cookie cutters or other household objects to cut shapes. Or mold objects by hand. Make sure to carve out a small hole at the top for the ribbon to hang on the tree.
The dough can be dried by air (a few days to a week depending on thickness and size of the piece) or baked in a 225 to 250 degree oven until brown, approximately half an hour per 1/4″ thickness. Be sure to poke it with small holes to keep it from becoming puff pastry. Once it cools, you can paint and decorate.
But you don’t just have to make ornaments with baker’s clay, you can also make…
Christmas garland is a fun and beautiful way to decorate a tree. In the early 1900s a favorite was to string popped corn and cranberries. Having done this one year when I was younger, I can tell you it is a lot of work, but it made the tree look great.
If you want something a bit easier that your children can do, make baker’s clay beads. Just form the dough into small balls and poke a toothpick through it before drying. Or if you don’t want to use baker’s clay, loop colored paper strips together to make a paper garland chain.
Whether you papier-mâché Styrofoam balls with glue, water and tissue paper then hand paint them, buy lightweight ready-made ornaments (paper or wood) at the craft store and decorate them, or turn pine cones from your own backyard into ornaments, creating your own early American Christmas ornaments is all about getting together with your family and making a Christmas memory you can cherish.