by Ruby Roberts
Ahhh, Christmas, it’s almost upon us again. How can it possibly be time to unsnarl the tinsel, restring the Christmas baubles and straighten out that darn star for the top of the tree? Christmas decorations are so tacky yet so magical. I love them and I hate them. Their premature appearance in shopping malls makes me cranky and antsy, the home made snowflakes on kindergarten classrooms make me melt. The dusty tinsel makes me sneeze, but then I go through a little time of mourning every time we take them down. Christmas is such a time of contradictions.
Some of my happiest memories of Christmas are baking beforehand with mum, preparing the pudding, adding a silver penny, wishing into the pudding while we stirred. I knew when my son came along that I wanted him to have hardly any memories of tramping the malls with a stressed out mum and plenty of us doing Christmas cooking and crafts together. Over the years, we have slowly built up a collection of our handmade treasures; paper chains, al foil stars, hand made baubles. Every Christmas, lovely memories come out of the box as we drag them all out. I like to upcycle, so we have lots of paper chains made from old Christmas paper and National Geographics and the like. There’s nothing quite like decorating the place with stuff you have made with your family. Here are a few ideas we’ve come up with over the years.
Light and shadow make Christmas seem even more magical, do they not? What could be more Christmassy than lighting a festive lantern? We made these lanterns to go on the table and we also lit them up every so often just to make the room look even more pretty.
The lantern design is actually a combination of a number of other ones I checked out on YouTube. I think it worked pretty well. You will need black cardboard, waxed paper, jars, tealight candles, pencils and a few sharp stanley knives for the adults and bigger kids. Cut the card and waxed paper into a rectangle. You want to be able to form a tube out of the rectangle that covers the jar, and for the waxed paper and card to be the same size. Get the kids to draw a design on the card that you will cut out for them.
The candle light will shine through the holes. Once you are happy with the design, glue the waxed paper to the card and then tape it, card side out, around the jar. We had jars with fat lips above the neck, so we were able to safely wind some thin wire around to make a handle, but this isn’t essential.
Pop a tealight candle in the lantern, light it up, and turn off the lights – voila! Handmade Christmas magic.
Pom pom Christmas baubles.
This is a great craft to do in front of a Christmas movie as very little attention is required. For littler kids, a movie might just keep them still enough to string the pom poms. There are many ways to make them, but this is what we did. First, raid the local op shop for old wool or yarn – bright festive colours are great, but anything will look cool. Part of the fun of pom poms is the mystery of not knowing how they will turn out. Grab some old cardboard from a cereal packet or something like that. Double it up and cut out a two identical donut shape. You want the hole in the middle of the donut shapes to be big enough to easily pass your yarn through.
The diameter of the outer circle in the donut will be the rough size of your pom pom. Place the two donut shapes together and wind the yarn around and around and through the middle, gradually working your way around so the full radius of the circles are covered.
Keep winding until your donut is fat and round with yarn – the fatter the donut, the firmer and fluffier your pom pom will be and the better it will look. Change yarn colours whenever the whim hits.
Once it has gotten lovely and thick, take a pair of scissors and carefully cut the yarn around the outer diameter of the donut. It should start popping out. Once you have cut all the way around, take a long piece of string or a ribbon, and pass it between the two cardboard donut shapes, tying a knot with two long ends. The two ends will be the loop you use to hang your finished bauble from the tree. Tie a knot at the other two ends so they form a loop. Now, cut the two cardboard donuts so they fall from the donut. Now, you can give your pom pom a haircut, trimming the threads of yarn to form a circle. Viola! You are done!
Upcycled paper chains.
Most of us have a stack of old magazines sitting around gathering dust in the house. These are pay dirt for frugal crafting families. We use our National Geographics to make everything from artworks to wrapping paper, and they are fabulous for making paper chains. This is a great one for sitting around with the family and enjoying. We’ve all made paper chains, right? Cut strips of paper and make a loop (we find the length of a National Geographic to be a good size), keep going, creating a chain formation. Sticky tape or staple the loops together. Keep going until you or the kids are bored with it. I find sometimes it helps to have a few different crafts going at once. For example, if they are kind of bored making chains after a while, maybe they could make some groovy looking cards? Again, they can cut out pictures from the magazines, add silly captions, maybe some Christmassy glitter or stickers, and then relatives from afar can enjoy something handmade. Let’s face it, lots of rellies might prefer something the kids have drawn or made to a generic Christmas card, especially distant ones who are missing the family.
Most of us probably made them in kindergarten, and why not make more now? Snow flakes are pretty, pretty, pretty. We hung ours from strings, then attached each string to a long string. Again, this is a fun activity to do with the whole family sitting around the table. Why not finish up with a game of snap? For those who are so inclined, there are some beautiful snowflake templates – these give a very professional look. We like our snowflakes rustic here, and we use old National Geographics. In addition to being a lovely way to upcycle, the muted colours of those old faded photos look really sweet and kinda (ugh, I’m going to use that tacky word) retro. Another cool thing you can do is get some old butcher’s paper and put the snowflakes on – spray some paint on, and you have some very pretty wrapping paper!
What about some edible decorations?
Find a nice firm biscuit (cookie) recipe – perhaps a gingerbread, as it is firm, but not too crumbly and brittle. Cut out Christmassy shapes with cutters, or make your own. Now, before you bake them, make a hole in the top – you want to have the hole big enough to enable a piece of string to pass through. You also want the hole down low enough to it will hold the weight. Next, bake them. Now for some fun – the decorating! Make up a simple hard sugar icing and put it in a zip loc bag, cut out a tiny hole and draw on designs. Or ice the whole thing and then sprinkle Christmassy things on. There are some great recipes on YouTube for edible glitter which you can make in Christmassy colours – it looks lovely and sparkly.
Another edible decorating idea if you are feeling really brave or have very patient kids – popcorn strings. Personally whatever gene allows that degree of patience has not been passed down in our family bloodlines, but if you feel like it, why not? My mum did it one year and it did look magnificent on the tree. It’s just a matter of stringing popcorn onto thick thread with a needle. I would not be game to try something so fiddly, but if you do, I am in awe.
A simple, upcycled Christmas tree.
This looks beautiful with the lanterns, or with lovely, moody Christmas lighting. Find a really pretty branch. It will look most effective if you find one with no foliage. Here in subtropical Brisbane, we used one of those funny-looking branch things that falls off palm trees. You want something with lots of interesting shapes – part of the fun is taking to the bush with the kids and seeing what you can scavenge! Now, take some pretty paper – we used the trusty National Geographics again, but you could use Christmas paper or whatever takes your fancy. Now, jump on YouTube and look up some origami patterns to make lovely, lightweight decorations. We made a mix of cranes and water bombs. Originally, we found all sorts of stars, angels and so on, but we liked it best with just the two. The water bombs were simple enough for my then-six-year-old to master, but the cranes were a little more difficult. Then, attach string loops to your origami pieces with a needle and thread. Hang your tree – we used a string, tied to the ‘trunk’ of the tree and then attached to a hook. Loop on the decorations. Next, switch on the mood lighting! Lots of shadow looks amazing. Viola! A really pretty, quirky, upcycled Christmas tree, costing nothing but your time.