For a long time now, I’ve been making the majority of my holiday decorations by hand, along with homemade gifts. I’ve done it for a long time. I begin thinking about what to make in late summer and early fall. That’s when I begin gathering natural materials, planning my home canning for food gifts, and getting my thoughts together on who gets what for Christmas.
The home-canned gifts are usually a complete meal that may include dry ingredients in a jar, along with stuff to complete the meal such as home-canned salsa, relish, and such. If it’s a soup jar, I include crackers, canned meat if needed, and soup bowls.
I grow Sweet Annie, a wonderfully scented herb, and I make approximately 35 candle rings to use on my individual candles, window lights, and numerous armed lighting fixtures throughout the house as a year-round decoration. The rings are simple to make. Just take a piece of Sweet Annie and wrap it around itself into a ring, and add a sprig of rose hips to each ring. The wonderful aroma of the Sweet Annie fills the house.
Another homemade item I’ve made for years is Christmas Greens, similar to potpourri. I start gathering and drying materials for the Christmas Greens in early fall. I grow Lemon Verbena and begin with that, putting it into a large Amish enamelware apple butter kettle. I add bunches of pine, needles and twigs cut into small pieces, from the many pine trees on the homestead. I also add sassafras twigs or small branches cut into matchstick-sized pieces. As I add ingredients, I mix everything to keep it drying. I then gather rose hips from the wild roses on the property and add them to the drying mixture. I dry orange peels separately, adding them at the end when everything is dry. I throw in a few cinnamon sticks and mix everything frequently as it dries. I keep the kettle on the floor in the kitchen, and the aroma fills the kitchen with the smell of Christmas.
I also made fabric balls to display either in a wooden bowl to add some bright color to a room or on the tree — they make beautiful yet cheap Christmas ornaments. They are easy to make and are ideal for getting kids involved in the making of Christmas items.
All you need are some small Styrofoam balls, available at craft stores, and some fabric. If you have fabric scraps, they work perfectly, or you can use calico and seasonal prints like I do.
There are a couple of ways to make fabric balls. One version is to cut the fabric in long, narrow strips, and then, using glue sticks, attach the fabric to the balls, one strip at a time, until the ball is completely covered. This one is great for the kids. Another version uses the same Styrofoam balls, but instead of strips of fabric, the fabric is cut into little squares. Also use some lengths of lace trim. Using a butter knife, take a piece of fabric and “insert” it into the ball. When the ball is covered, use the butter knife again and insert the lace into the “valleys” left when you inserted the fabric. With pearl-headed pins, attach ribbon as a hanger.
Homemade food gifts are also a big part of my Christmas giving. Many things are made from the fruits of the garden, such as salsa, crushed tomatoes and rhubarb jam.
In addition, I make a Rainbow Bean Soup Mix, in which I vary the ingredients by using beans I dry from the garden — Italian beans, early heirloom Rattlesnake beans, heirloom Mayflower beans and Speckled Cranberry Beans. I also include some small pasta, such as Ditalini. I then layer the contents in special jars, either the heritage Ball collection of blue or green, or Quattro Stagioni jars from Italy. You could also add a label to the jar or tie a piece of ribbon around it, if you wanted.
Looking for more ideas? Check out Homemade Gifts for the Holidays.