Pastimes: 5 Old-Fashioned Holiday Decorations to Make (and Give)

Lately I’ve rediscovered the simple satisfaction of sitting down in the evening to sew (my blanket stitch is improving, but barely) or string a strand of cranberries—a nice change from watching Netflix until I nod off. It’s a comforting way to pass the time in 2020, and the finished results add a homespun, old-fashioned sense of festivity around the house—or, wrapped, make charming gifts, too.

Behold, five old-world, make-it-yourself holiday decorations for decking the halls—or packaging up to send to friends and family.

1. Hand-dipped taper candles

black beeswax candles DIY, finished, by Justine Hand for Remodelista Above: I recently tried my hand at dipping beeswax tapers on my small-scale stovetop in my NYC kitchen to feed my obsession with having a candle going at all times. Verdict: After a bit of finessing and getting the hang of it, it’s simple to do in just a couple of hours. Order some beeswax blocks or pastilles and melt completely in a double boiler you don’t mind using only for candle-making. (Or, do as I did and set an old tin can in a pot of boiling water to make teeny tapers.) Then, loop a length of wick over a chopstick or piece of notched cardboard so that the two ends hang down. Dip slowly and straight into the wax, then straight into a pot of cool water, and repeat until the tapers reach the desired thickness.

Our resident DIYer Justine offers two takes on the classic golden beeswax, with pale green bayberry tapers and the noirish black tapers shown here, festive for a dark winter’s night.

2. Spicy-scented pomander

last-minute-gifts-erin-boyle-gardenista-4 Above: One of our favorite all-time DIY ornaments is also one of the simplest: a traditional pomander made of an orange studded with whole cloves and hung from a length of ribbon. You could even tuck a small pouch of cloves into one of the days of your advent calendar (see idea no. 5) for a festive (and good-smelling) activity.

N.B.: A friend who is moving—and doesn’t want to acquire any more decor—liked the idea of hanging up a few pomanders, since there’s no storing or packing away involved once the season’s over.

3. Threaded garlands (of cranberry, popcorn, dried fruit, or foraged finds)

DIY gilded ornaments from nature, golden beach nut garland Above: Stringing your own garland is a calming way to pass the time (while watching a movie, say) and looks rather charming on a tree, banister, or mantel. Opt for the old-fashioned cranberry, dried-fruit, or popcorn string—or do as Justine did here and thread a garland out of foraged finds, slightly gilded.

4. Cinnamon and salt dough ornaments

Christmas-Scented Salt Dough Ornaments by Rocky Hedge Farms Above: Old-school dough ornaments look like gingerbread or tiny cookies—but last much longer and smell amazing. Make them to hang on the tree, from the mantel, or from window latches, or tie them onto presents. For cinnamon dough ornaments, all you need is cinnamon, applesauce, a rolling pin, something to poke holes with, and some twine. Follow this pressed-botanical take from Garden Therapy, or press cookie cutters into the rolled-out dough instead. Or, make the salt-dough ornaments and garlands shown here. Photograph (and instructions) via Rocky Hedge Farm. 

5. Homemade advent calendar

advent-calendar-diy-tree-branch-gardenista Above: The original advent calendars started in “the mid-19th century, when German Protestants made chalk marks on doors or lit candles to count the days leading up to Christmas,” according to MentalFloss. The more modern iterations have long been my favorite holiday tradition, with the tiniest of treats or surprises to open up every day.

This year I made my own advent calendar with the small cotton muslin bags used in cooking, stitched-on numbers, and a length of twine—a satisfying project to work away on and, now, a small bit of enjoyment for every day. Do the same with tiny bags like these—or find a branch and hang up small wrapped gifts, like Greenhouse Juice did in DIY Holiday: An Advent Calendar Branch from the Garden.

In pursuit of more gifts and decorations to make yourself this year? See:

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