Homemade Christmas Ornaments and Decorations

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This post was written by my awesome mother, Kathy.

A while back, in a post on personalized holiday gifts my mom left this comment that prompted many requests for the recipes:

“Another way to decommercialize Christmas or any holiday is to get together as a family and create homemade decorations for the Christmas tree and the home. It can be done while sharing a meal together and brings a sense of the elusive Christmas cheer that we seek so hard to recreate in our lives from the television commercials while at the mall spending our hard earned dollars on decorations and gifts. One of Matt’s personal favorites is to make paper chains out of colored construction paper. One of mine is to create salt dough ornaments with cookie cutters and then after baking them, paint them and spray them with some sort of lacquer. They last for years and every year that I unpack them and carefully hang them on my tree, I am taking a trip down memory lane and remembering the warmth and satisfaction of sharing such an activity with my family.”

So as requested… here are the recipes for three of our favorite homemade Christmas decoration traditions from my childhood. Feel free to adopt these creative and frugal activities and making them your own. Involve the kids, involve nieces and nephews, siblings and cousins, parents and grandparents, etc. Everyone is going to love getting together to enjoy this good old fashioned frugal family fun!

My wife and I are planning to throw a homemade holiday decoration party for both sides of our family this year. Not only will this serve as a great time of family togetherness, but will also provide a lasting example of the power of frugal living.

Homemade Salt Dough Ornaments (Mom’s Favorite)

Salt dough is very simple to make, so I will share the recipe that I have had for years, that is handwritten by my sister on the back of a business card!

Dissolve the salt a little in the hot water, then mix in the flour. That makes a nice dough that is very easy to handle. Sprinkle flour on your countertop to avoid the dough sticking. Use a rolling pin and roll it out (you can also use  any smooth cylindrical glass container like a peanut butter or  beverage bottle).

Roll the dough to about ¼ inch thick and use cookie cutters to make the shapes you like, depending on the season (don’t limit this to Christmas!). Transfer cut ornament shapes to a cookie sheet. Poke a hole in the top of the ornament that will serve as a way to tie ribbons for hanging the ornaments when they are finished (a Phillips screwdriver works fine). The ribbon can be the type of ribbon one uses to wrap gifts with, the kind that you can curl with a pair of scissors.

Bake the ornaments at 325° until they are hard. This will usually take 30-40 minutes, depending on how thick they are. It is important to make sure they are completely dried out so there is no mold. It is also important to remember that if you are creating these ornaments with small children, perfection is not important! Encourage them to do the best they can and appreciate their efforts!

Let them cool. Then, I just use cheap acrylic paints and paintbrushes and paint as creatively as possible! Acrylics are water soluble so don’t worry if the kids make a mess… it’ll clean up! Use a different paint brush for each color and let each color dry before applying a different color. The acrylic paints do not take long to dry. If you are making several ornaments, just apply the same color to each one and by the time you are finished you should be able to go back and start another color.

Usually I just paint one side with detail and the back side just one plain color. You can get as detailed as you want with these. After the paint dries, lay them on some waxed paper, preferably in a well ventilated area and use a spray lacquer of some sort to spray both sides in order to preserve them. You must spray one side, let it dry, then spray the other side. You can get the lacquer in any paint department. Use waxed paper because the lacquer will stick to newspaper. Do not include the kids in the lacquer process, just do that part yourself.

Tie a ribbon in each one and vóila! You have Christmas ornaments and lots of memories. You’ll also most likely have a new family tradition on your hands because this process has the wonderful peripheral benefits of encouraging family togetherness and creativity!

Construction Paper Chains (Matt’s favorite)

Making paper chains is also a wonderful activity to do with small children. Matt always loved making these and part of the reason was that he loved making the homemade glue. Guess he even loved making homemade products way back then!

Get yourself some rectangular colored construction paper and lay out in landscape position. Using a pencil, draw out 1 to 2 inch strips and cut accordingly.

To make the glue simply mix together:

Use as much water as you need to make it into a thick glue-like paste. If you do not want to make your own paste, or find this doesn’t stick or dry well enough, Elmer’s makes a non-toxic glue for kids.

Glue the first one together at the ends, making a circle. Then take the second strip, lace it through the first circle and glue that together at the ends, then proceed the same way until you have used all of your strips and made a chain long enough to drape around the tree or to festoon your living room!

Popcorn and Cranberry Strings

Our family also used to make popcorn and cranberry strings. These make great decorations for the Christmas tree inside the house, or, if you have an evergreen tree in your yard you can decorate the tree to feed the birds and squirrels!

All you will need is:

  • some strong thread
  • a needle
  • popcorn (microwave variety will not work well for this project)
  • a bag of cranberries (produce aisle at grocer)

To make, simply pop some corn in a pan on the stove with a little oil or with your air popper. Grab your cranberries, needle and thread and begin threading your needle alternately through a cranberry, then a couple of pieces of popcorn, a cranberry, a few popcorn, etc. until you have created a string long enough to wrap around the tree. Don’t forget to tie large knots at both ends of your string in order to keep the cranberries and popcorn in place.

What about you?

Did you make some cool holiday decorations growing up?  Don’t be a Scrooge… share the recipe!


About Matt Jabs

Matt loves to inspire others to save money and live more sustainably. He is passionate about eating local, living simply, and doing more things himself. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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  1. stacie sowell says

    On the Homemade Salt Dough Ornaments please remember to never store them in your attic after Christmas. We made these about 20 years ago in Texas and they were some of our favorite memories on our tree every year. Until about 5 years ago they some how got put up in the attic with all the other christmas ornaments and they melted.

  2. malloch says

    Aww. Memories! We made so many of those salt dough cookie orniments as kids. They lasted a long time.

    On topic of snowflakes:we used to make ours out of coffee filters and used food coloring to dye them. (food coloring left over from Easter eggs)

  3. J Taverna says

    I love the dough ornaments. When my child was small, we made Sesame Street Ornaments. They turned out great, very colorful little Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, and all the rest for our Sesame Street Christmas Tree. To make them look festive and in season, we put little candy canes in their hands or some holly with berries on them. Our tree was so much fun as well as making the ornaments. LOL My tip is… Don’t put them in the attic with the other Christmas decorations.