By JENNY BROWN
While this year may look a little different, I have been determined to capture the magic of the holidays at home. When it comes to holiday traditions, it is funny reflecting on how my children’s experiences differ from my own at their ages. Growing up we didn’t decorate gingerbread houses with an endless supply of seemingly every candy known to man. We had small houses the size of graham crackers and a few bowls of candy to pick from. Nor do I recall being dragged through crammed Christmas festivals packed with rowdy revelers fueled on spiked cider and scalding hot chocolate (a painful lesson my youngest son will not soon forget). While we did attend an annual Santa brunch, the big man was perched strategically in an upstairs room while our parents and grandparents enjoyed cocktails and conversation on the main floor. If there was a magician provided for additional entertainment, he was far from center stage and certainly out of earshot of our elders. Now our mini-me’s run the show with their entertainment as the main attraction while we trail after them, like exhausted and inept zookeepers herding cats.
As I embark on this unusual 11th Christmas as a parent, I confess a sense of PTSD at the thought of the frenetic frenzy of our normal holiday pace. Running on sugar and sequins, I’m sure I’m not alone in a guilty relief that this year we haven’t been dragging ourselves from one thing to the next at a breakneck speed to ensure a fully realized holiday experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than a good party. But given the current climate, I’m not one to cry about what could have been. And thus I’ve come up with a few fun and easy activities you can do at home to drum up the spirit without packing on the pounds or breaking the bank.
Pomander balls are simply oranges pierced with cloves that can be used as decorations, centerpieces, or gifts. The origins of these balls go back to medieval times when they were thought to ward off illness and they have taken on other religious meanings too. I will never forget the smell and feel of making these simple decorations at aforementioned Santa brunch when I was young as the cloves can be quite sharp, especially on little fingers. One friend suggested pre-piercing the oranges with an ice pick (wait, does anyone actually own an ice pick?) but a toothpick or skewer works too, though it’s not necessary. We kept our designs simple this year, but a quick search online will send you down a rabbit hole of inspiration. Supplies: Orange and cloves, ice pick optional.
Another favorite holiday tradition was making garlands out of popcorn and fresh cranberries. Again, if you dare attempt this with children, there is an element of danger with needle and thread but that just adds to the fun, does it not? I actually just read a tutorial that recommended floral wire but if you don’t happen to have that lying around next to your icepick, a needle and thread or fishing line will do. I suppose you could pop your own popcorn for this, but I bought a “healthy” brand of popcorn to reduce the amount of oil and salt. Here is the trick though- make sure to open the bag and leave the popcorn out for a day or two so it gets nice and stale, that way it will be less likely to crack and easier to string. Supplies: Popcorn, fresh cranberries, needle and thread- or fishing line- or floral wire.
One easy and fun craft and possibly the simplest, is making snowflakes out of folded paper. You simply fold the paper into triangles until it is quite small and then cut into the corners and edges. I made these with the boys last night and we are taping them to the windows. Smaller ones could be used as ornaments or tied to the top of gifts. I found this helpful guide by the grandmaster crafting queen Martha Stewart if you are inclined to up your game. Supplies: Paper, scissors, maybe tape.
Years ago my mother and grandmother visited Winterthur, the DuPont family home that is now a museum in Delaware. It was Christmas time, and my mom came home all atwitter over the beautiful decorations, especially the little sprigs of boxwood tied with a simple red bow in each of the panes of the many windows of the house. A quick enquiry informed her that they were affixed to the window mullions with a pinch of beeswax from a candle. I love to put these on the French doors and sidelights in our garden room to add a little touch of holiday cheer. Supplies: Boxwood, thin red ribbon, beeswax (I usually take it from a beeswax candle).
I confess I was going to add a few other items to this list including making ornaments with Styrofoam balls and sequins, but there is apparently a run-on straight pin with all this mask-making going on and I do not want to lead you down the dark path of overly ambitious projects, so it will just have to wait. My goal this year is to take advantage of the time at home and keep it simple while trying to recreate some of the highlights of my childhood for my boys but also for myself.