'Tis the Season

This is the time of year when families come together to celebrate. After the events of this past September, more families than ever are gathering together to celebrate the holidays. One special way we celebrate is by making ornaments for the tree, or to give away as gifts. The whole family, including the little ones, can make these. You can put on some special music and light some candles or turn on some Christmas lights to make it a festive occasion.

You can begin by making cinnamon applesauce ornaments as a good way to add some of that festive scent to the air. Even the little ones can help work the dough and cut out festive shapes with cookie cutters. I like to make teddy bears and tie a little bell with a pretty ribbon around their necks. Don't forget to poke a hole in the head or an ear so you can place a ribbon through it for hanging on the tree. You can bake these on a low temperature in the oven or even air dry. I like to place mine in my dehydrator for a couple of hours.

Christmas Cinnamon Ornaments

Recipe 1:
  • 1/2 c. ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. applesauce
  • 1 T. tacky glue

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and stir until well blended. Work the mixture in your hands for three minutes to form a ball. If it is too dry, add more applesauce, if it is too wet, add more cinnamon. Knead into a ball on a cinnamon-sprinkled surface until it holds together well. I roll this out and use cookie cutters for the shapes. I also use a drinking straw to cut a hanging hole. These can be air-dried for 24 to 48 hours. Turn several times. They can also be baked in a slow oven.

Recipe 2:
  • 1/8 oz. apple fragrance (optional)
  • 1/8 c. orris root powder (optional)
  • 1 lb. powdered cinnamon
  • 3/4 c. applesauce

Add scent to the orrisroot and mix well. Combine with the cinnamon powder and add the applesauce. Add a tiny bit of apple cider if it's too dry, or more cinnamon if too wet. Roll out no thinner than 1/4" and cut out shapes. Use a straw to cut a hole at the top if making a hanging ornament. Dry in a dehydrator or air-dry. Let dry thoroughly and sand the rough edges with a fingernail file and paint with fabric paints.

  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus drying time

While you have the cookie cutters out, you can also make up a batch of the salt dough and create ornaments with it too. Just roll out the dough, use the cookie cutters to make fun shapes - or, for a snowman or fairy, just shape by hand like modeling clay -- and then bake. I haven't tried the dehydrator with these yet, but I imagine it would work well. Once they've cooled, you can paint them with acrylic paints or decorate them with glitter glue.

Baker's Clay

  • 3 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 c. salt
  • 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 c. water

Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl and knead until smooth. Add food coloring if desired.

Make shapes and bake at 300 degrees until set and golden (1/2 hr to 1 hr). For a more golden appearance, paint with a beaten egg when it is almost done baking and looks dry. You can paint with egg twice or three times for a darker golden color. Don't use the egg on colored dough. For colored dough, paint with shellac or lacquer after baking. If cracks appear, patch with some slightly moister dough and continue baking.

  • Preparation Time: 1-2 hours

Hard gingerbread dough can be used for many of the same types of decorations. You can even make a gingerbread house that can last for at least a few seasons. Your little ones can help decorate it with plastic candies from the craft store or even buttons or candies made from clay. Each year, dust off the scene and you can add a little more for each new season. For instance, one year add some grass. The next year, maybe include some snowmen, creating your own family tradition that will be cherished and looked forward to each year.

Hard Gingerbread Dough for Crafts

Gingerbread dough can be used to make ornaments to hang or put in baskets that look and smell like real cookies. They are made with normal ingredients, but bake up rock hard and keep and smell great for years. Use gingerbread dough and your favorite cookie cutters to make gingerbread man garlands, gingerbread ornaments and houses.
  • 3 T. shortening
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. molasses
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. each: ground cloves, ginger and cinnamon
  • 3/4 c. water

Beat the shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy; stir in the molasses. Sift the dry ingredients together. Stir them into the shortening mixture in 3 parts alternating with a 1/4 cup of water each time. The dough will be stiff. Refrigerate it overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the dough into 3 pieces. Knead to warm it slightly and roll each piece out about 1/4-inch thick. Cut cookies out with a gingerbread pattern of your choice.

Use a drinking straw to punch a hole if the ornament will be hanging. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes; turn the oven off and let the gingerbread cool in the oven.

Remove the gingerbread from the cookie sheet and place it on a rack to dry for about 3 days to totally harden. These cookies are purely for decorative purposes and are not to be eaten! If you wish, you can seal cookies with 3 coats of clear acrylic and decorate them with colorful acrylic paints when they are dry.

  • Preparation Time: 1 hour plus refrigeration and drying time

For a tasty decoration, I like to make fun little trains or airplanes out of Lifesaver candy rolls and a pack of gum. You can also glue the red striped peppermint candies on for wheels or even use an open pack of Lifesavers. That way, the little ones can suck on a candy while making their very own ornament.

Candy Train

  • 1 5-pack gum
  • 1 roll Lifesavers
  • 1 Rollo
  • 1 caramel
  • 1 Hershey's Kiss
  • 4 Starbright or white peppermints

Glue the pack of Lifesavers onto the flat side of the pack of gum. Then glue the Rollo onto the front of the pack of Lifesavers. Glue the Hershey's Kiss near the front on the top of the pack of Lifesavers and the caramel near the back on the top of the pack of Lifesavers. On both sides of the train, glue two peppermint wheels.

  • Yields: 1 candy train ornament
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Chocolate-covered sugar cones make tasty and fun treats for the holidays. You can use them to top a dollop of ice cream or place them on a cake to make a holiday forest. The older kids can help decorate them. I wouldn't let the toddlers help because the chocolate coating can burn little fingers. They can pick out the decorations for them though. You could give the kids a festive snack while you dip the cones. Santa's favorite is a candle made from a banana, set into a pineapple ring, and topped with a cherry. You could also pass out bags of reindeer food to helpful little elves. For those helper elves that have been naughty, you could give bags of snowman poop or reindeer poop! I've found that my nephew really goes for this. (Isn't it amazing what kids think of?) Little angels can get packets of angel dust or colored crystal sugar to put on their favorite cookies.

Sugar Cone Christmas Trees

  • Sugar cones
  • Chocolate chips, white chocolate chips or candy melts
  • Assorted candies for decorating - see suggestions below
  • Waxed Paper

Get all of the ingredients out. Spread out sheets of waxed paper to work on. Microwave the chocolate or candy melts in a shallow bowl just until they start to melt, stir until smooth. Roll each cone in the chocolate with two fingers inside cone (if possible) to hold. Lift the cone out with two fingers inside cone. Place a gumdrop on top and press gently. The gumdrop should make it easier to stand the cone up on waxed paper.

Decorate the cone with assorted candies. Allow the decorated "trees" to stand until the chocolate hardens. Store sealed in a cool place.

Note: White chocolate seems to harden much faster than regular chocolate, so decorate the white "trees" right away and let the regular chocolate ones set up a minute before decorating.

Suggested decorations:

  • M&M's large and mini sizes,
  • Gumdrops,
  • Marshmallows,
  • Cinnamon decors,
  • Silver ball decors,
  • Sprinkles,
  • Colored sugars,
  • Decorator Icing (see below).

To make Decorator Icing: Mix confectioners' sugar with just enough milk (just the tiniest bit) and food coloring to make a thick icing. It should be thick, but still able to pipe through a decorator's tip. If it's too thick, add more milk (a little at a time). If it's too thin, add more confectioners' sugar. Pipe either with a decorator's bag and tips or put it in the corner of a freezer bag and twist shut; snip off tiniest bit of corner and squeeze bag gently to pipe frosting out. Make sure freezer bag has nice square corners and not pleated ones.

  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus drying time

Santa's Favorite

Santa's Favorite: Christmas candle
  • 1 leaf of lettuce
  • 1 pineapple slice
  • 1/2 banana
  • 2 maraschino cherries
  • 1 candy mint leaf

Place the lettuce on a plate, put the pineapple slice on the lettuce and put the cut end of the banana in hole of pineapple. Top the banana with a cherry. Place the mint leaf on the side with the other cherry.

  • Yields: 1 "candle"
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Snowman Poop

    Put tiny marshmallows or white packing "peanuts" into a plastic bag, accompanied by this poem:
    Santa checked his list not once, but twice.
    He found you've been naughty not nice.
    Since coal is so expensive, Here's the scoop:
    He's filled your stocking with Snowman poop!
  • Yields: 1 bag
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Reindeer Poop

    This one's basically the same as above, but use chocolate covered raisins, plain raisins, malted milk balls, etc. Include the same poem as above, but change the word "Snowman" to "Reindeer".
  • Yields: 1 bag
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Magic Reindeer Food

    Use a mixture of any of the following:
    • oatmeal
    • birdseed
    • rice crispies
    • a little bit of colored crystal sugar

    Place the mixture in plastic bags and give with these instructions:

    Make a wish and close your eyes tight,
    Then sprinkle on your lawn at night.
    As Santa's reindeer fly & roam
    This food will guide them to your home.
    For your gift to the reindeer and Rudolph too
    Your wish may be real, your dreams may come true.

  • Yields: 1 bag
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Children also will enjoy collecting pinecones and pine needles for a lovely Christmas potpourri. You can gather them while out shopping or picking out your very own Christmas tree. I'm sure that if you live in the city, you could ask the lot attendants if you could gather the needles that have fallen off of the trees that they have for sale. Pinecones can also be found at a local craft store like Michael's or Hobby Lobby.

Sweet Smells of Christmas

  • 2 T. whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 handful pine needles
  • 1-2 pieces orange or lemon rind
  • 2 c. water

Put all of the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer all day if you wish. Add water and refrigerate and reuse.

  • Yields: 1 batch potpourri
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes plus simmering time

Christmas Potpourri

  • 1 qt. fir needles
  • 1 c. dried, mixed fruit -- without membranes, thinly shredded
  • 1 c. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 c. dried basil
  • 2 to 4 bay leaves -- coarsely crumbled
  • 2 c. coarse salt -- not iodized

Mix and pour into little calico bags.

  • Yields: 5 cups
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Another unique decorating idea is a dried fruit garland. Andrea Miller suggests that you slice up a citrus fruit such as a lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit into 1/4 inch slices and then string them together with bits of ribbon or string. Then you can hang them in a window to dry. You could also place the garland in a dehydrator -- just make sure to keep all the slices separate so they will dry correctly. This makes a fun and pretty garland you can hang in a window or over your lights. The light shining through the citrus fruit adds a wonderful glow to any room.

Pomander

This easy-to-make pomander would make a great gift for mom on Mother's Day or a cool (and sweet smelling) ornament to hang at Christmas.
  • 5-6 oz. whole cloves
  • 1 lemon or 1 orange
  • 2 T. orris root
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Lemon or orange oil
  • Tissue, cheesecloth or netting
  • Ribbon

Push the cloves into the rind of your lemon or orange. Try to cover the whole surface. Mix together the orris root, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon or orange oil in a small bowl or plate. Roll the fruit around in the mixture. Wrap the fruit in tissue paper, cheesecloth or netting, tie with the ribbon and place in a drawer or hang in a closet.

To Make a Christmas Decoration / Gift:
Cut a piece of ribbon 34-38" long. Place the middle of the ribbon at the top of the fruit, and draw the ends down to the bottom. Cross and twist the ribbon and draw it back up to the top, as if you were tying a package. Tie it into a bow at the top.

If the ribbon wants to slip and slide, you can secure it with a little dab of glue at the bottom of the fruit where it crosses.

You can also dab a little paint and/or glitter on the cloves if you want your pomander to be a little more colorful.

  • Yields: 1 pomander
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

During the hustle and bustle of the holidays, don't forget to take time out for you. A nice relaxing bath with festive candy cane bath salts makes a wonderful and refreshing way to relax. The recipe calls for sea salts, but I always use a tablespoon of glycerin instead. It can be found at your local pharmacy or Kmart. You could also make some of this up for friends or a Secret Santa gift for the office. Just package it in a decorative jar or bottle with instructions on how to use it and a list of the ingredients in case of an allergy.

Candy Cane Bath Salts

  • 2 c. Epsom salts
  • 1/2 c. sea salt
  • 4-6 drops peppermint oil
  • 2-3 drops red food coloring.

Place one cup of Epsom and 1/4 cup sea salt in a bowl or resealable plastic bag. Add 2-3 drops of peppermint oil.

Place the remaining ingredients in a second bowl. Mix all of the ingredients well. Layer the red and white salts in a clear bottle or jar. Half-liter Naya(tm) water bottles work well because they have the stripes. Tie the bottle with a ribbon and some small candy canes. This makes a great holiday gift for friends

  • Yields: 2 1/2 cups
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season!

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