A Homemade Christmas

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Welcome to fall, my favorite season. All my senses are stimulated while enjoying this time of the year. The fragrance of fire pit smoke clinging to my clothes, crunching leaves underfoot, new colors in the trees and cotton in the fields, warm sweaters, and the taste of turkey. Now Thanksgiving dinner is behind us, and I am sure you are still enjoying the leftovers of that meal. I hope your time was filled with gratitude and love for the many blessings we are thankful to recognize on this day of the holiday season. We are waking to cooler weather, and I thought I smelled snow in the air last week. Winter will arrive officially on December 21st, just in time for Christmas. Stores, yards, and my co-worker’s office door are already announcing the coming. In my family, we traditionally slow down and observe Advent while counting the days. We delay decorating to mind the solemnity of this time of remembrance, anticipation, and preparation. When young children are involved, this countdown can be like a long car ride, “Are we there yet?” Especially in our house because we are the “only ones, Mom” who don’t have our tree up. 

In a past article, I presented the idea of creative spaces or maker spaces to encourage positive mental health. The holiday season is an excellent time to set up a temporary space like this. Our family prepared for the season several years ago by creating all our tree ornaments. We remember it as the year of the homemade Christmas. Looking forward to each Saturday’s crafting while collecting supplies helped break up the unbearable anticipation. Here is a guide to what we did that will stir ideas in you and help young children count down the days until Christmas.

Today begins the countdown as the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. This activity uses items you may already have on hand. Let us start with salt dough ornaments. I have included a link to all the recipes and photos for these activities at the end. You are ready to start if you have 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of cold water, and some cookie cutters. I have a few tips to add. Before baking, use leaves, stamps, or fun textures you find around the house to imprint on the dough. Don’t forget to punch the hanging hole; a straw works well. Roll the dough thick (a quarter inch) to create an ornament that isn’t so fragile. We also set up our advent wreath on this day to be ready for tomorrow, the First Sunday of Advent. 

Pam's Best Hot CocoaTo prepare for next Saturday, purchase or gather clear, silver, white, or gold beads in all shapes and sizes and old piano sheet music. On December 3rd, you can use pipe cleaners or jewelry wire to make beaded icicles. There are many ideas and photos to inspire you on the internet. An option to make each of these Saturdays extra special is to serve my favorite homemade hot cocoa to sip on while you work. If you have older children, you can have them make paper star garlands out of recycled sheet music pages. These can be hot glued to string, hemp cord, or ribbon to decorate the mantel or tree. I put heavily diluted food coloring in a small spray bottle and spritzed the music pages before cutting them into one-inch wide paper strips and folding them into stars.

If you were at the farmer’s market on the last day of the fall season, you might have visited the Food and Consumer Sciences tent to learn to make baked apple crisp gift jars. On Saturday, December 10th, you can use this guide to make this fun and low-cost teacher’s gift. Don’t forget to embellish by decorating the lid and jar or creating gift tags.

On Saturday, December 17th, with one week to go, the whole family will enjoy making cinnamon ornaments or cinnamon gift tags. These ornaments smell amazing when fresh, so wait until closer to Christmas and enjoy the fragrance all week. Use a paint pen to sign your family’s name or a ribbon to tie them to the tree. Again, don’t forget to punch a hole before drying the dough. I would love to see photos of your family days, so please post them and #leeco4H.

Christmas Eve is on the last Saturday before Christmas. Our family uses this time to bake cookies for Santa. I am sure you already have a favorite recipe, and you should use that one. If not, I will share the one I have been making with my mother since I was a young girl. We call them Oat Chippers, and I included the recipe in the link. 

I hope you are inspired to create this season and spend dedicated time with each other. If you have any questions about these ideas and activities, send an email to pkerley@ncsu.edu. If you have other suggestions for our families, post them on social media and #leeco4h. Pam Kerley is the 4-H Program Assistant for N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H programs are available in Lee County, and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In NC, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use daily to improve your life.