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Christmas by Hand

by | Dec 14, 2020 | Top Middle Box, Voices of Davidson

Decking the halls is pure shopping bliss for those with bursting pocketbooks, but often agonizing for those on a budget.

Such was the case during my very first Christmas season as a young married, where our pay checks were earmarked for essentials like food and rent and NOT store-bought decorations. That season, I discovered that creative projects often emerge out of necessity. While we barely had enough money for the tree, let alone dressings for the boughs, what I did have was time, youthful ingenuity, and a love of things hand made. The solution was to conjure up simple, virtually cost-free ornaments.

Year One. Nordic roots spurred my first budget brainstorm—fashioning handmade straw crafts into tree hangers (a favorite Scandinavian tradition). Best of all, the raw material was free–bales of hay. I was able to rescue these from local pumpkin patches right after Thanksgiving, when they were readying their lots for the first wave of Christmas trees.

I took small lengths of hay and braided them, then looped the strands in a circle and tied the ends with a red bow and a few berries. Voila—straw wreaths for pennies a piece. I also shaped other straw lengths into triangles, piecing two triangles together in an alternating fashion to form a star. Intersections were secured with red twine.

It made my Swedish father’s eyes sparkle that year to see his heritage honored through his daughter’s handiwork. I also had an ample supply of left-over straw to mulch my very first garden that spring!

Year Two. Handmade holiday décor still made better sense that year as we saved to buy furniture and later a house. Besides, I had caught the decorating bug by then and wanted to try my hand at a project or two. That December I added salt dough gingerbread boys to the tree, made from a concoction of salt, water, and flour baked in the oven. I tied a red ribbon scarf around each neck and dotted buttons and belts with white spackle, left over from a bathroom repair project!

Year Three. Many bare spots remained on our Christmas fir, but as career frenzy mounted, I had even less time to fill them with weekend projects. Instead, “found objects” from nature became turnkey, but stunning substitutes for store bought versions. My favorite treasures were pinecones, gathered on weekend walks in the New England woods. A light dusting of gold glitter and sparkly cording looped as a hanger made them tree-ready in minutes. They made the pine look fresh-from-the-woods and me feel fresh from a winter’s trek.

Year Eight. More money had accumulated for Christmas shopping, but so did the bills with a toddler in tow. The bad news: NO time to make things. The GREAT news: Fabulous ornaments flowed effortlessly from my son’s own hands. Hand painted glass balls from preschool. Sputnik style wooden stars pounded together in Cub Scouts. Popsicle stick plaques and yarn weavings recycled from camp crafts.

Today. Thirty years later. Savings in the bank. Limitless holiday stores, catalogs, and internet sites at my disposal for serious “hall decking.” Now my tree (or even two) can easily be filled with boxes and boxes of shiny baubles—a dazzling array of gifts, purchases, and heirlooms that have special meaning of their own. Many are incredibly beautiful: delicate glass birds, intricate brass snowflakes, painted porcelain figures, and elaborate needlepoint creations.

Yet each year, when I unwrap the tissue protecting yet another tree dressing from our overflowing stash, these early, humbly fashioned creations are the ones I most lovingly hang. For me they most embody the simple spirit of the day– the most creative of all the seasons!

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey is a magazine editor and lifelong writer who hit the jackpot moving to Davidson from California.

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