That once-dismissive phrase "loving hands at home" has never sounded more appealing.
It shouldn't take a recession to awaken our appreciation of a home-made holiday. But the economic ill-wind that has been blowing this year just might have that effect, focusing our seasonal attentions less on getting and spending and more on giving of ourselves, and our seasonal activities less on a flurry of partying than on the soul-nourishing (not to mention fun) traditions we share with our families and closest friends.
Home-made ornaments have a special pull on our emotions because of their ties to Christmases past: both the historical past, before F. W. Woolworth made Christmas ornaments a big-bucks industry, and our personal pasts. What Christian child of grade-school age hasn't put in some time making construction-paper chains or popcorn and cranberry garlands, or drawing patterns on Styrofoam balls with Elmer's glue and sprinkling them with glitter? And what mom hasn't preserved these youthful Christmas tributes as long as possible, even though they are not quite up to snuff, aesthetically, when compared with limited edition sterling silver snowflakes or embroidered satin angels?
Tree trimmings you make instead of buy can, however, be just as beautiful as the store-bought stuff, often cost next to nothing, and take no longer to make than a batch of cookies for the office party.
Their biggest advantage is memories, though. Many families have special ornaments that they make every year, and their creation is a good excuse for all the kids -- even middle-aged ones -- to gather in the family home for another round of memory- sharing and good-natured competition. (If no such tradition exists in your family, why not start one? Everyone can bring a different idea to teach the others.) Even singles far from home can raise their holiday spirits by making a few ornaments. Learning a new craft can help you start new holiday traditions of your own -- which may, but need not, be shared with others -- and making something that is a reminder of home can provide the sense of connectedness and continuity that we all long for at Christmastime.
Several At Home section staff members -- both the crafty and the "ornament impaired" -- reached into their own memories for "remembrances of ornaments past" and how-tos to share with readers. Feeling a little short on traditions? Feel free to borrow ours.
These lush-looking ornaments weren't part of my Christmas experiences growing up, but date from my tenure as a member of King Henry VIII's court at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Ladies of the Tudor court wore jeweled pomanders from a chain at their waist, which usually enclosed sweet-smelling materials that warded off the "bad air" that brought plague -- or at least warded off the unwashed scents of the other courtiers.
Replicas of these pomanders, made of foam balls decorated with faux jewels, look great with Renaissance costumes, of course, but if your opportunities for getting into ruffs and farthingales are limited, they look just as great hanging on your Christmas tree. (Or, with a sprig of mistletoe attached, as a "kissing ball" in a doorway.) Renaissance ornaments are especially apropos in formal Victorian rooms or anywhere rich fabrics, jewel tones and a look of unrestrained opulence are favored for the holidays.
The base is one of those foam-based, satin-covered balls with a loop at the top, which are available most anywhere tree trimmings are sold.
The fabrics that work best are luxury fabrics with some body, such as velvet, velveteen, Ultrasuede or brocade. (Thin silks and satins are not a good choice.) This is a good project for seamstresses, costumers and quilters, who probably have lots of odd-shaped bits of leftover fabric that's too gorgeous to throw away. If you don't already have a supply, you can find fabrics on the remnant tables of fabric stores, get some from friends who sew, or find an interior design studio that sells discontinued fabric samples.
Cut your fabric into five or six orange-slice-shaped pieces, wide in the middle and tapering to points at the ends. For an average-sized ball nine inches around, the pieces should be about 4 1/2 inches from end to end, and about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide at the middle. When the fabric is laid on the ball, the pieces should overlap a little, but shouldn't make a bulky seam. Experiment to see whether five or six pieces will give you the best result; the fabric should lie flat around the ball, without buckling. Trim the sections to fit neatly. When you have cut a perfect-sized piece, use it as a pattern to cut others.
Spread a thin layer of glue on the wrong side of the fabric and smooth the piece onto the ball, with the points at the top and bottom of the ball. Do the same with the other pieces, until the ball is covered.